Concluding Poem for Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma

Now we are going

And yet still we will be together

Taking with us warm shards of memory

That will give us fuel for the journey ahead

And joy at what we have shared

And are leaving behind.


Of language

Of the lilt in Navya’s voice

and Fiona’s Irish inflections

and Clemmentina’s English tones

and Maya’s easy laughter before she says “Punjabi”

and K-Leigh’s signing versatility

and Monica’s Spanish roots and Australian English

as she described taking turns

reading The Little Prince

to a damaged client who began to heal

and Maria’s standing to offer a birthday song to her fellow Brazilian

and the sparkle in Lorraine’s glitter-covered eyes

as she donned her multi-colored crown at Villa Etrusca

where we ate and sang to her in nine languages.


Of Love

Like Rachel’s holding a large golden goblet

to mark her movement

from Salmon’s dottoressa to amore

and the palpable tenderness

that emanates from and between Ariel and Jim

and Nicole’s blushing story

of her fiancee’s proposal

on the airplane

over the loudspeaker

after he pretended to be sick

while she cried

and before they landed

he asked her then

so that his relatives in Barbados

would meet the young doctor

for the first time

as his intended, not his girlfriend

and Angie and Patrick

nuzzling each other

on the bus

as if they had just met-

a friskiness that only added

to our speculation

about how they could possibly

have lived long  enough

to be great-grandparents


Of Family

Like Francine’s beautiful five-year-old twins

who she left

for the first time

in the Solomon Islands

and whose shining faces

on her computer screen

had to be admired

before I could send an email to my wife.

or Alexandra’s family

converging from their homes

in the Middle East, Spain, South Africa and Miami,

to Bagnoregio

to soak in two weeks of shared company

with those who knew you when

and love you anyway and because.

or Madelyn’s easy way

and uncanny resemblance of Aspasia

andAspasia’s toiling away at the Blue Bar

and uncanny resesmblance of Madelyn

or Diane’s long-haired daughter Sophie

with the newspaper raincoat

and love of home and books,

her mother Mary Elena, who always walks arm in arm

with Diane’s laughing sister Karen,

whose childhood cancer treatment

preserved her life but cost her her sight.

of Moona’s horse-training grandfather

accepting an offer to move from Afghanistan,

where he was respected, to Pakistan,

leaving the women behind,

a move that decades later

sparked in her a hunger

that continues until today

to know and understand her roots

and her family’s silence.

of Karen telling about Zaroui,

her mother’s mother,

who made apricot and cherry jam by hand

and cooked by the sun

until the last of her 102 years

after having

as a child

walked 600 miles

to an orphanage

safety and freedom

from the genocidal Turks.


Of Mission

Like Judy’s refusal to let the Australian government

ignore the evil abuse

of her beloved aboriginal children.

or Tracy and her husband Tim’s

stunning efficiency in

raising funds for


and building

a prosthetic clinic

in Haiti

or Laeth’s quiet determination

to build

a place in the UAE

where men and women

healers or trained

or Fengyi’s successful quest

to see the site

in the Ukraine

where thousands of Jews

were massacred during World War II,

a place where the victims’ bones still are visible

of Griff’s tenacious and audacious entrepreneurship

and Kelsey’s voice that rose

toward the end and finished strong

and of the passion

in Cecelia

as she urged us to normalize

the problems mothers

have in nourishing their children

of Nemia’s tears-stained face

as she struggled to speak

about those mothers

in the camps

who have wandered a month

without sleep or food

and have survived the ordeal

only to be unable to feed

those to whom they have given life

and Shari’s fierce strength

powered by righteous and directed anger

and a ceaseless effort

to document the truth

and let the bones speak.


Of Joy

Of Maggie fiery red hair as she unleashes

yet another gut-wrenching laugh

of the glow in the room after

Nisha’s dance therapy session concluded

or the bounce in Sasha’s step

on Corso Cavour

Sunday night

as she described

bargaining a Florentine vendor

down to half price

on a leather bag she coveted

of the lightness in Pierre’s face

during the cooking class

at Zeppelin

and after the dance performance

on Saturday night


of  Intelligence

Like Geana’s skillful syntheses and trenchant critiques

and Kathleen’s O’s direct and thoughtful comments

and Christie’s precise and patient queries

or Yavar’s probing questions

delivered with a clear and even tone

or Sunday’s smiling contributions to the conversation

about people who are grateful

for blood-stained urine and retracting penises

and of the range of topics

on which Ossama spoke

with insight and authority

or of Neil

who came to answer personal riddles

and left with a curricular vision


of Vision

Like Rhonda’s openness

to letting the unknown contours

of her next stage

come into clarity

or Kim

who dreams of forming

an organization

to help the young women

who resemble the girl

with sunglasses, a halter top

and jeans in her healing picture

or Cecile’s working toward

the first park in Haiti

In a neighborhood known as

the area of no rights

where trees grow on garbage

of Sopha and Mohamed,

who left but never forgot

their homes and the people who suffered there,

and who each dream of opening a clinic

to help heal their nation’s

still gaping wounds


of Humor

Like Craig’s ceaseless push for more red wine

all the while

proclaiming his innocence and sweetness

or of Anjuli enjoying

the party

ahe threw with Yavar

so much

that at moments

she seemed

to be banning

her guests from leaving

or Astrid’s lifting Griff’s reluctant left arm aloft

to announce her candidacy to overthrow Richard.

“I’m Haitian, I can’t help it,” Astrid said,

her lip curled into a revolutionary sneer.

“I have to lead a coup.”

or of the phrases in Anita’ guidebook

that moved seamlessly from

“You are being too pushy”

and “This is getting too heavy”

to “Yes, but only with  a condom?”

or Tedi, well, you have already heard about Tedi.


Of Character

Like Jessica’s bone-deep kindness or Deniz’s startling maturity

and Dr. Abudoam’s dignified bearing and Zahra’s calm depth

and the compassion in Miryam’s face

and Helen’s radiant serenity

and Suzie and Sue, who beyond having a name and state in common,

share a passion for their patients and communities

and of Megan handing me her phone

at midnight and telling me to call my wife

after learning I had not reached

her to talk about a friend’s death

that had just happened.

or Katherine’s humility and genuine concern for Kathleen

and of Kathleen’s responding

while I pushed her tailor-made wheelchair

over Orvieto’s cobblestone streets

and toward the arch

and commented on old Europe’s inaccessibility,

“Yes, Jeff, but you should have seen Tibet.”


where she traveled there after having a vision of a mountain,

saw some, but not all, of what she had come to see.

and had another vision of returning two more times.

“You have time,” I said.

These and so many more

I will carry inside me

and bring out like warm charcoal

or a tasty meal

on a cold night

or when I am low

to heat me up, nourish me

and give me the strength to continue

or in a private moment

when I will sit back and


and remember

and smile.

We have time, yes.

And memories, too.

Now we are going

And yet still we will be together

Taking with us warm shards of memory

That will give us fuel for the journey ahead

And joy at what we have shared

And are leaving behind.


5 responses to “Concluding Poem for Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma

  1. Great sprawling anthem
    to days of commitment
    and solidarity of purpose
    a Gregorian chant
    sung solo
    with the silent harmonies
    of your comrades
    echoing down the streets.
    trattorias, meeting halls
    of Orvieto

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Love it! Believe me, you were very much a part of those conversations throughout the two weeks.

      Happy Turkey Day. If I remember correctly, you’ll probably be heading to the McMahon’s house.

      Let’s catch up soon!


  2. Great to catch up on phone today. Your abundant euphoria at having spent two weeks with an international group of inspiring people dedicated to righting wrongs and giving a voice to the voiceless was such a pleasure to hear this morning. I am so touched that your inclusive poem of acknowledgment above had its root in 4T in 1989(?) when you delivered a similar one to the fourth graders in our class on the last day of school… and you remember their names to this day – Shirley Wong, Danny Rose et al. You’d recently graduated from Stanford (summa cum laude) and returned to Brookline to team up with your brothers to care for you mom after her terrible automobile accident and ended up spending time at Pierce School running the recess program (and wrote a manual, a survival guide which became required reading, for future young men and women who undertook that daunting task), being librarians Elly Finkel’s and Hanna Zeiger’s assistant and surrogate son, and teaching the current crop of kids in 4T with me. What a life altering year for both of us – as Ive said before, you’re the only student ever to have a post graduate degree from 4T. What a gift.

  3. Greetings to family for us!

    Thanks a lot Jeff, for sharing your passion and love with this beautiful poem with all of us. I returned home safely Wed. evening and have so much to thank everyone I have met in the program during this Thanksgiving and many more years to come. I found myself fortunate to be in the program to learn from all of you. Thank you for teaching us with your passion in such a humble and touching way. You are our inspiration. Keep in touch, Fengyi

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Fengyi, for your kind and generous words. I very much enjoyed meeting you, too, and look forward to keeping in touch as we are not that far away from each other physically! 🙂

      Regards to your family.


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