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Home: A Place to be Left

Home: A Place to be Left

Nikola Madzirov

When they were building the walls,
how could I not have noticed!

Constantine Cavafy1

There was too much painful silence after all the wars in the Balkans. The words of history were returning bullets in the minds of the survived. The only future was offered by the forgotten yet present leaders and dictators who promised eternal ideologies or ideologies of eternity. Zoran Ancevski in his poem "The Balkans" writes, “From too much past - / neither peace / nor present.”

How do I present poems on home in a region where home is not present? Where abounded houses and memories take root, inhabiting the empty space of forgiving? I neither selected authors nor poems, but different homes. The poems were already translated into English, welcomed into the big tent of verbal understanding. There are many other lines on homes, cities, countries, and graves written by other Balkan poets that always return into the echoing cave of their languages. I believe this is just a shadow upon the threshold of an unbuilt home.

* * *

When returning home, you return to self2

True nomads leave only the home that they've built. The same is true for birds, lovers, and construction workers, who sleep on-site until they finish building a home that does not belong to them. Only he who builds and leaves knows the secret of historical non-belonging, unlike those who build and then destroy, or the ones who move in and out. I would like to speak of leaving rather than living, as we often identify home through the prism of our own spatial impermanence, or by means of how genuinely our home leaves us before we leave it. When birds leave their nests, they fly away; when people leave their homes – they remember.

Each house has its own walls and a roof to protect it from rain, stray bullets, and false prophets. All inherited fears and longings are conserved into it; all shared stories and traces from the past are inscribed on its floorboards. The home is an architectural construction of our personal memories, and a place to leave as soon as the sense of abandonment settles in our mental space. In fact, being abandoned is the state of lacking memories, and the state of staying in a vast space that extends both our shadow and the echo of our own voice.

Lacking memory of our own nativity, we zealously remember our native homes, thus erasing the hospitals of our birth from the maps of mutual living places. Native homes cannot be built – they are inherited, so leaving them is more an act of initiation rather than nomadism. Gaston Bachelard says that - even with no memories - our native home (as a counter-point to a dream home) is physically engraved within us, and that it is a group of organic habits3. And habits are the deadliest enemies of leaving, of love, and of ideological disobedience. The strong Balkan sense of accumulation, empathy, and "comfortable solidarity" as a debt to future generations made most Balkan people spend the 20th century as stalkers of the "better life" out of the country they were born in. In return, they built five-story houses in their homeland hoping to come back home one day, the way everyone hopes to reread the highlighted lines some day. These buildings turned into holy mausoleums of their own builders, humble tops of the Narayama Mountain.

Czeslaw Milosz wrote that, after leaving his socialist homeland, he felt like a person who could move around freely, but wherever he went he carried with him a long chain that was always pulling him to the same place - it was primarily an external chain, but it also existed within him4. Regardless of all the imposed geopolitical fences, it is possible to escape ideology, as it is most often the antonym of memory and present time, always offering only a future. And only false prophets, together with traders of absolute truths, are not able to escape a future. Homelessness occurs when we leave places with walls thick enough for all the voices of collective happiness and personal alienation; when we leave our home without turning back, the very act of leaving becomes our home, while the rings of the lengthy chain remain tightly attached to us through the language of our mother, childhood, the sunrays falling upon the pillow in the nursery. In our memories, the walls of leaving are more real than the walls of living.

I often imagine a home that is never left. Its yard is fenced by the line of the horizon, it has high balconies with abandoned nests and dirty ashtrays, its windows uncover the dust of the city and the flickering lights of the TV set that someone forgot to turn off. I think about a home where one arrives and never leaves. A home that cannot be inherited. I think about the dynamic bond between the corporeality of the inhabitant and the geometry of space, about the length of thresholds and the area of desires. I think about the “refugees” and their new, temporary homes that they supply with new insecurities and furniture arranged in the very same manner as the furniture of the homes they left. I think about all those who struggle to leave the life in their homes, those fortified altars of personal belonging.

I am an involuntary descendant of war refugees, and an heir of temporal homes. I have not built a home, thus I have nothing to leave, even when I move my body home from one place to another, from one geometrical truth to another.

1. Constantine Cavafy, ‘Walls’
2. Rumi, ‘Omar and The Harper’
3. Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space” (Beacon Press, 1994).
4. Czeslaw Milosz , “The Captive Mind” (Penguin Classics, 2001).