Some days the sun rises from my head and I write as if I were relearning life from the letter “a.” Other days, like today, I am a meteor disintegrating — days in which everything and everybody recognizes me as a foreigner.
Exiled from a country that only exists in the shadows that nostalgia draws up (nobody chooses borders as a postcard).
Some days I forget that the language I write in is not my language, I stole it. I stole it from a bookcase the day I took a copy of “A Fine Balance,” put it under my jacket and ran back to the refugee shelter, where a pocket dictionary was the only tool I had to decipher a story that I so desperately needed to claim as mine.
I learnt English by stealing books. I taught myself both, the art of book theft and the complexities of the English language. The greatest lesson I learnt is that when you write in a stolen language each word is an opportunity of life and death. Thus it is necessary to care for every word and for the silence from which it emerges.
But on days like today it is hard to hear the silence. Fearful fascists, entrenched in their delusion that borders must remain eternal and immutable, vehemently promote the construction of walls, segregated neighborhoods and checkpoints… ignorant that the Promised Land can only be found in the poem.
When I write in my stolen language, some days I tear down walls and with each verse I liberate entire territories. Other days each letter is an impenetrable frontier.
But there is a freedom, a literary anarchy of sorts; when you take a language without permission, you take it as a whole. With its lightning and its shadows. And when no one is watching you are free to venture past the narrow laws of syntax, to look for the exact place where magic is born.
To write in a stolen language is an act of rebellion and an act of survival. It is to carefully listen to the silence between each word to hear the poem breathing, feel its pulse. To write in a stolen language is to re-invent it every day. It is to walk past the shelf of best-sellers without looking. Without concern about purity or the seals of approval of academia.
On days like today, when the gardens of the world are filled with equestrian statues of cowards, the exiled poets, believing themselves the only “foreigners on earth,” transform their wound –their exile– into a meeting place.
According to Cecilia Vicuña: “Dante Alighieri wrote in the fourteenth century that the spirit of poetry abounds ‘in the tangled constructions and defective pronunciations’ of vernacular speech where language is renewed and transformed. His vision resonates today with the faulty speech of migrants–and refugees–creating the sounds and intonations of the future”.
My only country is my poetry and it has no anthems.
-Ari Belathar, 2016 Poetry Fellow (#RefugeesWithPencils)