Julys near Omarska

Poetry workshop

By Laila Sumpton

Using poetry to work with the group at POP2015 gave us some reflection space to really consider what the events of the war meant to us on a more personal level- so that we can carry the stories forward and use them in our awareness-raising and peacebuilding work. The poems the groups created both individually and as a group were really thoughtful and concise, great lyrical pieces we can use to share our experiences. Condensing all the stories and images is always a challenge, and whilst writing you can find yourself writing as much for an audience as yourself. This poem ‘Julys near Omarska’ reflects on the days I spent with the POP2015 group, how we all worked together to learn about the past in fairly sweltering conditions, whilst finding the signs of hope and building on our own resilience.

Omarska
Julys near Omarska

Sleep was hard to find
for two hundred men
locked in a room at the steel mine-
only space to crouch and lean
till bodies thinned, faces dwindled.

In our July, over 20 years on,
a few miles from that mine
and the tracks that had towed
the village apart
it was hotter than any July before
and sleep was hard to find.

Our well ran dry, sheets dank,
and flies swarmed in heavy nights
riddled with rooster caws
and wartime tales that we
had woken, that should not sleep-
should walk pages and paths
spiralling out of here.

We had flown in from various towns
found ourselves at a forgotten stop
on the most deadly Bosnian road
where cars swerve and flowers frame dry ditches.
We left all our shoes at the door
to contemplate their trails and shelter bugs,
as we moved onto the same carpet
that we would unravel together.

We were waking up the stories people pass-
whilst hay is turned, cats creep up on meat,
and the village rebuilds each year,
it’s families returning to repaint doors,
teach children how to tractor lawns,
learn their accent back,
wander their new old streets.

We paused and circled graves,
then the steel, marble, cement
roll call banners with a scattering of wreaths,
stone address cards with only struck out names
re-etched and welded into a roller-deck of loss.

We look for traces, of what there was before
turned over leaves,
found jokes under forgotten bricks,
laughter where washing was hung-
rebuilt it all in our various tongues
to fly and carry home.

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