The Day War Came was written by Nicola Davies in 2016 when she heard that the British government was refusing to allow lone refugee children entry into the UK. Nicola Davies is a children’s author and zoologist. The poem has been published as a book with illustrations by Rebecca Cobb.
it is striking how many of these poems I have selected for Refugee Week are about children. Here the child’s safe space is undermined in a split second: the place where they belonged becomes lost to them and they have no choice other than to go on the run.
One person responded to this poem by drawing a chair – I suppose there is a real welcome in our phrase “draw up a chair”. That idea grew into parading #3000chairs across the internet for 3000 child refugees alone and fleeing “all kinds of ghastliness” to “make the people who voted to shrug their shoulders and throw those kids to the traffickers hang their heads in shame”. Posting this is my offer of a chair – but as well I asked Vincent to draw one up for me as my way of saying “refugees welcome”.
The day war came
The day war came there were flowers on the windowsill
and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.
My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose
and walked with me to school.
That morning I learned about volcanos,
I sang a song about how tadpoles turn at last to frogs
I made a picture of myself with wings.
Then just after lunch,
while I watched a cloud shaped like a dolphin,
At first, just like a spattering of hail
a voice of thunder …
then all smoke and fire and noise, that I didn’t understand.
It came across the playground.
It came into my teacher’s face.
It brought the roof down.
and turned my town to rubble.
I can’t say the words that tell you
about the blackened hole that has been my home.
All I can say is this:
war took everything
war took everyone
I was ragged, bloody, all alone.
I ran. Rode on the back of trucks, in buses;
walked over fields and roads and mountains,
in the cold, the mud and the rain;
on a boat that leaked and almost sank
and up a beach where babies lay face down in the sand.
I ran until I couldn’t run
until I reached a row of huts
and found a corner with a dirty blanket
and a door that rattled in the wind.
But war had followed me.
It was underneath my skin,
behind my eyes,
and in my dreams.
It had taken possession of my heart.
I walked and walked to try and drive war out of myself,
to try and find a place it hadn’t reached.
But war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street.
It was in the way the people didn’t smile and turned away.
I came to a school.
I looked in through the window.
They were learning all about volcanos
And drawing birds and singing.
I went inside. My footsteps echoed in the hall.
I pushed the door and faces turned towards me
but the teacher didn’t smile.
She said there is no room for you,
you see there is no chair for you to sit on,
you have to go away.
And then I understood that war had got here too.
I turned around and went back to the hut, the corner and the blanket
and crawled inside.
It seemed that war had taken all the world and all the people in it.
The door banged.
I thought it was the wind.
But a child’s voice spoke.
“I brought you this,” she said, “so you can come to school”.
It was a chair.
A chair for me to sit on and learn about volcanos, frogs and singing
And drive the war out of my heart.
She smiled and said:
“My friends have brought theirs too, so all the children here can come to school.”
Out of every hut a child came and we walked together
on a road all lined with chairs,
pushing back the war with every step.