Friday, January 17, 2014

Poetry Friday: Evacuation

Four years ago yesterday, I left Haiti for the United States, five days after the earthquake.  I blogged back then about all the reasons we made the decision, and about my guilt over leaving Haiti when there was so much need for help.  But that was what happened: my husband stayed and did relief work, and I left with the children. 

A few weeks after arriving in the United States, I got a phone call from a doctor friend who had also left Haiti after the earthquake, after working around the clock for days and days with no rest.  He was going back, but meanwhile he wanted to see how I was.  He and his family were going through this for the second time; they had left Rwanda during the genocide, expecting to return to their home in a month.  They never went back.  He started talking about packing his bag to leave Rwanda, and how he had packed underwear and socks, and later wished so much he had packed things that mattered, instead. 

Later, my own experience and that conversation turned into this poem.

How to Pack an Evacuation Bag

So you're going to be evacuated in eight hours
And you can just take one small bag.

Don't worry about a toothbrush -
You can buy one of those on the other side.
But you'll need the bracelets you like to wear
And your kids' baby pictures.

Don't pack underwear and socks -
They have those where you're going.
Instead, take the vaccination records
And the birth certificates and passports
And all the proof that you exist.
Because believe me, you're going to feel as though you don't.

And let me tell you what you're really going to need during the months of exile:
The smell of garlic
The way the sun feels on your back
The sounds of generators and roosters and kompa music
The taste of sos pwa
And your husband's kiss.

But I forgot;
You can just take one small bag.

Ruth, from

Here's today's roundup. 


LInda Baie said...

Although except for a few whose lives were in peril, most enduring the floods last fall after unusual torrential rains were not in danger for their lives, but some stories like this emerged. So many grabbed things so useless, and they lamented what was left behind & lost. You've written the sorrow of many.

Violet N. said...

What a powerful poem, Ruth, and all the more so because you've lived it. I think about this kind of thing in spring when I see people in local floods fleeing with vanloads of family photos, and again in forest fire season. But it's much more weighty when there's an overlay of choice and duty and a foreign culture that you've come to love.

Tara said...

So much heartache in the world - so much leaving, loss, exile. And one feels lucky, I expect, to have even a small suitcase...when the time comes.

Liz Steinglass said...

Ruth--thanks for sharing this. I think your poem really gives a sense of how packing in that moment must be kind of crazy--what would you usually need, what do you think you need, what do you really need, what do you need to live in the world and what do you need to live with and in yourself.

Bridget Magee said...

Wow, your poem gives an insight that few of us know or will ever experience. Thank you for sharing, Ruth.

Mary Lee said...


So. Very. Powerful.

Doraine Bennett said...

So much packed into one poem.

Author Amok said...

Beautiful, beautiful poem, Ruth. Sending you a virtual hug on this anniversary.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

You have so much power, truth, and resonance in your writing, Ruth. You so often do a number on my heart. (This is a good thing.)

Sarah SSM said...

Yes. Thank you.