Excerpt: Think of Lampedusa


Earlier this month, The Guardian published “‘Do-gooders’ no more: Lampedusans turn against refugee tide as patience wears thin,” which brings attention to the recent mayoral election on the small Italian island and what it means for its resident and migrant populations. Giusi Nicolini, celebrated around the world for her commitment to welcoming refugees, was defeated by former mayor Salvatore Martello:

“It wasn’t a surprise to us that she lost,” said Salvatore Martello, a hotel owner and fisherman who won the election running independently from Italy’s main parties. “In the years she was mayor, she curated an image abroad of the island and the migrant situation, forgetting its people.”

The article highlights the issues that Lampedusans face, including limited access to medical and maternity care, water quality, and job shortages. Though some residents quoted in the article supported helping migrants, they noted that many on the island grew frustrated with the lack of resources spent on their own needs.

Think of Lampedusa (October 2017) by Josué Guébo, a forthcoming title in the African Poetry Book Series, reflects on Lampedusa from the refugees’ point of view. A collection of serial poems, the book addresses the 2013 shipwreck that killed 366 Africans attempting to migrate secretly to Lampedusa.

In the introduction, John Keene writes, “A spate of migrant shipwrecks in 2014 and subsequent years, as well as the unfolding refugee crises that have commanded the attention of the news media over the last two years, point to the salience of Think of Lampedusa’s concern with a topic the West still struggles to understand, let alone adequately address.”

The crossing from North Africa to this island and other Mediterranean way stations has become the most dangerous migrant route in the world. Guébo considers the Mediterranean not only as a literal space but also as a space of expectation, anxiety, hope, and anguish for migrants. Guébo meditates on the long history of narratives and bodies trafficked across the Mediterranean Sea. What did it—and what does it—connect and separate? Whose sea is it?

From Think of Lampedusa

A cat with no other role

in life than to be a tomcat

would decide to play his wild card role

quite naturally

quite practically

He’d bathe

stand erect

At attention he’d wait for the slightest intruder

rule book in hand

He’d have the reflex and good luck to spy

even the mouse sneaking through the sky

at the speed of light

He’d take its breath

swish it between his cheeks

then whistle breath and soul

out through that tunnel

and smoke would rise would rise

then rise as if from fevering branches

The cat would stick him with an infraction for misbehavior

The mouse would take offense at it

but this tomcat would be a cat

with no other purpose

than to be the mistigris

quite naturally

quite practically


The men play cat and mouse with people’s lives

a geometrically variable well-being

when we all well know

that their map of goods excludes the good-of-all

excludes actual bodies

Any belief that this evil is vanquished

in crossing from one side of the Pyrenees to the other

is misbegotten

I’d be an ocean of sand

with its storms and its dunes

selectively indignant

The men nevertheless remain

waterlogged and

slogging through the illusion of their differences


They are of the same vineyard

though a vintage that obscures its traces

in the fuss over identity


No pinch of powder

if it is not the dust of flight

in their anxiety to avoid this other


Don’t lose sight of the people of Lampedusa

with whom we’ve shared beds

We’re from the same mountains

same foam

Don’t forget that our waves

dump us from the same sack

same surf


and mother-sea in unison



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