Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

What Marks the Spot Is the Cost of Doing Business

What Marks the Spot Is the Cost of Doing Business
Photograph via Flickr by Gary Denham

After “Nameless dead of the Mediterranean wash up on Libyan shore,” by Orla Guerin, BBC News, Tripoli, July 28, 2016

“It was when we removed our blankets that we saw
—ah, this is a skeleton,” the cargo say about their nights
to the coast, sleeping on the parched highway of the dead,
where they pay again to be released from gangs, from rape.
You are invaded daily, too, rubbed all the wrong ways.

“I look at the sea and tell it, ‘You are not my limit,”
they say about the 180 miles they will ride
like liquid in a pair of cupped hands, some sloshing over
in turbulence, others draining so meekly away
even you will not notice. Those who dock you cannot predict.

“God covers them when they come out of the water,”
those who stay behind say about the bodies, lumped
on Libyan beaches like crabs, arms as desiccated
as driftwood sticking up to mark their tombs, skin
hanging from fingers like a species of seaweed.

“It is a taxi service for migrants,” the critics say,
“and encourages them to travel more.” On these days,
trips are cut down to twelve miles before Tripoli’s
remaining Coast Guard boat—a raft so flexible
it is a swordfish, identical to the ones it rushes

to meet—shows itself like a fin cutting through the waves.
Sometimes, they find only a few survivors to take to land.
“Going home will be like going to paradise,” the rescued say,
released from detention, lining up for buses, before they bury
themselves with more debt, and you turn them back into treasure.