Fathom Mag
Short Story


A poem

Published on:
April 22, 2020
Read time:
4 min.
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In the midst of this pandemic,

This poem is part of our April collection of poetry and short story contest winners.

I find myself wondering 

when the world might once again

return to normal.

What a privilege it is

that normal

is secure, stable, healthy,

with friends and family,

a job and freedom.

You see,

I’ve never heard the sounds of bombs


the march of soldiers down the street,

the taunts of rebel chants outside my


I’ve never seen the street-side


looked down the barrel of a gun,

heard about the kidnappings, torture, rape,

only to be kidnapped, tortured, and raped.

I’ve never had a target on my back

that put those I love in danger,

that forced me to flee in the dark of night,

kiss my spouse, my father, my mother,

my sons and daughters;

the hardest goodbye.

I’ve never hugged my children for the last time in years,

told them we’d be together again one day,

prayed to God my word would hold true.

Oh God, please let my word hold true.

I’ve never looked my eldest son in the eye,

tasked him with looking out for the others,

watched his childhood fly away into the night sky.

I’ve never had to steal one last hug,

feel my shirt soak with the tears 

of children who will never understand

that to protect them,

to love them,

to save them,

I had to leave them:

my life, my heart, my world


I’ve never left with nothing

but my documents,

a wad of cash,

mustard seed faith

and a nauseating courage that felt like death.

I’ve never landed in a foreign country,

to travel for three months 

by bus, by boat, 

by foot ten days across the Panama Canal 

with no food or water.

I’ve never been confronted by guerrillas,

held at gunpoint three times over,

surrendered my wedding ring 

to jungle thieves with AK47s.

I’ve never walked up to the barbed wire gates of freedom,

arms surrendered,

tears streaming down my face,

thinking the hardest part of my journey was behind me,

only to find that this was the starting line.

I’ve never spent months in prison,

weeks in a homeless shelter,

years in non-profit housing.

I’ve never tried to find a lawyer 

in a country where I do not speak the language 

with no money to my name.

I’ve never waited a year for a work permit,

two years for my court appointment,

the whole time wondering which was closer:

the last time or the next time 

I would see my family.

I’ve never woken in the dead of night 

to the sounds of my own screams 

as the breath escaped my lungs.

I’ve never stood before a judge 

with my whole life and future and hope in their hands,

been looked in the eye,

and granted the asylum status

upon which my whole life hinged.

I’ve never waited three more years for my family to be approved,

to finally stand with sweaty palms in the DFW airport,

alongside everyday people,

welcoming home loved ones from international travels.

I’ve never wanted to shout to the world why I was there:

that today was the single greatest day of my life!

But instead,

standing quietly,

with nervous anticipation,

occasionally forgetting to breathe,

fighting the rising hope within my chest

that had so often leads to disappointment.

I’ve never seen the double doors open,

my spouse with a shy, nervous smile,

my children, eyes wide, taking it all in,

as they scanned the room looking for me.

I’ve never fallen to my face in the middle of a foreign airport,

Thank you God,

Thank you God,

Thank you God,

as I held my family in my arms.

I’ve never felt the tears of children who still don’t fully understood

why I left,

soak through my shirt

as I held them in my arms

taller, older, more grown up,

almost seven years later.

I’ve never embraced my family tight- 

our broken hearts all beating together,

rejoicing and aching in unison,

marveling and mourning 

at the same time.

I’ve never flung open the door to our home,

beaming with pride,

years spent preparing and dreaming 

of this very moment.

I’ve never sat around the dinner table,

the smells and flavors and spices of home,

in our home away from home,

just as I had always imagined,



it would one day be.

I’ve never woken up one day to find life 

secure, stable, healthy,

with friends and family,

a job and freedom,

only to wonder 

when the world might once again

return to normal.

Monica Bharadwaj
Monica Bharadwaj is a pediatric ICU nurse and one of the directors of DASH Network, an asylum-seeker housing non-profit based in Fort Worth, TX. After graduating college, Monica moved into a large, refugee housing complex where she lived for a year and a half while hosting an Ethiopian woman who was seeking asylum. The friendships and experiences working with refugees and living life in hard places has given Monica the opportunity to process grief and hope, faith and doubt, and power and privilege through her writing. Monica lives with her husband, Keshav, and they serve on the Board of Directors of DASH Network together. They are excited for their upcoming move to El Paso where they will both be furthering their education.

Cover image by Marco Ceschi.

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