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poetry Sanctuary

Peter Neil Carroll’s “Sanctuary” honors the work of Proactiva Open Arms, a non-governmental volunteer group of lifeguards who rescue refugees at sea.

ALBA/PUFFIN Award for Human Rights Activism to PROACTIVA lifeguards,


By Peter Neil Carroll

The village creek serpentines

to open seas where I stand

all day at the ocean shore, feeling

the Earth’s core tremble.


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Sailor Melville got it right, picturing

landlubbers lined at water’s edge

looking outward on holidays

chary of wet feet.

I’m of the coastal breed, fear-fed

by tsunamis, yellow signs reminding



But when a war overflows the skin 

of safety, even a leaky ship looks dry,

launches a last hope, desperation

                                    uncommon courage.


Later, the crew of lifeguards reports 

orange tubes floating like macaroni,

hearing the human plea for sanctuary—

Bodies in the water!

How few they could reach, old men,

children, the drenched Syrian mother

who tumbled naked overboard,

cried out, slipped away.

Flotsam whirls undersea

or aerates into mist—

a woman’s gasp, spirit-ghost,

lifelines passing fast.

Peter Neil Carroll’s sixth collection of poetry, Something’s Bound to Break (Main Street Rag), will be published later this year. See his essay “On Writing ‘Sanctuary’” at: