Cover Photo: Photo by Andrea Batarse. Image via Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University/Flickr.
Photo by Andrea Batarse. Image via Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University/Flickr.

These Dark Skies: Seeking Refuge on Europe’s Shores

This situation can be changed, but only if our compassion is stronger than our fear.

This essay originally appeared in print in the Winter 2017 issue of The Southern Review.



On Being




Eh, what could you do?



Though we are both human beings, I am a more important kind of human being than you are. And while this situation is real—these troubles, and this thing that your life has become—I am going back to my own life now, because I am not ultimately the one responsible for your life or for all the colossally massive factors weighing on it, pinning it to the ground

I am not responsible, though I benefit from those factors just as surely as you are pinned beneath them. And I’m not sure who is responsible. I don’t really believe it’s you, for you did the only logical thing possible, given your circumstances, given the weft of the world you were facing, the violence, the privation. But I don’t know how to make this situation better.

How can I help with the immediate needs of the people here?Why are so many people stuck here in this camp?Who do we offer asylum to, and who do we turn away?What are the underlying causes of so many people needing asylum?How do we make this world full of meanness, indifference, and vast inequality, any more just? Any kinder, any more human?

Arianne Zwartjes is a poet and essayist recently relocated from the Netherlands to the mountains of Colorado. She is the author of the lyric nonfiction project Detailing Trauma: A Poetic Anatomy (University of Iowa Press); a selection from Detailing Trauma won the 2011 Gulf Coast Prize for Nonfiction and was named a Best American Essays Notable Essay in 2013. Her writing can be found in Tarpaulin Sky, Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, Fourth Genre, Essay Daily, and elsewhere. Visit her and more of her writing at or on Medium @ariannezwartjes.