The Story Of Those Without Motherland

By Salome Benidze

I have never asked you
what your father was thinking
when he crossed the border
with you in one arm
and, in the other, his single, threadbare suitcase.
I never asked you
how it feels
when the name on your lips tells one truth
and the name on your passport another.
You were always so happy and carefree.
When you smiled at me, bright-eyed,
I saw myself in your irises,
not the shape of your motherland.
All this time, I watched and wept
as foreign planes fl ew over my own mountains
and I told you there is no happiness
without home,
without people to call your own,
that the happiest death is
death in the mountains of your country
and the worst is death under a different flag,
that abandoning your motherland is like
digging up the barely-cool body of your father,
selling his flesh,
wearing his bones like a rucksack you hawk from door to door.
I am telling you
that the taste of water is different in my motherland
even when
you have to drop a tranquilliser in the glass,
let it dissolve and drink and drink
and never wake again.
When I told you stories of my motherland
you could see my country
widen in my open eyes.
How could we forget
I am short-sighted?
I never noticed the debris on the shore,
the precipices between mountains.
In reality,
my motherland’s turquoise and emerald sea-colours faded long ago,
that the target she shoots at is
made of spit and mud,
that my motherland is a Venus fl y trap
which eats us down to our skeletons
and spits out what it can’t digest,
that sometimes the air
is hillside stonefall, rubble
and breathlessness,
weight on your shoulders,
a whole mountain on your back
you must carry with you, you alone.
Th is mountain is motherland too.
Nobody will help you move it.
Nor have I told you
that more die from mis-fi red bullets
than on the battlefield
and the soil of the motherland thrown over their chests
is not light
but heavy as fate.
I haven’t told you that love here is sometimes shameful
especially if you are a woman and you love too loudly.
Love is not a daisy-meadow
where you sigh, bare-skinned on the breathing earth.
Love in my motherland is strange and awkward,
a winding mountain path
trodden by sheep and wild goats.
Look at me!
I’m telling you about my motherland. I’m telling you a different story now.
I’m telling you how they sat me back-to-front on a donkey
paraded me through villages for people to scorn me
how I stepped into a hole
and because nobody helped me
I cut off my foot to save myself.
I’m telling you he does not love me
and I love him too loudly,
love him with a different part of my heart from the part that loves you.
I love him more boldly than my headscarf allows.
I stand alone in the empty square of my town
and talk to you across the gap.
I have never had a home
and the torrent from the mountain sweeping down the street
is just tears
which I saved for my stepmother
until they overflowed the dish
and washed part of the world away.

Look at me!
I wanted to ask you,
when I left you at the airport
cloaked in snow, I didn’t look back.
Why didn’t you follow me?
Why didn’t you grab my hand
and tell me
that sometimes freedom is a place without motherland
that I should have loved you more than my land
my land which did not accept me:
it buried me
and when I lay too heavily
it spat me out.

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