Please send me your immigrant or refugee stories

Friends, my new novel for children, Pablo and Birdy, will be out in August. Publishers Weekly just gave it a starred review, calling it “a tender tale of the search for hopablo-and-birdy-9781481470261_hrme, belonging, and identity (that) smoothly incorporates elements of magical realism and powerful allusions to the refugee experience.” 

That reference to the refugee experience is why I’m posting here today. I’d love to hear from you if you have a personal immigrant or refugee story to share with me. I hope to publish one story per day on my blog this August, similar to the tattoo stories and dog stories I did in celebration of Tell Me a Tattoo Story and Percy, Dog of Destiny.

If you’d like to be included in the line-up, please email me your story and a photo (of you or something related to your experience) if you wish.


I greatly look forward to hearing from you. Thanks!

Poem of the Week, by Philip Larkin

Never done before, Mary OliverOnce, at the end of a book club discussion held in the library of a women’s prison, the women (who are addressed as “offenders” on the prison P.A. system, as in, “Offenders, cell check in fifteen minutes”) took turns asking me personal questions from a list they had prepared. I remember only one of them: “If you had to choose one word to complete the sentence ‘She was ____’ on your tombstone, what would you want it to be?” “Kind,” I said. “That I was kind.”

The Mower, by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found   
a hedgehog jammed up against the blades,   
killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.   
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world   
unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence   
is always the same; we should be careful

of each other, we should be kind   
while there is still time.

For more information about Philip Larkin, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Lex Runciman

img_3437When we were little my sisters and I used to press leaves and flowers between the tissuey pages of our big dictionary and then forget about them. They could still be in there, for all I know, wherever that big gray dictionary is now. Once in a while, inching along the rows of a used bookstore, I come across my own books on the M shelves. Sometimes I slide one out to read the dedication and the acknowledgments. They are reminders of where I was at that point in life. Most of the people I loved then I still love, although a few have fallen away or crossed over to that other world. Some of those books contain an inscription written at the request of a patient person who waited in line, book in hand, so that it could be personalized for them: To Cornelia on her birthday, with many happy returns, Alison. Once in a while I do recognize a name, or a nickname —To the one and only Booberry, with tons of love. My handwriting looks different in that case, lively and familiar and happy, if handwriting can look happy. Who knows how the book ended up here on this shelf, the hands it must have passed through.


The First Owner of This Book Says Its Story, by Lex Runciman  

Smaller than an opened hand this little book —
war over, paper yet rare and dear.
The important word here, over — turn the page.

But how, when your child learned to walk
hand to stranger’s hand in the Piccadilly Tube shelter –
sleep-fractured nights, a small girl’s uneven

balance and stagger, each step kindness, distraction,
panic, dread. Deaths and Entrances, 1946,

acid pages foxing and foxed, that girl’s prayers
by some trick older and her father returned
— no longer those fears he or she or I might be dead.

I read in memory of, in praise of.
In thanksgiving for, I keep and read this little book.

And one night between “Holy Spring”
and “Fern Hill,” I place a curved inch
of that girl’s cut hair, that I might forget

and then all Gabriel and radiant find
my child of apple towns, not war —
not dark, but windfall light.


For more information on Lex Runciman, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Ellen Bass


  1. Son to his little sister, who was raging about a boy in her first-grade class: But maybe he acts like that because he’s sad. You never know what his home life is like.
  2. Older daughter, age six, to me during a discussion of what death was, after I had told her that if I died she would be very sad but she would still be okay: No I wouldn’t be sad. Me: . . . you wouldn’t? Her: Nope. If you die then I’ll die too. I can’t be alive without you.
  3. Younger daughter, the first day I ever met her in a far-off land, when they handed her away from everything and everyone she had ever known and into my arms and her face screwed up with terror and confusion: Shhh, don’t cry, little daughter, don’t cry. We’re going to have so much fun. I promise you. I promise you. I promise you.

For My Daughter on Her Twenty-First Birthday
     – Ellen Bass

When they laid you in the crook
of my arms like a bouquet and I looked
into your eyes, dark bits of evening sky,
I thought, of course this is you,
like a person who has never seen the sea
can recognize it instantly.
They pulled you from me like a cork
and all the love flowed out. I adored you
with the squandering passion of spring
that shoots green from every pore.
You dug me out like a well. You lit
the deadwood of my heart. You pinned me
to the earth with the points of stars.
I was sure that kind of love would be
enough. I thought I was your mother.
How could I have known that over and over
you would crack the sky like lightning,
illuminating all my fears, my weaknesses, my sins.
Massive the burden this flesh
must learn to bear, like mules of love.

For more information about Ellen Bass, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Dana Gioia

Granny and Grampa, McGhee HillSix saggy old cardboard boxes full of hundreds, maybe thousands, of handwritten or typed letters sit behind closed cupboard doors in my bedroom. These letters date back to high school. They’re from my mother, my grandmothers, my sisters, my brother, boys and men I loved, my best friend, other dear friends, and friends I barely remember but who were important to me at one point in my life. The envelopes, with those wavy lines across the canceled stamps, bear testament to all the places I’ve lived in my life. Unlike almost anything else in my life, I can’t throw them out. Sometimes they have lived in the dark trunk of my car until once again they are hauled into a different cupboard in a new house or apartment, where they rest in darkness next to their neighbors. The other day I opened a box at random and pulled out a letter from my grandmother. She had been to a movie with my parents and what an interesting, if confusing, movie it had been. Afterward they had gone to a Chinese buffet and my parents had treated her, how lovely of them. She was having trouble with that darned knee of hers. And then came this ending line, reminiscing about my grandfather, dead many years at this point: What a beautiful life we had together, but it wasn’t long enough. My grandmother, and that single, uncharacteristic sentence from her, written in the shaky Palmer script of her very old age, is why I love this poem so much.


Finding a Box of Family Letters, by Dana Gioa

The dead say little in their letters
they haven’t said before.
We find no secrets, and yet
how different every sentence sounds
heard across the years.
My father breaks my heart
simply by being so young and handsome.
He’s half my age, with jet-black hair.
Look at him in his navy uniform
grinning beside his dive-bomber.

Come back, Dad! 
I want to shout.

He says he misses all of us
(though I haven’t yet been born).
He writes from places I never knew he saw,
and everyone he mentions now is dead.

There is a large, long photograph
curled like a diploma—a banquet sixty years ago.
My parents sit uncomfortably
among tables of dark-suited strangers.
The mildewed paper reeks of regret.

I wonder what song the band was playing,
just out of frame, as the photographer
arranged your smiles. A waltz? A foxtrot?
Get out there on the floor and dance!
You don’t have forever.

What does it cost to send a postcard
to the underworld? I’ll buy
a penny stamp from World War II
and mail it downtown at the old post office
just as the courthouse clock strikes twelve.

Surely the ghost of some postal worker
still makes his nightly rounds, his routine
too tedious for him to notice when it ended.
He works so slowly he moves back in time
carrying our dead letters to their lost addresses.

It’s silly to get sentimental.
The dead have moved on. So should we.
But isn’t it equally simple-minded to miss
the special expertise of the departed
in clarifying our long-term plans?

They never let us forget that the line
between them and us is only temporary.
Get out there and dance! the letters shout,
adding, Love always. Can’t wait to get home!
And soon we will be. See you there.

For more information on Dana Gioia, please click here.

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