"The Situation" II - Strumica (North Macedonia)

Free IWP Course: Creative Writing, Disability, and Inclusion

...confinement is everything except a belonging ...

Nikola Madzirov was born in 1973 in Strumica, to a family of war refugees from the Balkan Wars. He is the author of four award-winning poetry collections; one of them, Remnants of Another Age was published by Bloodaxe/BOA Editions. An editor of an anthology of Macedonian poetry, he is also a coordinator for the Berlin-based poetry network Lyrikline.

 


 

I am not afraid of distances -
their closeness scares me.

Home is a psychological edifice: the fear of not belonging; the faith in the return that will defer death; safety’s hearth. Even the most sterile hotel room welcomes you with a burning log on the TV screen to reassure you that you belong here for all the ugly pictures on the wall and the aggressive air freshener. Today, sheltering at home is called isolation rather than belonging. By contrast, the mythical looking-back that kills loved one or turns them into stone, the looking-back toward a home one is about to leave, makes that home even more alive in the time of remembrance. For a long time now, I have been living the home as a dynamic reality, as if a tree with roots in the air. In Paris, my home was the Les Récollets complex, once a monastery for the Recollects Order, later converted into a military hospital - a space that over time preserved the tension between the monks’ silence and the screams of the wounded. In the seductive Berlin, I lived near Gottfried Benn's medical office, where the metal spikes on the window ledges made the pigeons fly on, nomads who had already forgotten what they had left behind and where they would land. Nomads don’t believe in monuments, although my refugee ancestors kept the key to every lost home in the medicine cabinet, a symbol for a life that will continue (go on), as if believing that one day they will return to the point of departure. More and more often, home is a space that abandons us, for we have become so accustomed to the spatial displacements of our body that we no longer  feel travel as an abandonment but only as a change of locale, although sometimes I have the feeling that each abandoned home follows me as if a hungry animal. Only in poetry can I be at home, only in doubt can I be safe. Literature began with poetry: "the song of a nomad predates the scribblings of a settler," writes Brodsky. Before I set out for a trip, I quickly open the suitcase and my shadow is already there, waiting for the books and the clothes. When I return, I open it slowly, the way one opens the sealed coffin of a war victim. As if extending the escape, deferring the belonging and rebirth, this time without witnesses.

Belonging is often the enemy of rootedness. Simone Weil says: "to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul."  A human being also belongs to the in-between spaces, to the houses that remain unfinished. I live in Strumica, a town near the borders of Greece and Bulgaria, and have always felt the safest in that hundred-meter strip between the two borders, a space without monuments or conditions for historical memory. Those spaces, aptly named no-man’s-land, want to tell you that you are Nobody if you feel them as your own. Ideological systems always tend to create a Nobody out of a body and a mind but "the person who creates a Nobody by denying Somebody’s existence will himself become a Nobody," writes Octavio Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude. So it is with cities. We feel that a city begins to belong to us when we find a corner, a small square or an unnamed bridge for each of our inner states, and one begins to refer to it by a fragment of their life routine or personal history. I believe that belonging is a natural, but also a self-deceptive response to the return to a city, if rarely to living in it.Do we belong to where we return, or only to where we die? Czesław Miłosz begins his poem "The City of My Youth" with the lyrics: "It would be more decorous not to live. To live is not decorous, / says he who after many years / returned to the city of his youth. There was no one left / of those who once walked these streets. / And now they had nothing, ex-cept his eyes.” The cities where you feel like you belong to yourself are harbors of your imperceptibility, where, alienated from the realities you have inherited, you begin to build the world’s truths. The title of my first book, published twenty years ago, was Locked in the City, bearing mostly on the mental state of confinement, shaped as well by the political logic of restrictions through visa and conceptual walls. The affiliation with Balkan, be it voluntary or forced, is at once a blessing and a curse, a birth in the geographical space of guilt: your mother spread her legs to give birth to you on the dock. But the confinement is everything except a belonging, even if the planetary seclusion forces us at the moment to belong to the world.

Post-edited from the German and the Macedonian by Nataša Ďurovičová