POEM: Hiraeth


Brother, when you ask me
where I come from,
I hear the sighs of old chairs
that fold their calloused arms
over knees bruised
from one too many moves.

Seats chipped and weighed
down by rooms
whose doors are framed with
the glow of your destiny;
yet whose walls
somehow make a pauper
of my papered perfection.

Brother, when you ask me
where I come from,
I remember our endless trips
down gaping streets;
my yellowness streaking through the
whiteness of your picketed fences.

Yet somehow in driving you to your destination,
I always seemed the passenger left behind
staring at the Ethiopian cream of
my cupped black pearls, made cold with
the anxious whisperings of:
‘where to from here’?

Brother, when you ask me where I’m from,
are you strong enough to bear the honesty of my question:

do you know what it’s like to flee from a peppered sky,
only for my colour to slip silently
through your black and white weaving,
for my heart to go to bed hungry from the grumbling ache
of a culture that leaves more space at the dinner table for my country’s dishes
than for me?

whose lips will never know the tantalising taste of ينوّر عليك, nor
feel the roll of their tongue around the hundreds of ways my language teaches us to say:
I love you.

for my eyes to be drowned by those who cry war,
yet have never felt what it’s like
to cocoon the bodies of those
whose death will live on longer than their breath,

for my body to forgive again and again those who
recycle their identity by robing themselves
in my culture, claiming its warmth as their own,
and leaving me to scrape in naked darkness for what’s left behind.


home for me is the train that never looked back,
its tracks have long carried it
away from the arms of the clock that
stopped ticking the moment I left my
station to join yours.

Home is the letter
whose leaves fall in summer,
the runner who tarries to the finish line,
arriving to a stadium that has long emptied.

Home is the searching through the crumpling of news,
the scavenging of dried bowls for the wafts
of my country that cling to its rims.

Home is the voice that billows upwards
at each gust of memory and anecdote,
curved masts fading away the flames of loneliness,
bearing the scent of roasted chestnuts and watermelon seeds.

Brother, do you see why
where I came from no longer matters?

for just as surely as the wind
does not obey our parcelling of earth,
and the sun does not first rise
under a Western banner –

I belong to any land that calls me daughter.

Khalto to your niece, aki to your younger sister, hija to your mother;
a yinshi finding stillness in the mothering hands of Thich Nhat Hanh,
skin blackened by an earth that hugged and wouldn’t let go.


The only difference between you and I
is that I have learned not to deny the ancient routes that fed,
blended and bumped us together
and have come to realise that
if home is where the heart is,
then my heart is a palimpsest
that whispers the language of my
birth, passing it on to the very first page of my children’s story,
and the very last chapter of my own.

Home is the bird that unfurls its wings,
fleeing upwards towards Mandela’s freedom,
breathing in the rolling emeralds of Austen’s hills.

Home is the moment when you change your question, and ask me:

So tell me sister, where do we come from?

©Farah Beaini, 2016

*Performed with the improvised music of Senegambian kora player Amadou Suso as part of Multicultural Arts Victoria’s:  ‘Emerge in the Yarra Festival: Common Ground‘, 23 June 2016, Richmond Theatrette VIC (video coming soon).

Part of World Refugee Week, the Common Ground program was a night that united music and poetry to tell a story of identity, belonging, migration, nostalgia, peace and conflict.

*Adapted from ‘The Siren Speaks’, TCK TOWN.


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