We Don't Fall Gently

Week of the Festival: Hausacher LeseLenz, Hausach, Germany

Those who said protecting synagogues in this country was unnecessary were prepared to risk strangers’ lives on the infertile pastures of peace which applied only to themselves, and to themselves alone. The doors of the kiosks stood open. The doors of the florists stood open. The doors of the Internet cafes: wide open. The fruit and vegetable stands, even the locksmiths were without a lock. Now, no one buying flowers can arrange bouquets without funeral blooms. The voices of market vendors merge in lamentation. The red of the tomatoes is long since more than mere lycopene.

Is this the country in which you want to live? The fingers on the triggers remain exchangeable, punished (if at all) only by word of law. Other fingers point to the vulnerable. Still others reach towards blind or sighted faces, setting themselves to lips: shhhhhhh. Those remaining silent have the privilege of deciding when to belong among the victims and when to attack. But they are not the vulnerable; they are not the wounded. And yet, they place their tiny model ships over the wounds of this country and think nothing when they speak of waters. But these seas aren’t blue. You are enslaved to the wrong words.

I didn’t find the word homeland [Heimat] in a single verse of the vendors’ cries. The word homeland appears in the vocabulary of those who traipse through the open doors of the locksmiths, removing something from the fruit and vegetable stands of our humanity which can never fully be reclaimed. Because there are things which can never be rectified. The word homeland appears in the sermons of a minister mistaking his country for a birthday celebration: nine and sixty candles for nine and sixty established hopes. At least one of them has died. 

“Homeland” is not the cry of those who reach this continent by sea. They cry for shelter. No, these seas they are not blue— these seas on which hypocrites prosecute rescuers and bargain over those who have fallen on impossibly hard times. Homeland is the cry of those for whom the water-filled lungs of children are not too high a price to acknowledge in their bill of costs. And those who, for long years, have downplayed the worries and evaluations of the daughters and sons of those who were executed on German streets and in German stores. No daughters cried for homeland; those threatened did not choose this word in their appeals to neighbours or to the state. A father begged for the name of his murdered child on a street sign. But today there is no Halit Street in Germany.

Let us not speak of homeland. Let us speak of our capacity to mourn. Let us speak of what a human is, a person. Not the vocabulary of those who shoot or those who would, but the words of those who have lost another human being and know what it is to mourn. Tell me something of a future worthy of living, a home worthy of domesticity. Where the colour is tomato — and not blood red. Where the sea is only water and not also a mass grave.

I have never made a homeland. And I know also that freedom is a verb masquerading as a noun. I’ve practiced its conjugation, been rendered speechless, lost myself in words. And the word was my only dwelling, the read and the written word: a home with dissolvable contours. And on the fiftieth story of the word, a different floor was lain as I described uneven impact. For those who fall, the landing isn’t soft.

I know that every story has numbers; mine were algebraic. And the dependent variable was life. There could be no homeland in the equation of my narrative; there is too much death in this word. The fetishised character of homeland is deadly, and yet those mandated to protect nationalise this fetish instead. Those seeking their protection cry into the void. And those bullets of the homeland hammer into sacred steel doors. It is this which begets the soundtrack of our time.

In my equation, the dependent variable is life, and the independent, humanity. I learned to speak from those who wrote down what was unsayable when it was said that poetry was no longer possible. The staccato of weapons and self-serving voices cannot drown out these whispers which know how to describe the colour of the sea like a stream of blood — also by moonlight when others see only black and white. The indictment of a daughter whose father was taken from her, along with her ability to mourn. It is from her that I must learn what it means to mourn. Learn from the prayers of survivors on Yom Kippur what it means to celebrate this life. A society which falls receives the freedom to become one which intercepts. Aber Freiheit ist ein Verb — freedom is a verb.   

Translated into English by Jon Cho-Polizzi