Poems for a Scenario

Agios Germanos, or 'German', natal village of my mother. Our first gaze at the family's home, in Greece, 2012.

It was in 2012 my mother first lay eyes on the landscape she belonged to, lush and mystic filled with chains of beautiful carved mountains and streams cutting through the lush green fields, snakes hidden in the grass, bears roaming about deep in the forests and wind sighing softly through pale air, whilst the smell of wood burning would penetrate the air, unable to breach this heavy presence, of a densely inhabited silence: utter silence, filled with a many personal histories untold.

Whereas we had since travelled sixty-four years into the future, it was my grandmother sending her daughters along with an exodes of elders and refugee-children, in order to save the future lives of the three sisters, causing trauma and a deep sense of loss and rupture. A wound that is felt deeply, because of that rupture with an innate sense of dialogue with the landscape, the residue of one’s imprint, where one was born, embodying a long-lived embedded history of genealogy, and family. of  Not knowing however, the three sisters would be separated once having passed the border with Macedonia Greece, walking into – at the time, the Republic of Macedonia), against a vow made, with the intention to keep the siblings together as their mother would have wished. Before the moment the children would be separated from their mother, and from the fatherland is like a moment frozen still in terms of time, for none of them were ever to return to their fatherland, once physically passing the border.

My mother and I drove by car through Macedonia (Former Republic of Macedonia, now North Macedonia), towards the border of Greek Macedonia, pursuing our personal journey for Agios Germanos in Greece, that happens to be her natal village, originally bearing the name German at the time, as well visiting her mother’s natal village, Nivice, opposing German within the valley, situated on a cape, ending just at lake Prespa’s borders.

The most confronting moment of the journey was our visit to her family home in German (Agios Germanos). At that time before the Greek Civil War even started, the family home was built, brick by brick, by my mother’s father and his two brothers, who had their initials carved into a stone as proof of their ownership. Standing eye to eye with the farm, and the silent witness of their lives right then and there, as we looked at their initials placed just above the entrance, left us speechless. Since the families had to flee to save their lives during that war, the house became home to a Greek family since. No other impression could have made clearer what it means to be uprooted and to spend one’s lifetime in exile.

No one could have known, my grandmother at the least, that it would be her granddaughter to accompany her daughter back to home until  the twenty-first century, 64 years later. My mother’s sense of belonging, in relation to the family’s history, came full circle again.

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'Greek' Refugee children. Still taken from archival footage, source Kinoteka Praha Kratky Film/ Kinoteka Skopje, The Republic of Macedonia. During the Greek Civil War (1946-48), about 50.000 children from Aegean Macedonia were uprooted. To ensure their safety they crossed the border with Macedonia of ex-Yugoslavia at the time, to then be distributed evenly over East-European countries, among which Tsjecho-Slovakia.

Assembled fragments of the poetry written, are the basis for the film’s script of Sweet Terror of Memory  (voice-over). Herewith a selection out of 27 texts of prose and poetry. Written by Ilse Frech between 2011 and 2013, belonging to the research- & umbrella project Exile: Belonging (2011-14).

THREADED COVER

Threaded cover. Skin well hid behind a web, of thoughts of fibers, mended together. So subtle, the air that breathes through. Sunlit hair, shines. Midday rumble, She said, that nothing is left of her – just her contours, on the erected tables of tale, of murmur. Your life in a nutshell, can’t wait, to uncover this shield. Threaded cover of pain, suspended. Movement. Your body captured. Engraved your tomb awaits.

SOLDIER OF GOD

I see your face
Soldier of God
lying on your stomach,
leg twisted
One eye open
Your mouth still warm
Black blood stiffens
your tongue
No more speaking
for God’s promise
isn’t to be found on earth

EYES OPEN WIDE

Eyes open wide . you . watch out . feel . close . step away from them . So rough they treat you . they laugh don’t look . they’ll find you seek for your words . reminiscence . your heart smells . the smoke of led . shot by their rifles . Duck down . hide . look at me . look at me . I am here . you’re with me .

HELLFIRE

My words
Your conscience
My tongue
Your honour

My body cut open
Naked
I lie here
Mountain chain of harsh desire
Celestial ascend the top
Everlasting
Silence

Carnal separated from the spirit,
for the journey to occur
Words unchained a treasure in my throat
Joint I feel with your vitality
My eyes see your flight up high
The earth torn
Joint forces clenched

My fatherland
My sweet fatherland

My flesh perished
Bones sodden of cold
No memories
Abandoned

My blood streams through your veins
Melancholy groans resoundingly in your valleys
I shall seek for you until
once more I’ll be
With you

SOLDIER SOLDIER

Soldier soldier /Curls swinging /Your braid weaving grids on your back /Left /Right /Left /Right /Come and follow /Do not look back /Come and sing /With full breast /Warm it is /The sun sets /Where is your mother? /Will she keep your gown? /Await for you /Your beloved /Yet he’s like you somewhere in line along this thread of soldiers / Soldiers soldiers sing your song /For I can’t speak /I don’t belong /I only bring you from one place to the other /Once arrived / My duty is no longer

WHERE ARE’T THOU

Where are’t thou my brother?
Where are’t thou my sister?

My eyes bear thorns in them so I can’t cry
I weep but you won’t hear me weeping
My shoulders will shrug
That will be all

My bare hands unfolded
I think of you
As the palms of my hands,
behold a secret of paths to be taken
Into the unknown

I haven’t forgotten thee, my daughter
So beautiful
You have blood all over you
Smeared out on your face
As if you tried to wipe your tears
Just before God took you
In his arms to rest
Forever

My daughter, what to think of me?
I, your mother, who wasn’t there,
to take care of thee,
I, who couldn’t hold you
Against my breasts

While your temples would lay resting
And lower the pace of your pounding heart

Your veins drained of their substance, slowly
Motherhood is all I could have given you
While your body was warm still
Now as peace has come over you
Restless I remain
My heart of grievance,
for having you left alone

Alone
In this cruel beautiful world
Naked I stand before thee
I ask of your forgiveness

For a mother
I have failed

To be

I CALL UPON YOU

My heart aches
With my heart pondering
I call upon you
Your smile
fading
I call upon you
your touch
Touch my cheekbones
my hands
unfolded
Kiss me
Close your eyes
lay your hands upon mine

STAPLED BODIES

Stapled bodies
I see
Stapled souls
Yearning for unity
Mourning
for their Gold they lost
that had left them
with a hole in their hearts

Blindfolded
they were led towards
The edge
of which its grounds
opened
steep
into a mouth

All hope beguiled
no surrender
But to death
before that moment
Stood still time
their hearts ripped out
Gold scattered around
in spiralling flux
With a last torch
pale air inhaled
a last breath
then silence –

Chunks of dismay
the Gods bewailed
Remember your hearts
shining heavy

A golden ray of light
entails its flight
into heaven

BLANK | Hiroshima mon Amour 

The salt of the stones
She is in a universe of walls
A man’s memory is in these walls,
one with the stone, the air, the earth
My body was aflame with his memory

Not guilty
She treats her child with rough tenderness
Infinite
Tenderness
Terrifying childhood

Women behind shutters
watch the enemy walking across the square
In the ruins, in winter, the wind blows
In my memory

Where I was born is inseparable from myself

I meet you, I remember you
Who are you
You destroy me
I was hungry
I always have been
I waited for you calmly
With infinite patience
The sun will never rise again on anyone
Never, never again
You destroy me
You’re so good

We’ll have nothing else to do,
but to mourn the departed day
A time will come
By slow degrees the world will fade
From our memory
Stay with me

I have to leave
by night
Fourteen years have passed
I don’t remember
The pain, I still remember the pain a little
But one day I won’t remember it any more
Not at all
Nothing

I think that was when I got over my hate
I’m becoming reasonable
They say: She’s becoming reasonable

I’ll forget you
Look how I’m forgetting you!
Look at me!

Inspired by Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Renais, 1959), filmscript Marlene Dumas. BLANK | Hiroshima mon Amour, was firstly published as Hiroshima mon Amour in Rusted Radishes, Beirut Literary and Art Journal, “The Political City” – Issue 5, 2016.

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BLANK | Hiroshima mon Amour 

The salt of the stones /She is in a universe of walls /A man’s memory is in these walls, one with the stone, the air, the earth /My body was aflame with his memory /Not guilty /She treats her child with rough tenderness /Infinite Tenderness /Terrifying childhood /

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SOLDIER SOLDIER

Soldier soldier /Curls swinging /Your braid weaving grids on your back /Left /Right /Left /Right /Come and follow /Do not look back /

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THREADED COVER

Threaded cover /Skin well hid behind a web of thoughts of fibres mended together /So subtle the air that breathes through /Sunlit hair shines /Midday rumble /She said that nothing is left of her /

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EYES OPEN WIDE

Eyes open wide . you . watch out . feel . close . step away from them . So rough they treat you . they laugh don’t look .

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SOLDIER OF GOD

I see your face
Soldier of God
lying on your stomach,
leg twisted
One eye open
Your mouth still warm

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HELLFIRE

My words
Your conscience
My tongue
Your honour

My body cut open
Naked
I lie here

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I CALL UPON YOU

My heart aches
With my heart pondering
I call upon you
Your smile
fading

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WHERE ARE’T THOU

Where are’t thou my brother?
Where are’t thou my sister?

My eyes bear thorns in them, so I can’t cry
I weep but you won’t hear me weeping
My shoulders will shrug
That will be all

My bare hands unfolded
I think of you
As the palms of my hands,
behold a secret of paths to be taken
Into the unknown

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Exile: Belonging

In 2011 and in 2012, I travelled forth and back from South-East Europe, departing from Skopje, Macedonia, following the family’s biographical trail by train, through East-Europe towards Czech-Republic, ending my journey in Berlin, Germany. Subjecting myself physically to the sensation of the journey as a gateway to the past, ‘contained’ in my body’s memory: a personal history had to be revived, partially enacted, enabling to then plunge into the history of this forgotten Greek civil war, connoted with my family’s biography and that of other women, women soldiers, exile and witnesses of yet another frightening war in Europe, that followed the preceding Second World War. It also meant listening to personal accounts of loss, trauma, grief, resilience, violence, hope and love. The women, both heroines and witnesses of the war, of whom many had been fighting along with men – one way or the other had left an indelible imprint, all the while the landscape remained untouched, with its sweet scenting, yet harsh history of time passed, almost impenetrable if one were just to gaze at its marvel appearance.

Fatherland

My mother and I journeyed by car throughout Macedonia, once part of Yugoslavia, visiting each city and orphanage (or what was left of it) where she had resided throughout her youth. We interviewed and spoke with many women on the road towards Greece, to then arrive at the Greek border, nearby Dolno Dupeni, a small Macedonian village situated at Lake Prespa. Not later than five minutes after we had passed the Macedonian border, as we had arrived in Greek Macedonia, I spontaneously stopped the car and suggested her to step out. I wanted for my mother to have a look around after all those years, to touch ground, and was very curious to learn what her first, though intuitive, response would be.

Astounded as she was, she could hardly orient herself, feeling estranged, possibly in shock still, although she knew that she had passed the border, her proper physical experience as well as her mental faculty regarding appropriation and embracing her bodily presence in Macedonia, Greece, could not enhance an immediate sense of belonging, psychologically. She needed time. However subtle the idea of intervention, coping with this sudden realisation I handed her a small automatic camera, with which she took photographs along the way.

During our first minutes on Greek Macedonian soil with no other souls around, but us, I decided to start filming this moment of sought innocence. As I was circling clockwise around her standing just standing there and watching the landscape, its mountainous horizon for we hadn’t yet arrived at her natal village, I asked her to circle around her axis – counter-clockwise, mirroring me as the sole response possible. Unable to connect her body in a presence that she could apprehend, with her feet standing on the very soil where she was born sixty-five long years ago. Too abstract, as an insight that became visible instantly, the idea of one’s fictionalised past, to sudden become real. No such thing as time travel does exist. Alle the same, she photographed anything that captured her attention as I had urged her to do – gently, thus I became observer as well as photographer, filming her through my lens.

Moments of silence were interrupted by the only sound accompanying us, apart from car traffic afar, was the mechanical transportation of the 35mm film in the pocket camera, after each capture. Afterwards, viewing the photographs she took, I wondered what she really had been looking at through the camera finder, for the landscape whereupon we had laid our eyes, wasn’t nearly existent within her chosen frames. Apart from fragments of her direct view, let’s say 2 meters in front of her. In hindsight, the camera effectively was obstructing her to sense or see anything, for a lack of true connection to the land, in connotation to a possible imagined physical impression converted to a long-forgotten memory.

The apparatus seemed to have blinded her gaze, insofar that her view had been obscured by the actual absence of her present Self. She made an absent impression to me, I remember, quite emotionless, almost apathetic. I suppose, her reaction rightly mirrored a deep hidden trauma inflicted: that of separation. At that instant, her capacity for unobscured sight, as there was no emotional– nor psychological feedback in relation to her proper autobiography, seemed halted. She seemed too impressed and unable to unleash emotions, to connect with the soil of her fatherland, in a physical encounter, too early yet, for reuniting time, space and the experience of memory, that I envision to be a space on its own terms, filled with voids to slowly unfold into a lived experience.

The camera then, became an actual device objectifying the subject one is looking at. Which, obviously, makes it possible to ‘cut’ oneself from the moment when the is scene taking place. And one becomes witness, once again. Hence photography is an estranging act of the sort, enforcing our attention and experience to be located outside of ourselves, somewhere in the space, surrounding us and literally the space in front of us – where we lay our eyes upon, instead of appropriating our sense of attention of the experience in the moment itself, to be located within a consciously felt inner-physical presence. In that sense, the camera lens couldn’t come to her aid.

Coming Home

The valley, the villages of both my grandparents and the landscape where in between lay lake Prespa mysteriously for its mirroring dark blue seemingly calm surface, left a deep mystic sensation in our minds and in our bodies. We stayed overnight in Agios Germanos, my mother’s natal village, originally bearing the name German at the time, and we visited my grandmother’s natal village Nivice, opposing German within the valley, situated on a cape, ending just at lake Prespa’s borders. We walked around for an afternoon and with the curious eyes of villagers following us in secrecy behind windows, we asked some of them whether to their memory eventual descendants of her mother’s family would have lived there, or if somehow her maiden name would spark someone’s slumbering mind. Alas, that search proved to be fruitless.

The most confronting moment of the journey was our visit to her family home in German (Agios Germanos). At that time before the Greek Civil War even started, the family home was built, brick by brick, by my mother’s father and his two brothers, who had their initials carved into a stone as proof of their ownership. Standing eye to eye with the farm, and the silent witness of their lives right then and there, as we looked at their initials placed just above the entrance, left us speechless. Since the families had to flee to save their lives during that war, the house became home to a Greek family since. No other impression could have made clearer what it means to be uprooted and to spend one’s lifetime in exile. Whereas traveling back sixty-four years in time, it was my grandmother sending her daughters along with an exodus of refugees – children and elderly people, to save their lives, causing disruption for the duration of a lifetime and trauma caused, as result of the innate loss, not knowing the three siblings would be separated again, once passing the border of Northern Greece to Macedonia, Yugoslavia.

It was until 2012 that my mother revisited her fatherland since 1948. Revisiting the forgotten memory, void of this landscape, lush and mystic filled with chains of beautiful carved mountains and streams cutting through the lush green fields, snakes hidden in the grass, bears roaming about deep in the forests and wind sighing softly through pale air, whilst the smell of wood burning would penetrate the air, unable to breach this heavy presence, of a densely inhabited silence: utter silence, filled with a many personal histories untold. No one could have known, my grandmother at the least, that it would be her granddaughter to accompany her daughter back to home until in the twenty-first century, 64 years later.

She had arrived home, emotionally. Healing the wound of uprootedness, that of exile and displacement, estrangement even from cultural roots, language, and the sensory physicality – sense of home, and a fatherland. A wound that is felt deeply, because of that rupture with an innate sense of dialogue with the landscape, the residue of one’s imprint, where one was born, embodying a long-lived embedded history of genealogy, and family. Nonetheless, during our days spend in northern Greece, Macedonia, and North-Macedonia of former Yugoslavia, a deeply felt loss somehow slowly merged, with deep gratitude and sense of reconciliation. My mother’s sense of belonging, in relation to the family’s history, came full circle again.

 

The scenario for the film Sweet Terror of Memory – ΨΙΘΥΡΟΙ, was based upon family recollections, Greek legend and experiences of both journeys. Interviews and specific personally told experiences of women living in exile, whom I spoke with, related to the history of the region and the conflict that WWII generated after its end: The Greek Civil War. Assembled fragments of the poetry written, became the film’s script, narrated by two voices, in English and in Greek.

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