The ‘Illegal’ Ribbon

Poem by Jyhene Kebsi

A wave brought her mother here,  
and they see these wretched as “illegal” waves 
They say: “criminals.” 
The torn ribbon affirms: 
she will kill you, steal you, murder you 
with her toy, 
with the few remaining pages of her diary 
The diary in which she relates her story 
the story of her detained mother  
who feared birthing her on a boat 

The ribbon’s face saddens 
The ribbon tells its story, her hair’s story, the refugee girl’s story 
The story of her Iraqi mother who shouted her screams in a poem: 
Her mother rubs the dust off me, her daughter’s ribbon 
Her mother screams into the wind: 
The “illegal” ribbon that scares you has been violated, 
Nejia remembers…  
how she gave birth to Intidhar… 
Displaced babies scream 

Governments hate displaced ribbons, loathe displaced toys 
Toys smile to political parties 
Toys wave to Parliaments 
Toys wink at governments 
Menacing toys, Unwanted toys, Embarrassing toys 

On the mouldy wall, 
Intidhar’s mother writes her poetic scream: 
Imprisoned ribbons wait, wait, wait 
Brecht accompanies them as they wait 
They all wait, wait, wait 
for Godot  
to sort out the asylum lottery 

Her hair wants to be free 
Her hair wants to fly above the sea 
Her hair wants to fly above the wreck of her country 
And above those who tan in Coogee 
In order to beg for some humanity 


Jyhene Kebsi is a Lecturer in Gender Studies at Macquarie University. Before coming to Macquarie, Dr. Kebsi worked as a Teaching Fellow in the English Department at the University of Sydney. She also taught at both the University of Western Sydney and Saint Thomas University in the United States. Dr. Kebsi’s research and teaching focus on transnational feminism, globalization, postcolonialism, asylum and world literature. Dr. Kebsi is the recipient of multiple prizes and awards, including Fulbright. 

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