Sigma Tau Delta at JMU

The Refugee, the Telephone, and the Moon

The Refugee, the Telephone, and the Moon

The Refugee, the Telephone, and the Moon

Memories and Meditations by Sophia Laila Cabana


 IX.II.MMXIV (September 2nd, 2014)


Autumn came and ended slowly that year

so that the dusk of summer and the dawn of winter stretched out. At its faint beginning, the air was warm and the wind was cold, and a few golden leaves began to rustle gently to the ground.


It was September.

The world was standing atop the gilded wall between green and gray. Soon there was frost on the grass in the early morning,

but it all melted away by noon.


We buried him beneath a sky that fell dark over the well-watered ground, suggesting rain just as my grandmother use to suggest a cup of tea whenever my chest hurt.


It was September.

I remember my first time within a mosque,

trying to speak to Allah in a language which my American mouth can’t form.


How many deaths does apple-sweet September hold?

One more, now. One more added to thousands of Americans,

but this one was once a man with many names: Wisdom, Leader, Descendent of the Profit. Then, he became a refugee.


The refugee lived thirteen years in exile before his death,

years spent among those who were once his allies, those who now watched him with weariness. Then, he became the enemy, an unloved race.

Everyone thought they knew that no good things could come from his land. Then, he ceased to be at all.

He was no longer the man who had fled Soviet occupation only to be occupied again, this time not by tanks and guns, but by the shifting words behind each moving pen. He was dead.


His son-in-law, the American one, got down

and placed his Afghan body in the Virginian ground.

IX.II.MMXIV - X.XII.MMXIV (September 2nd, 2014 - October 12th, 2014)


When the last person walks away, they say that's when the body lifts its head,

learns, only then, of its own death, and awaits the coming judgement. Knowing this, my grandmother sat down, brought a chair to the funeral.


The rest of us had walked away, but she was bent into a shape of wanting, bent on staying beside him, her head thrown back as if to ask something of God, sitting beside the man who had once owned many great names as he lie still because she wanted to protect him from the judgement we’re all subject to

in the end.


When he had died that Tuesday morning, she cried out; I could've loved him,

not a confession of what she did, but what she could’ve done,

what she had somehow failed to do.


As I watched her sit beside his gray brick of a grave, I thought of her confession and knew she only admitted a half-truth.

I thought; could've, and did.


Not long after that warm September Tuesday and its gray funeral evening,

my grandmother made a call to Afghanistan, the place I'll never be a part of, yet am a part of  inseparably,

just as I am a part of America

and America is a part of me.


By the time of that call, his body had begun to settle into the clay, as things do.

Some things move in the clay when the river floods, and coffins find themselves opened up by the slush.

In Old Town, the bodies stretch from one end to the other, swimming in the mud beneath the churches and the streets, but my grandfather, the refugee, wasn't swimming that night. He was flying through the wires of a telephone,

sending his last rites like a message in a bottle, searching for a soul lost in the sea and finding my grandmother’s ear.

I.XXI.MMXIX (January 21st, 2019)


Have you ever looked at the moon and grown drunk on the sweet nectar of her beauty? Or buried your face in the grass and tasted the cold hopefulness of a new morning?

Or let saltwater throw itself against you and sting your old cuts?


Water touched by wind, soil mingled with stardust:

this is what you are, like everyone else.


So is it any wonder that she, the moon in her orbit, pulls you

as she pulls the oceans and their tides, transfixes your upturned head and curious mouth? Is it any wonder that you are always pulled down, as if your body craves the earth,

and at the same moment pulled up, as if your spirit craves the sky?


What are we? Only temporary imaginings.

But where are we? In everything, a part of everything. Must life have a purpose or a plan to be worth living? Must things make sense to be beautiful?

Perhaps not.


There is no shame in doing simply to do, as the ocean does when it carves rocks senselessly. There is no shame in filling a small space, as even lovely flowers are worthy of such smallness. There is no shame in being temporary, for the dew on fresh morning grass mists away quickly and is only seen by a few, but it is there nonetheless,

glittering for the sake of glittering, existing for the sake of existing. So look up, and let the ancient moonlight have its way with you, and enjoy this fleeting presence.

For a love that was not, and never will be, known

For a love that was not, and never will be, known