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Strange Fire: A Poem for World Refugee Day

Strange Fire: A Poem for World Refugee Day

Two little girls holding hands in a Syrian refugee camp

Tuesday, June 20, marks the United Nations’ World Refugee Day, which “honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.” The title of this poem, which I wrote at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, comes from Torah. “Strange fire” is what killed Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Abihu, in an exceedingly dark episode in Torah. My poem, like the struggles of refugees in today’s world, is similarly dark.

"Strange Fire"

The world is on fire.
I feel the flames licking
along the walls
that have all but fallen.
They shelter only shadows now,
and hunger.

They call the bombs friendly,
and the damage collateral;
the deaths unfortunate
and their cause is
holy, holy, holy.

Does God hide in the shadows,
do you think, still
waiting for a pleasing odor
to feed an insatiable hunger?
Or perhaps God has fled,
the altars abandoned to
strange fire, whose only
scent is decay?

I would flee, too,
leave the altars behind,
and the crumbling walls
and this eternal fire
fed by hatred
and your war.

I would flee,
but there is nothing left
except fire.

I would beg,
but the shadows are empty,
and their silence 
is a shroud.

I would leave, but
Pharaoh's heart has
turned to stone.

Stacey Zisook Robinson is a member of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL, and Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe, IL. She blogs at Stumbling Towards Meaning.

Stacey Zisook Robinson
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