Sanctuary

Imagine
our ancestors
crossing: the men

with chapped balls
and little to do
but snack on wax,

the women feasting
on their nails,
bit to the quick.

Cross-legged at 4am,
groggy with comfort,
I nurse as the news

report more refugees
drowned. A father
climbs from a narrow

dinghy carrying
a child
on his shoulders.

I search the crowd
for the mother,
but can't find her.

My mother's image
fades fathoms
beneath another sea,

she who runneled away,
and not because
she was forced—

she fled
of her own accord.
My daughter clasps

at one breast
by mouth
and the other

by clutch
with such fury
that the moon

burns, masquerading
honey. Despite
this steady tug,

this suck of want
and need,
I struggle to stay

awake, to not fear
that I will some-
how abandon

her too.
These boats,
ferry them safe.


Ellen Elder attended The University of Chicago, Miami University of Ohio and The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She spent summers in Ireland where her family ran an inn. Recent poems appear in Tampa Review and Banshee Lit. She teaches at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany.

 photo by Claire Elder

photo by Claire Elder