Merideth Jeffries holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and has been part of the World Relief Spokane community since 2009, serving first as an intern in the employment department and later as a Resettlement and Placement Specialist for two years. Deeply moved by the resilience and beauty of the people and cultures she was serving, she wrote a series of poems and essays about her experiences working with refugee communities in Spokane as part of her graduate thesis. The poems that appear here are the first section of a larger collection entitled, The Tigers That Corner Us. Names of individuals have been changed to respect their privacy. Merideth remains connected to World Relief Spokane as a volunteer tutor in creative writing for ESL students.
Written by: Merideth Jeffries
You barely made it through your education,
risking your life to sneak across the border
into India to study God’s word. And like Paul,
you went to jail for preaching.
I remember all the stories you told me,
though sometimes I doubted they were true—
like the one about the tiger you fought,
and catching swallows in butterfly nets as a boy
to take to market.
But mostly, I remember
the day I tried to do the right thing
and it was misinterpreted,
received with anger.
All you said to comfort me was, “When Jesus walked the world, many were healed. Demons fled from souls long suffering, sins were forgiven and still, they hung him
on a cross and put thorns around his head. “
And I remembered you said the tiger bared his teeth
as he tried to corner you,
that you were scared but you lived.
Girl From Tediim Township, Chin State Myanmar
This afternoon, Za Lun Mang sits on my lap. We look at photos
because we can’t speak to each other in English.
At the picture of the peony, she shouts, “Pak!”
She smiles and looks up at me, “Fl-ow-er: Pak,” she says,
not wanting to leave me out, teaching me.
And though I try to understand
what her mother means when she motions
to me or to something around the house,
or when Za Lun Mang laughs at my attempts at pronouncing
Lun Dam: Thank you,
I am left out,
and my country will does the same to her.
The Tower of Babel has swayed
and fallen, the bricks scattered into nonsense,
but Lord, I think, it’s not a tower to heaven that I want,
only to listen better to this girl.
Moth Orchid, Phalaenopsis, thrives in warm climates, it can be found growing wild in Parts of Burma, Malaysia and the Himalayas
I saw a moth orchid on the receptionist’s desk at work,
its fleshy, wine and white blossoms open. The stem curved
like a woman’s back, as it stretched toward the tinted window.
Last winter I ran into Van Nei Sung in Walmart buying groceries
with Zung Tin and saw a flake of snow still cold,
resting on the curve of her dark hair. She smiled warmly,
but I couldn’t help thinking she felt cold and far away from home.
My Hindu Friend Blesses Me
Gyanu tells me, his last name, Bahadur means brave,
his sister’s name, love.
“And yours?” he asks.
“My parents didn’t know when they named me,
but my name is Welsh for protector. I don’t know how well I do that.”
“No wait… it means protected” he says.
I smile, thinking, how would he know?
“Someone,” he says, “Your husband, maybe someone from above protects you,
but also friend, it’s your moral obligation to protect.”
I know he is right.
But I measure the width of my hand
and see it’s only as wide as the mouth of my coffee cup.