André Naffis-Sahely

André Naffis-Sahely

The Other Side of Nowhere

Thirty feet above the ground, in a warehouse 
in the industrial outskirts 
of a city we’d never lived in,
I knelt inside the near-empty container

to contemplate our nomadic misery: 
mismatched chairs, kitchen appliances 
older than me, baby clothes, 
framed diplomas, books in a language 

my father never taught me (it would 
have stunted my assimilation
and in my head, an email from my mother 
that read, “we’re doomed, save what you can”.

So there I was, on the other 
side of nowhere in sunny Italy… Despite 
the technological changes around us, 
disasters still travel in telegrams: Bankrupt. STOP. 

Sorry. STOP. Homeless. STOP… 
Remember, brother, 
when our parents calling us 
‘global citizens’ inspired great hope?

But the world proved too tribal for us
and so your suitcase shall be your only friend 
while Shi Huang’s fantasy of a Godly Wall 
proliferates across the planet. 

Weeks ago, two cops in Catania 
stung a sixteen year old boy from Darfur
with cattle-prods to impart the following lesson, 
whatever the government says, 

you’re not welcome here.’
As if one needed the reminder… 
All across the boot, the green-
shirted faithful lift their pitchforks 

to chase the monster of Otherness, 
so don’t ask me why I love 
to leave and hate returning. 
(Is the answer somewhere inside this container?

It isn’t… but remember Cicero’s saying,
there’s no cure for exile except to love 
every city as you would your own, 
but the past is always easier…) 

When I was young, I fancied 
myself Indiana Jones; later, 
with erudition, came realer idols: 
Petrie, Schliemann, Carter, Kenyon – 

but you cannot rescue history from dust – 
all you save one day will crumble 
in your hand. “Trash or burn the rest” 
I told the warehouse worker 

as we rode the forklift back to earth. 
Damn whoever said 
that hell was down below;
they clearly never went there.

Florence, Italy

ANDRÉ NAFFIS-SAHELY’s second collection, High Desert, is out in June 2022. He is the author of The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life (Penguin, 2017) and the editor of The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature (Pushkin Press, 2020).