Run to Them: A Poem by Desiree O’Clair

with comments by Poetry Editor Alicia Ostriker

I ran so fast,

I couldn’t look over my shoulder. I ran so fast,
I didn’t feel my legs.
I ran so fast,

the child clinging to my hip thought we, like birds, were flying.
I ran so fast I out-ran my fear.

When we reached the sea,
I just kept running.
We were running for our lives,
with nothing more than what we could carry on our backs. We left our homes, our community, everything we knew. Always the stranger.

That was long ago,
but you must not forget.
When you see the refugee
washed ashore on rafts through waters that did not part, Remember me, your ancestor, a slave.
Remember the people of your tribe.
When you see the refugee children,
hungry for the mothers and fathers who did not survive, looking to the sky for manna that does not fall, Remember where you came from.
The Eternal freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand,
by an outstretched arm.
When you see the refugee today, remember this.
They are the strangers, and you are free.
The hands of free people are mighty
And yours are the outstretched arms.
Run to them.

-Desiree O’Clair 

Lilith Poetry Editor Alicia Ostriker comments:

This poem begins as a midrash on Exodus, bringing to vivid life what it was for a Hebrew woman escaping slavery to run for her life.

We are then asked to imagine what it is like for today’s refugees, people lacking miracles to save them. No sea parted by a divine hand—and many, we know, drown. No manna from heaven—and many are hungry. We are reminded, at the poem’s ending, that the divine “mighty hand” and “outstretched arm” are ours. The imperative to us as free people who were once slaves, is not to walk away from today’s desperate refugees, not to look away; “Run to them.”