Poetry of memory and exile: Choman Hardi

Choman Hardi
18 June 2003

My mother’s kitchen

I will inherit my mother’s kitchen,
her glasses, some tall and lean others short and fat
her plates, an ugly collection from various sets,
cups bought in a rush on different occasions
rusty pots she doesn’t throw away.
“Don’t buy anything just yet”, she says,
“soon all of this will be yours”.

My mother is planning another escape
for the first time home is her destination,
the rebuilt house which she will furnish.
At 69 she is excited about starting from a scratch.
It is her ninth time.

She never talks about her lost furniture
when she kept leaving her homes behind.
She never feels regret for things
only her vine in the front garden
which spread over the trellis on the porch.
She used to sing for the grapes to ripen,
sew cotton bags to protect them from the bees.
I will never inherit my mother’s trees.

Qleeshayawa *

‘Qleeshayawa’, they would say, and start running.
The old, the young, men and women
‘Qleeshayawa’, they would say.

The young men joked about it between themselves
It’s our marathon, it keeps us healthy.

They ran indefinitely.
Sometimes with no expression on their faces,
other-times covered with the sweat of fear
     running, looking back, running and looking back,
or with humour.

Sometimes it was triggered by a gunshot
or the sight of vicious soldiers
     jumping out from their tank into a square.
Other-times, accidentally, if somebody ran, they all followed.

Sometimes they would be surrounded by tanks
     with nowhere to run to -
and forced to stand like a flock of sheep,
witness the execution of a friend,
and to clap and shout:
          Long live justice!

(* Qleeshayawa means cracking open. It is used to refer to the land or pomegranates; in the 1980s this word was used to describe the above situation.)

At the border

“It is your last check-in point in this country!”
We grabbed a drink.
Soon everything would taste different.

The land under our feet continued,
divided by a thick iron chain.

My sister put her leg across it.
“Look over here”, she said to us,
“my right leg is in this country
and my left leg in the other”.
The border guards told her off.

My mother told me: We are going home.
She said that the roads are much cleaner,
the landscape is more beautiful,
and people are much kinder.

Dozens of families waited in the rain.
“I can inhale home”, somebody said.
Now our mothers were crying. I was five years old,
standing by the check-in point,
comparing both sides of the border.

The autumn soil continued on the other side,
the same colour, the same texture.
It rained on both sides of the chain.

We waited while our papers were checked,
our faces thoroughly inspected.
Then the chain was removed to let us through.
A man bent down and kissed his muddy homeland.
The same chain of mountains encompassed all of us.

What I want

My father never had what he wanted
and we still don’t have what he taught us to love.
For many years he told us off
if he became aware of our loud earrings
if we dressed in red or perfumed our hair.

He spoke of the neighbours
who were mourning the death of their sons,
of the poisoned and soulless villages,
of the spring of 1988 which was full of death.
He spoke of the end of the bigger war
which meant further energy for destroying us.

Father cried
when he smelt the first daffodils of each spring,
when he saw images of the happy children
who weren’t aware of what was happening.

In his despair he kept saying:
Like the American Indians
our struggle will become a topic for films

And I imagine what it would be like
to have what my father struggled for
and I imagine the neighbours
not visiting the graveyard in despair.

I imagine humane soldiers
soldiers who would never say:
“We will take you to a place
where you will eat your own flesh”.
And I imagine what it would be like
to have what my father struggled for.

The Haunting

The same images haunted my mother every night -
hung by his wrists which were tied behind him
when the fat flies that he hated
drank from his young blood.
Their buzzing made her furious.

He was back, swollen,
with blue finger-nails,
and an open wound on his left temple.

Although he’d never be the same as before,
he was back,
many of them never actually made it.

My children

I can hear them talking, my children,
fluent English and broken Kurdish.

And whenever I disagree with them,
they will comfort each other by saying:
Don’t worry about mum, she’s Kurdish.

Will I be the foreigner in my own home?

Kurdish landscape

A view of Iraqi Kurdistan

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