Thursday, February 2, 2017

Kristen de Kline #57 - not earthbound

she always says she dreams
in her mother tongue
     "tema emakeeles"
speaks in English but
in Estonian

'not every notion translates to another tongue'
they say it almost gets there
but just      misses the mark

what's the word what's the word?
"mis see sõna on? mis see sõna on?"
how you say it in English?
"kuidas seda öelda inglise keeles?"

it's the first word we learn: "pagendus"
but we can't translate it, know it:
those first weeks in September '44
hours, days, weeks of uncertainty:
"Will we all be slain or deported?"
I saw it all, she says,
the train wagons, the trucks, the despair
my family didn't sleep, I was sleepless too

The occupation was far more horrible than Hitchcock's movies
     he says,
The Birds, do you know it?
Watching that was like a children's game
     not horrible at all
but what happened there, in our country,
     "meie riigis"
what happened there,
     that was really horrible,
he says...

Blood-coloured horses
trampled the earth     scorched,
trees     burnt,
invaded      forests
water clotted
the earthbound weight of the
hollows     emptied out
into our hearts: hunted     haunted

they took it all into exile:
blue moods not-sleeping moody blues
with the sun     setting now
on a foreign channel, an unfamiliar language:
"what's the word, what's the word?"

days and darkness     shadow-curves
across the
hungry earth
you drank wine, too much
and ordered Estonian rye bread from a bakery
two and a half hours away

when they left their country
they carried their Nordic gloom
like a prize and a curse
they looked towards the sun
setting      in another place     a different fashion
in exile they knew never to look back
but still they came undone
their rolled r's starched op shop suits heavy European accents
betrayed them    

Pretend what you like: they never fitted in
I could hear the English words the neighbouring children spoke:
gobbledegook gibberish wogs refos gobbledegook
they didn't know they were laughed at
but I wanted to slap them, the Aussie kids
tell them the only thing my mother had of her fathers was a ring
and a last letter from Siberia
show them the packages of nylons biros Levi jeans shampoo wigs we'd send to the Baltic States
and how us children would have to add the four letters the adults would refuse to pen:

Pretend what you like: during the war they were
illegal aliens
displaced people
Pretend what you like: assimilation never bloody happened
their English their spirit their sleep was
they drank too much red wine
ate too much rye bread
rolled their r's like madmen
their hearts prized open, cursed apart
drinking eating rolling in the gutters
looking up at the apocalyptic sun
setting     on another channel
a different coloured sky
coming     undone
with the letter 'r'
rolling off the page


  1. Crikey. I felt - what's the word? - the SPIRIT there. The power. The soul. Testifying. So good, dear Kristen.

  2. P.S. I just watched the film 'Arrival' today. This concept of 'alien', of an Otherness that always has to be distrusted and feared... :(

  3. Thanks Rob as usual for your wonderful feedback and praise. I must watch 'Artival' - with all the antics going on post Trump these issues of Otherness are as timely as ever.

  4. strong stuff ... all of which resonates v much with me as the son of a refugee ...

    Arrival is worth watching though I suspect the story it's based on might be better... have only just started it though

    I think Arrival might have been envisaged as a first film of the Hillary era ...
    it has that kind of hopeful ring

  5. Thanks Kit :) Yes these themes (exile, displacement, never 'really' fitting in etc) are recurring themes for me too - also a child of refugees/boat people. Must watch Arrival it seems - and check for the story it's based on too.

  6. Very moving and powerfull poem, and things like this testimony should be widely spread, it is so much part of our human history that people's consciousness will awaken to some awareness if this kind of poems can reach them rather than states' propaganda ...

  7. Thanks Béatrice, yes I think these sort of poems/testimonies/histories should be publicised too and always feel heartened when I see people writing about these sorts of issues.


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