Zahra dreams in a half-sleep as she is floating, her arms clutching a long plank of boat timber. Weeping and exhausted, she had been searching, searching for her two young daughters, as the night-sea surged in an oily, mountainous swell, dragging her up and down, up and down.With rain battering her throbbing head, she licked drops from her lip endeavouring to quench the agony of thirst. Circling above floating bodies of the dead, in the darkness of the void, seagulls are an instant of life. In her dream Zahra is standing with her husband, Hussein, as their daughters joyfully clap their hands in their new home in the faraway Dreaming.They are watching two kangaroos play-boxing together, while a wide-eyed platypus slides down into a muddy creek and a black swan glides past them overheard - Is the swan's shadow crossing their pathway a warning? They feed a koala bear with green eucalyptus leaves, smiling as they hear the raucous laughter of a kookaburra. Her daughters had been intrigued when they received, in Nejef, postcards of these strange creatures, from friends who had travelled to the Dreaming, months before, to begin a new life.  The two girls would often chant in Arabic, an Australian poem they had been sent:

The eternal dreaming of this land
Bestows a prayer of peace,
Beneath a brimming feat of starts
Our pulse of life is free.
While wattles whisper to the wind
'This soil is warm and deep,'

The circling seas sing to the sun
'These shores are innocent.'
Some may hear the muffled drum
of the land they travelled from.
Others yearn for the old ways
When customs here seem wrong
But we have faith in our future here,
Our freedom makes us strong,
Australia's vast and vital heart
Gives joy to everyone.

'Oh dark, dark it is,' Zahra murmurs to herself
as she wakes from her dream.  She calls to Hussein,
'Oh my beloved husband, where are you?
Where are our children'?
But there is no reply …
She hears only the heaving waters and the hiss of rain.
'We saved our money, coin by coin,' she sighs,
'We were assured a safe passage across the seas
to find freedom in a faraway land of hope.
We had been in darkness and were promised the light.
Has our need and one man's greed brought us to this?
Did he herd us all like cattle onto a frail vessel
simply to fill his pockets?
Oh grief-sea, give me back my family.
The fish are gnawing my flesh, and I am cold, cold
and the salt in choking me.  We've suffered so much.
Why this further punishment?
I long to hear the echo of my children's laughter.
No! Their innocence has been drowned.
I pray for forgiveness for any wrong-doing.
I am now an empty shell,
my soul is with my girls and Hussein.
Dark, dark it is.  I awake to a nightmare of darkness.
I listen in sea-solitude to the wailing winds
as the sun slowly rises in the East
… I wait to die.'

Zahra slowly sinks below the troubled surface of the sea,
only to rise again and float in the deep sleep of death.


The poetry is in the pity … Wilfred Owen
Dedicated to the memory of those who were drowned when the  SIEV X sank in October 2001)
Anne Fairbairn