The story of the illegal

At the request of MO* and the Flemish-Dutch house deBuren, Sumai Yahya wrote the following story, a captivating poem about upheaval, homelessness and hope.

In the distance is a palm tree resting on the open beach. I should be sleeping, but the journey, the journey of my life, the journey across the great sea and the image of my sleeping baby in my head, I am sleepless.

I sailed on a dinghy, wandered the sea and lost the compass. And now I sit on the rocks empty-handed, the boat on its side, eyes about to burst into tears. A colorful, poisonous sensation in my throat slowly burns my throat like smoldering coal, my skin is like plastic. It creates a gap. Behind me the sea. For me the sea. A waterfall on both sides. And above me, the still air.

I stand aloof and did not come under your cloak. The cloak, which you sewed with blood and fingers, tore to pieces, and with trembling hands you sewed again, occasionally burning. As if you were splashing in the water of a flowing river when you lifted a leaden statue of Mary with your shoulders and hands. Water entered your mouth, many drowned. As the water falls slowly, like pieces of broken glass, slowly the sun approached and then … cut it.

And the sun poured down to the earth like a river of fire. Like an illuminated staircase to heaven. Like a statue of a mischievous, weird child peeing on the ground from space. The heavy statue of Mary, whose hand I must not kiss, and whose wine I must not drink, so that I must drink my own blood. From a bowl, like a thirsty dog.

I am the homeless one, my spear of blue fire was not thrown by a woman’s lightning. Instead, she fell and died in the sea, facing the ruins of your “Atlantis”.

And where is my wife? I see her in the rainwater when it runs over the asphalt into the sewer at night. The reflection of the lights floats with the water and ends up as lonely stars. She places her memory like a dream of cotton, like a phantom of fog on my furious face, where the night shelters. My face flows like the water in the street. One of the many streets in this dark city of eerie dream houses, still embraced by the remnants of the ancient era. The trees still move with the wind of hidden groans, far and deep, in the dark forest where people hide their fears.

I stare at the townspeople as the twilight falls heavily on me, wrapping me in her dress and sending me her blue mist. When my legs are so tired from hiking during the day and I leave hungry. Then I see a messenger knocking on a door. A man appears. He looks comfortable, enjoying himself. Then his daughter jumps up: ‘Papa, papa.’ She laughs out loud. They thank the messenger and close the door behind them. I look through the window. It becomes shy, wet and uncomfortable with the falling rain.

The father puts the pizza in the living room and a woman enters the room. Again the fire flares up in my throat. If only I could break the window! Or was I just an invisible shadow, so I could go in, wander between houses for the rest of my life, and let that streak of ink flow on my papers. Then I could wander into my past and my dream, merge with my wife and child. They are like my backbone, connecting my soul to existence.

I wished the same when I left my country and had before me the Mediterranean, beyond which lay “Europe.” Oh, if I could remove that ocean in front of me with my fingers as if it were a sticker. But the sea existed! And the window exists. And I! Standing outside that house, flying in my fantasies and desires and returning to the black circle that sometimes surrounds me. Oh, those moments. Where am I then? What happens to me? How at night, like a rabid dog in a canal, my rage spreads in all directions.

I lie alone in my hiding place. My eyes glow blue. The whole world comes into my eyes. She wraps me around and throws me naked on her distant shores. And I, drowned in my glassy body, in a quick second take a terrible breath and forcefully swallow my own soul. I, the shocked little worm from the sewer, feel my bed and ooze over it.

Get rid of this body! Let it seep! Drain this life, these bones and this skin. And let me merge with the dirty mattress beneath me, so that I no longer have to walk the streets like a stray dog. Let me be dirty and furred, messy, after my body is torn apart by itself. Get rid of this project! This collection of big drops: blue, purple … which is my soul. I will go to lifelessness. To the eternal movement and transformation of things in sleep. I will jump in so I will be mixed with the dust and return to my home. The glass house of oblivion. And crush this Ammar. Destroy his identity. Crush his dreams, suck them out of this world and put me in a vacuum with an eternally non-existent dream.

I will go to lifelessness. To the eternal movement and transformation of things in sleep.

Floating in the air like a sail, I landed on the torch from the Statue of Liberty as my boat sailed in the sky and hugged the first piece of land. I’m still here looking at New York and drinking my misery and despair from my djellaba as drops of water fall from the sky. You don’t see me. You only see the great flame of freedom, where I probably look as small as an ant.

New York is just big cubes, lifeless. In the sky, planes sail there. Maybe I’m too deep in the ocean for them to see only darkness. This is my story, an invisible rope of air strung between the clouds. A collection of pollen grains hanging from the walls of a beehive, wet and sleepy, wrapped in mist and cold. An eternal desire for convenience.

Or snow in the evening, when I stare hypnotized out the window. Worms enter the room:

“My dears, oh no, I haven’t forgotten you. Oooooh.’

And he smiles emotionlessly. As the worms crawl towards him. And he, even more tired and more disappointed, in a low voice like a drunkard:

‘I was always staring at you! When you were dirty.’

Placed by time in one of its bursts on the ceiling, the corners and on the mattress, I often oozed over. The fur of the worms has been abandoned! Spacious and spectacular, with a hundred eternal tours.

‘Where I wander and try to get close to you, and maybe even touch you. But I am trapped in this bed, where I often get terribly restless. I can’t stand you anymore! So near and so impossibly far you are!’

Meanwhile, a worm is crawling on his body. While still talking, floating on this hallucination. The worm comes close to his chin. Still unaware of it, he continues to speak loudly and open his mouth. The worm’s fur touches his chin and he feels a caress: “The warm wave of life.”

Kinder and with more sense, he then asks: ‘What are you really doing here?’ As he raises his hand to caress the worm, he lies drenched in sweat. The worm stops crawling and raises its head, and everything rings.

His eyes that also glowed blue, “I don’t know. This is my path, and here, next to you, I end. This is how to wander. Everything moves.’

The worm looks behind. To the distant blue light, reflected on a very nearby planet and looking back. ‘I don’t exist. I wander and crawl, for no reason’.

Ammar is shocked. The worm touches his mouth. It makes him emotional, ready to cry on the shoulder of a friend – or rather, Hubba, a woman who once existed before him.

The worm crawls on and tumbles into Ammar’s mouth! He’s choking! Puts hands on neck. His body, numb as a machine, tries to coordinate its individual organs. To spit out the worm! His neck curls. It works! He spits the worm violently into the sky, where a plane crawls on aerial ropes. Angry, totally excited, happy and hysterical, the worm shines into existence:

“I wasn’t made to stay in this room!” The worm then takes a glowing blue diamond from its body. Ammar is ecstatic to see the plane fly closer and go to New York. The plane is approaching. Everything looks like a dream. The clouds. The sunset. Ammar looks at it with deep appreciation of the view and in his amazement forgets himself. He thinks of the beauty he saw on all the journeys in the coat in the past. He feels a wave of happiness flow through him. And that’s when the pilot is so focused on landing in New York and not seeing him fly that the plane kills Ammar.

On Friday 16 December, Sumai Yahya will read this poem during the MO* talk ‘All legal?!’ at the Festival of Equality in VIERNULVIER (De Vooruit) in Ghent. Register at

Sumai Yahya (°2000)

writes poems and short stories, makes films and does photography. He was born in Syria and studied at the international school UWC Maastricht. In 2018 he won the Young Campert Prize for best poet at the Winternachten literature festival in The Hague.

© Reuters/Amir Cohen

Leave a Comment