You plant the jackfruit’s anonymous, nubbled face and wait in the
boiling sand for something to happen.
A goat’s eye flashes gold. A girl swings on the tubewell for a cup of
You plant peas to grow in the monsoon and put on your best shirt.
Yellow for optimism.
What is missing about the blank page is denied. Decimated, you
would like to cohere.
Inside an airless, windowless hut, you try to re-write Stevens: Ten
Ways of Looking at a Passport. ‘I have never seen a passport, how
does it begin?’
Toothmarks in the linebreak. You want to put the art back into heart.
When your brother ran towards the Tatmadaw, crying ‘Jayzu, Jayzu’,
you turned and ran. Jahaj of air. Jail, lock and key.
Without ‘art’, it’s just ‘he’, meaning brother. Come here, brother, but
he isn’t listening.
Your mother bribes the army guard to write a letter, asks about the
non-trial. Will the guard deliver? Hope’s lottery. There is no policy
on answering the letters or the law. The page a windbreak. To write
is to petition.
The ‘I’ severs you in the photograph, so we repose. Someone else
must always be next to you. You cannot work alone.
Cyclonic clangour of rain. Sword-water in the Naf. The helicopter pumps
into Bangladeshi airspace and fires on anyone swimming away.
The poem bare as a pulse, a knife. Siblings in graves.
The poem bare as a knife, a pulse.
Your father remains stuck at the border. ‘Genocide Zone.’ Nobody
is reporting from there, so nothing is said.
The child draws pictures of a burning house. Singing out of history
in makeshift schools.
You plant and write. Plant and write. What else is there to do? Peas
on you roof grow beside the ashfire. You knot back the twine and
You write: ‘blot out’, ‘jail of air’ and the words mean the same in
the morning. Myanmar waits for the incendiary. The Saudis send
money for guns. When you ‘like’ the post about ARSA, your cousin
gets a note under his hut.
‘Ze zaga añra félai ay zaígoí’. ‘There are places we leave’ you say.
‘There are places we never leave. Home is a dream inside a nightmare.’
The first line of your first poem begins: ‘I am afraid of someone I don’t
Last night your mother peeled back the tarpaulin and asked: ‘what
are you doing, my son, why can you not sleep? Sleep!’ And you
replied: ‘Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’.
Ignore the honking of the UNHCR truck, check the download speed
for ‘100 Poets in English’ (to learn poetry, to learn English) Reload.
Already they are looking to blame the same someone. The Chinese
highway needs to be paid.
Looking at you. Between Paan branches brittled by soil erosion.
Why is it you live in the middle of the largest refugee camp in the
world and they’re calling it ‘a lost treasure’, a ‘forgotten’ national park?
They ask you to plant trees to ‘save the environment’. Yes, you think.
A few more trees to hide the smell of the latrine.
How do you write about ‘environment’? You try for the present, the
sensory, but your eyes sting, your ears hum and the smell is flesh
‘I want to write about family, but I have no family.’
The idea of the eternal traveller does not hold. To think of poetry as
orphic. To unthink memory: to unriver the severed head.
As if the world were a wound flapping its bandages.
As if the world were a wound. As if…
You wake up and poke your pen through the ash.
English ale. ‘Dada eta ki gari?’ High speed trains. This is where I am going.
An envelope stuffed with Taka. A bookmark. To hold nothing, to
hold your place in the book.
by James Byrne
‘Cox’s Bazar’ is copyright © James Byrne, 2022, and is reprinted here from Places you Leave (Arc Publications, 2022) by permission of Arc Publications. You can read more about the book on the Arc Publications website.
Beginning inside the largest refugee camp in the world (Cox’s Bazar) and ending up with Lorca in Granada, Places You Leave explores questions of travel, place / displacement, self / otherness, race, feminism, national and global politics. Through poems, poetic sequences and the lyric essay, Byrne considers a ‘poethics’ of place and speaks back to the complex nature of human experience. In his most hybrid work to date, including original collages from seven different countries, Byrne advocates for activist but peaceful ways in which language might challenge existing social structures and the dynamics of power.
James Byrne is a poet, editor and translator. His most recent poetry collections are The Caprices (Arc Publications, 2019), Everything Broken Up Dances (Tupelo, 2015) and White Coins (Arc Publications, 2015). Other publications include Blood/Sugar (Arc, 2009), WITHDRAWALS, Soapboxes (both KFS, 2019 and 2014) and Myths of the Savage Tribe (a co-authored text with Sandeep Parmar, Oystercatcher, 2014).
Byrne received an MFA in Poetry from New York University, where he was given a Stein Fellowship (‘Extraordinary International Scholar’). He was the Poet in Residence at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. He currently lives near Liverpool where he is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Edge Hill University.
Byrne is renowned for his commitment to international poetries and poetics. He is the International Editor for Arc Publications and was editor of The Wolf, which he co-founded, from 2002-2017. In 2012, with ko ko thett, Byrne co-edited Bones Will Crow, the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poetry to be published in English (Arc, 2012). In 2017, with Robert Sheppard, he edited Atlantic Drift, a book of transatlantic poetry and poetics (Arc, EHUP). In 2019, he co-edited, with Shehzar Doja, I am a Rohingya, the first anthology of Rohingya poetry in English. Byrne’s poems have been translated into several languages and his Selected Poems (Poemas Escogidos) was published in Spanish in 2019 by Buenos Aires Poetry (translated by Katherine M. Hedeen and Víctor Rodríguez Núñez).
Arc Publications publishes contemporary poetry from new and established writers from the UK and abroad, specialising in the work of international poets writing in English and the work of overseas poets in translation. Arc also has a music imprint, Arc Music, for the publication of books about music and musicians.
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