Poetry and statements from Our Table of Memories
The statements that follow each poem are taken directly from the program notes the audience members received at our annual Anthology Release celebration. The profound sense of agency that occurred for these young poets who literally came thousands of miles from the hardships of refugee camps and forced migration into a space that empowered them through their voices and their very distinct experiences had great effect on the audience.
MY FATHER’S KITCHEN
Malaak Abdallah, from Somalia
Memories of my father’s cooking fill my head
when my father cooks it smells Yemeni
the fish Masala mixed with pepper
remind me of my father’s kitchen.
Memories of his rice mixed with saffron
are like the morning sunrise.
The memories of splashes of oil
are like an ocean of honey,
the memories of sizzling fish
are like the sound of the warm wind.
I picture my father’s hands
shining with the color of orange saffron,
I picture the steaming fish like heaven,
I picture the deep brown of the tamarind juice
I can feel the love of my father’s hands,
I feel his hard work,
the tenderness of his country Yemen
in my father’s kitchen.
Malaak Abdallah – MY FATHER’S KITCHEN
I wrote this poem because my heart is so connected with my father who is no longer alive. My father was Yemeni, and he taught me how to love my own culture and also how food tastes different when we make it with love. We can also taste the struggle and the many thousands of stories behind it.
THE FOOD OF MY COUNTRY
Abdirahman Abdi, from Somalia
When my mother cooks, it smells of Somalia,
With memories of tea pouring in a cup,
Memories of splashing oil and sizzling meat,
I picture the blue skies like our Somali flag,
I picture the deep green forests with mangoes
That are not yet ripe.
Yet, I taste the struggle
That my family has gone through,
Struggle of food rationing
And never enough to eat,
Struggle for clothing,
not enough to keep us warm,
Struggle for houses, with leaking roofs,
at night in the rain, only plastic bags over the roof
Then the *Ifo refugee camp, better housing
but still not enough food, and so strange to our tastes
a taste of bitterness, we were not used it,
or the food rationing,
until we all spoke honestly, especially my mother.
Then they let my mother cook, over a small fire
she cooked our Somali food.
In America we still cook our Somali food,
it travels with us wherever we go,
it is the taste of home.
*The camps of Dadaab are surrounded by barren desert. The three camps Dagahaley, Hagadera and* Ifo – known collectively as the ‘biggest refugee camp in the world’ – were established 20 years ago to house up to 90,000 people escaping violence and civil war in Somalia. With no end to the conflict in sight, there are now more than 350,000 people crowded into the camps’ perimeters, while the number of new arrivals is surging.
Abdirahman Abdi – THE FOOD OF MY COUNTRY
I wrote my poem because I wanted you to know that in Somalia the government does not treat everyone equally. I also wanted to let you know the struggle that I have gone through.
Ebenezer Lian, from Burma
Rice, looks short
feels warm and sticky
like the summers in Burma.
Mom would say it’s really good,
Ben says the best food ever,
when I eat rice, I picture of my family
coming home from work and from school.
Rice brings our family together
every time I devour rice
I remember back to Burma.
First you measure how much rice you want
then rinse it gently with cool water
next put it in a rice cooker.
After it’s done cooking
it transforms from hard to fluffy
the inside of the cooker, looks like you’re in heaven.
Rice, you are the only thing
that can bring our family together
if you were not living with us,
my world would be nothing.
Ah rice, I don’t want you
to just sit down at the table,
I don’t want you just to eat you and be content,
I want to walk into your fields
where the water is shining,
I want to stand there with you
far from the white tablecloth,
I want you to fill my hands with the mud
of your fields, like a blessing.
Ebenzer Lian – RICE
I wrote this poem because it reminds me of my country, Burma and the life I had there. Life was harder because in Burma we had to set up a fire with wood for the water to boil, but here, in America, you just put the rice in the rice cooker.
My Beautiful People
Smile Khai, from Burma
Memories of my auntie cooking
fresh air coming into the window
birds are having a conversation on a tree,
about their hunger,
when I look out the window
sunlight is up on the tree
looking at my neighbors houses
they look lonely under the light of sunshine.
I close my eyes
and I see Tedim again
birds flying under the sunshine light
above the light green leaves
shining and reflecting from the sunlight
I feel like I’m flying
when fresh air comes through my face
but, when I look at my people
the houses are like broken sticks
this is all because of the government
they don’t take
full responsibilities for us
most of us live
most of us live
with broken hearts.
Smile Khai – MY BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
I wrote this poem because the government is weakening my people in Burma. They don’t take full responsibility for us. They hurt us. They beat us. They scare us. They take away our happiness and return it back with empty love, full of sadness and madness. But the biggest problem is that we still love our country, Burma, our home.
A NEW LIFE
Mahendra Biswa, from Nepal
The international Airport in California
was our entry point
to our new lives in our new country
we were surprised to see an Indian man/
who did not talk to us
who did not know us
brings us delectable fried rice
on a plastic plate
that seemed to hold my life.
when I ate the fried rice I felt like
I was falling in love with America
and I didn’t care what the world said,
or what some people who do not want to leave
Nepal say, that if we come to America we will suffer
fried rice was like an angel, like my sweet flawless life
as I was eating it, suddenly I wasn’t in this world
my mind was in another world
a world that gave me hope that I could return
to my country and help poor people.
In our country, Nepal, sometimes there are bad people,
from big cities who came to our refugee camp
and they want to steal our hope.
they want everything—land, houses, and even our young
women, who they said they would protect, but instead
they put them in danger’s way.
But now in America I have found my hope
simply with a welcoming plate of fried rice,
the taste of my homeland.
Mahendra Biswa – A NEW LIFE
The reason I wrote this poem is to remind myself that I am a true Nepali boy and son of Nepal. And to tell others that I want to go to Nepal so I can help poor people who live in a shelter, or on the roadside, or under bridges and in refugee camps. And the other reason I wrote this is to influence Nepali people who don’t even miss and love Nepal.
MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
Kang Pu, from Burma
When my mom cooked it smelled of sweet wintertime cherries,
of a solitary forest with rain falling
and it smelled like the murmur of a lonely bird, singing,
I picture the spherical smoke rising from her kitchen
it was like the sound of sleep at night,
it was like arriving home safe and sound
the sounds of her kitchen were peaceful.
I still long for the laughter of those family meals
we all waited for that table, my mom’s table,
how she prepared every family meal,
this is what I still long for,
so often I remember my mother
nothing can take her memory away from me,
it is truly difficult that I have departed
from my motherland,
and from my mother’s kitchen.
Kang Pu – MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
The reason I wrote this poem is for memories of my mom and her kitchen. It was difficult for me to write this poem because I still long for my mother’s kitchen. Sometimes it makes it hard for me to study. Yet, no matter how far away from my parents, I am still holding their lessons and still using what they taught me. Without lessons from parents it’s hard to be in community with others and hard to stand on your own.
WHERE FOOD IS ART
Nathaly Rosas, from Mexico
I am from a place where
The food is an art and every bite
Is a spicy piece of our culture.
Where the smells call you to enjoy
And the flavors take you to your memories
I am from where the trees grew up everywhere
Guayabo, naranjo, alamos,manzano and palmera
And the children take special gifts from them
Naranjas y limas, limas and limones
Where the grocery stores have fresh items
Epazote, elotes, manzanas,melones y granada
And bring us an exquisite dinner,
Kneading and rolling, combinations of flavors,
Flavors that our indigenous ancestors gave us,
Combination of oils and onions always mixed
Picante y salado, gathering and dancing together.
Our food is not only food
It’s a way to communicate our feelings
It’s a way to talk with our family
It’s our history, our identity.
But now everything is not the same
The tortillas smell different, the salsa is not spicy
Our special gifts are mixed with chemicals,
Our food enclosed in a plastic prison,
Gradually, we will lose the essence even in our countries,
The hands of our grandparents and our people were killed,
The food of my family was thrown into the garbage,
The cookbook of my grandmother was burned,
Yet, there is still hope
The gentle hands of my mother,
Every day serving food.
Our kitchen table may be in another country,
And the people who ate with us
Are no longer here,
But we will return to gather
In the morning light,
And the darkness nights,
At the strong sound of the rain.
My aunties gave this wisdom to my cousins
My parents gave it to my brother and me
To conserve our specials secrets.
Nathaly Rosas – WHERE FOOD IS AN ART
I wrote this poem because I believe that someone who reads it will be connected to my experience being a Mexican immigrant and to how our family shares time together. This poem shows memories because people like me don’t have their families because we are immigrants and sometimes immigrants need to leave families behind to work hard in this new country.
A PERSAON WITH A DREAM
Madyan Bakr, from Iraq
On June 14, 2014 when I left Shingal
I went to Dohuk
then to Erbil
to New York
Traveled through all these cities
running from the war
that was about to explode in Iraq.
Living in Tukwila makes me forget
what happened with me in my travels
to my new life,
finding new places,
friends, school, and language,
and foods that I haven’t seen in my life
Going to miss my Iraq friends, Feras, Pasha, Zidane.
my school Balistan, the feeling of my past life.
A person with a dream that leaves war behind him
living in peace with a future that has freedom
misses his country but is relieved
for leaving the place of war
has a broken heart
that still wants to live.
Madyan Bakr – A PERSON WITH A DREAM
My poem is about how hard it was to leave my home country, Iraq, and what I missed and how it affected my life and how I started my new life.