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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.

Brother,

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?

*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. 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.

wherethelostchildrenplay

I come from a land
where olive trees grow bullets
and children play
in the shadows of peace;
where the voices of the dead
ring louder than the living;
fireflies foreshadow
the singsongs of war
in valleys that flow,
flow ruby red.

It is true, as you’ve heard
I am the dance of the mountain
the virgin kiss of summer figs
half babe, half Jin.

But today,
today I prepare
to forget the feet
that stand upon my shoulders.

Like Lazarus, I rise
above toothless buildings
that cradle more cracks than cement
and allow myself to fall;

fall into the arms of endless horizons
that heed my call;
my call of freedom from
permanent winter
and the wolf calls of
orchards and vineyards
longing for their master’s return.

Oh! How I long
to taste the sweetness of
empathy’s lips
and drink from
the burgeoning springs of
hope’s lifeblood;
to unclasp myself
from the gripped fears
of my ancestors
and disappear
into the land
where the lost children play
amongst red vans that
know not whether the
road begins or ends.

And there I will stay;
a truth foretold in the
embers of your could be’s
that weren’t;
a white flag for ships
lost amongst
the elephants of yore;
a desire that burns and throbs
in your chest
screaming for you
to run,
flung forward,
faster than your legs
can carry you and fall,
like a newborn
that knows its mother
is the universe,
and the universe
will pick you up once more.

abscission

One

And as you watched me
break apart
one wing of mine
you took with you,
so I’d never forget
that I once flew.

Two

Cast me away
into Patagonian rivers
so that like salmon,
each strand of my being
can learn to swim upstream
and shed your grey
in the stillness of azure.

Three

We sit silently at the table,
peeling onions.

It does not take long
for the sulfonic acid
to irritate
our exposed tear ducts;

the brittle outer scales
to poke and dig
at blackened flesh.

But as each translucent layer
falls to the ground,
so too
do our voices
shed their hardened shells,

until finally,

there is nothing left to peel.

Four

They finally arrived,
those words of yours that set me free.

And for the first time in four years,
I awake to the realisation
of just how small a space
you now occupy in my heart.

For those words that once crucified
now slide as assuredly down my back
as freshwater finds its way to sea.

And while my feet still bleed
from your jagged coral,

I now know
that so long as I brave
the rapids of your displeasure,
I will find a way;

finally find a way to return home to me.

Five

We sit in the park,
staring at the pink-blue sky that carries news of rain;
the joggers doing laps around the oval;
the dogs chasing each other’s tails.
We stare at all these things and anything but each other.
This is a silence five years in the hardening,
yet my hurt? –
 has not stopped pounding
and my heart? –
has not stopped screaming.

I
, Sagittarian take aim, while
you, Cancerian emotionally guard.

Sorry does not come easy.
I run my fingers through the dead, yellowed grass,
pulling and snapping its hollowed stem.
I don’t want to be angry anymore –
– I don’t want us to be this way

Sorry does not come easy.
But YOU are the one who says it this time.
Cathartic oxygen,
my heart breathes you in;
pink-blue pain thaws
as your arms lap around;
steady fingers chase away
the very last hurtguards.
We stare at all these things and each other.

This
is a forgiveness five years in the softening.
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