Blessing the Boats

This news report feels like one of those things (out of countless others) that should have brought the entire world to a standstill. I should not see spring flowers opening to the sky or people admiring them or 4 o’clock sun scattering across river water or money changing hands or meetings being called or meals spread across tables creaking with the weight of too much, when 43 people set off in a boat from a port in Mauritania, aiming for Europe, only to drift thousands of miles off course with 14 of them arriving in death on the Tobago coast months later. The first cruel coincidence was that a major clue that helped to identify the men was a t-shirt one of them had been wearing, printed with the question, “Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?” The second:

“It’s kind of emotional for me, because I’m thinking why? What is happening here?” asked the soft-spoken Burris, who has since retired. “And then when I started looking at ocean currents. … It’s the same currents that they used when they brought us here.”

—Dr. Eslyn McDonald-Burris, forensic pathologist in Tobago

There is no metaphor or lyric or poem or archival study or white cloth or funeral rites or incense or prayer vast or worthy enough to describe or contain this horror, this grief.

“One mother was severely depressed and suffering from panic attacks, the villagers said. ‘You cannot even talk because everyone is so upset,’ said Oumar Koumé, the father of Djibi Koumé.”

“I have a friend who went to sea and never came back,” he says. “I don’t know the people and them. But I know the family will be hurting.”

—Lance Biggart, who was among the fishermen in Tobago who found the boat  

We were not supposed to meet this way. We should not have to keep meeting this way.

“Just as few people in Tobago had ever heard of Mauritania before, families in Mauritania had never heard of Tobago. When shown the island on a map, with the Atlantic Ocean separating both nations, many gasped.”

On the occasion of the realization of your dreams for better, for a little more than just barely surviving for you and your loved ones, you put on your favorite, fanciest clothes. Maybe you also went with prayer beads and loved one’s photos and gris-gris and cellphones waiting for the right signal for you to hear “Please don’t go,” “Did you make it?,” and “What now?”

“I don’t think they had the right to bring things with them, so he must have worn his best clothes.”

—May Sow, aunt to Alassane Sow, one of the men found dead onboard the boat

I am so sorry you spent even one day cold and drifting and lost, let alone 137. I am so sorry we could not hold on to you. I am so sorry.

may you

open your eyes to water

water waving forever

and may you in your innocence

sail through this to that
—from “blessing the boats” by Lucille Clifton

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