Guest Post: Adrianne Kalfopoulou, The Unhoused

Children's shoes lying on the floor

 

If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer

The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

 

In her 1943 essay “We Refugees” Hannah Arendt explains the predicament of the suicide that “in their own eyes” feel themselves as having failed life’s standard. Having given into despair in themselves, they die “of a kind of selfishness”; the failure of how to define, or redefine, one’s self-worth given the loss of assumed standards makes for the quandary: “If we are saved we feel humiliated, and if we are helped we feel degraded.” This quandary speaks to standards of citizenship and social belonging that in turn speak to systems of society and behavior that are radically reconfigured in the lives of displaced peoples. The refugee being a prime example of such, one that Girogio Agamben in his 2008 essay “Beyond Human Rights” argues as “perhaps the only thinkable figure for the people of our time and the only category in which one may see today… the forms and limits of a coming political community.”

I am learning of how standards are reconfigured in a year of working with Afghan families living in a school building in the center of Athens. My assumptions of dignity and belonging are changed as I am gradually invited into these lives. It begins with an invitation to have tea on the spread blankets that cover the floor of a classroom, where we leave our shoes at the blanket’s edge. Mattresses are pushed up against walls; some pillows are on the floor. I’m urged to use a pillow as I am a guest but I shake my head, saying it’s not necessary, only to realize this creates confusion and a look of disappointment, so I accept the pillow, and drink the sweetened tea. I have a bag of raisins with me. There’s a feeling of comfort and hospitality, as we drink the sweetened tea and share the raisins. We discuss the fact that some of the children are attending the Greek public school. I’m asked if I will find a dentist for a 3 year old whose top front teeth have all rotted. It will be her birthday at the end of the month. It is not the date on her paper but the one her mother gives us in April. When I’d asked her father he said he wasn’t sure what the date of her birthday was. But her mother knows, and tells me. We plan a party. I still have a string of lights with me, a cluster I’d forgotten to bring to the Christmas party we had in December. I plug them in and they start flickering, this makes Heniah, who takes a quick intake of breath, laugh. She keeps plugging and unplugging the lights as they flicker in their nest of color.

Changed circumstances will change how we see what we see. These small living spaces are made unexpectedly new. Even the city is made new. Omonia square where buses and metro stops make for intersections and gatherings, where information on squats, cell phones, fake passports, border smugglings, and plain old advice on everything from medicine to asylum petitions are hawked. It is also a world where Unés, one of the refugee children I’ve grown close to, notices things I’ve never paid attention to. He pauses in our walk along a crowded street as someone who is selling potato peelers loses his grip, and the peeler skids across the pavement, Unés picks it up, checks the blade and gives it back to the man who is surprised anyone would pick up the now broken peeler, and thanks him. We pause at a pet shop because one of the puppies catches Unés’ attention. There’s also a snake and a parrot on display. When we leave Unés points to a huge ice-cream stand with its exaggerated plastic cone. I must have seen the thing too many times to remember because it sits just outside the metro stop, but this time I see it as he does, and smile.

We speak a mix of English, Greek, and Farsi words, a jumble of emoji symbols, VIBER and WhatsApp emoticons and letters. There is salam, “hello” and bedrood, “goodbye”. Thanks to the weekly games and books and songs in English that Alicia, Judi, Eirini, Stephanie and other volunteers and donors have made generously available some of the children are now speaking in near-fluent English phrases. We have become as familiar to them as they have become to us – Rocha, Heniah, Unés, Narghes, Rakia, Azize, Maedeh – we know each other’s names, even ages. Judi is asked why she isn’t married, and if she was ever married. I’m asked if I have any children. One afternoon I show a video on my cell phone of couples dancing tango at the studio where I go. I’m asked if I do this too, Azize and her sister would like to come with me, next time I go. We go to a Luna Park where there are bumper cars and a Ferris wheel, and high-flying space-cars in which Heniah, fearless, pushes on the gears so the air-borne car will go higher. She is giddy and I am anxious. Maedeh, who is 14, comes with me to a play my daughter is in. It is Ramadan and she asks if she can skip the fast since she will be walking in the heat to the theater. Her mother is okay with this, and she dresses in white tights and her scarf and tells me you can tell the difference between Syrian and Afghan women by the way they wear their scarves. The Afghan women wear them more loosely around their heads, less tightly folded around their faces. There’s a moment in the play when the top comes off one of the actors, it’s a split-second; the actor is a statue that comes to life, her white, spray-painted breasts are bared. On our way back to the squat Maedeh will mention it, that the actor “lost her blouse” and I will nod and ask if she will tell her mother and she says she might which makes me think I may not be invited to take her daughter anywhere after this, but ask then if it surprised or bothered her. She shakes her head and says, very simply, “This is Europe.”

*

In Agamben’s essay he references Arendt’s point that one of the things the Third Reich ensured before Jews and Gypsies were sent to the extermination camps was that they had to be “fully denationalized…stripped of even that second-class citizenship to which they had been related after the Nuremberg Laws.” Agamben is making the point that the concept of the nation-state founded as it has been on assumptions of citizenship and national belonging was a way to draw the line between what lives were “doomed to death”, and which remained with human, legal, rights. He argues the point first put forward by Arendt in relation to the Jews. He notes that “What is new in our time is the growing sections of humankind are no longer representable inside the nation-state – and this novelty threatens the foundations of the later.” In other words, human rights as they have been historically tied to citizenship are now, as he explains, “Beyond Human Rights”, an insufficient insurance, or reflection, of our humanity.

I get a message from Heniah’s brother, who is 12, that her birthday party will be at 2:00, and would Judi and I like to come. Like the invitation to tea I feel it’s important to go, and want to celebrate my fearless 4 year-old’s day. I pick up a lemon pie that looks fancy and some paper plates, cups, plastic forks, party hats, and arrive after Judi. We’re invited to sit on the floor in the classroom that is now the family’s living space, the wide blankets are cleared and what was once a school desk is brought in so Heniah can sit there and blow out her candle. We’ll wait for the guests, mothers and their young children who arrive from other squats, and camps, some from as far as the Malakassa camp, where mostly Afghan families are housed; everyone arrives with a small gift, wrapped in colored paper. There are clips for Heniah’s hair, colored plastic bangles, a coloring book. There are balloons taped to the walls and the Christmas lights I’d brought are hanging from the blackboard where they have been taped. Heniah has had her hair in tiny braids so that now curls all around her face, and Rocha puts new clips into it.

Girls braiding hair

But what is most impressive is the 3-layered cake that’s been prepared for the guests. My bought lemon pie, while delicious, is nothing compared to this chocolate cake, which Heniah’s mother, Azize, has made.

There is excitement as people gather. The women shed their veils and change into clothing that would make them indistinguishable from anyone else in the city. Sleeveless dresses, skirts, loose shirts with low necklines. Azize puts on make-up and earrings. When she wears lipstick I think she looks like an Italian film star, but I’m not sure which one, maybe Monica Bellucci. There is music, and then dancing; the women pull me up from the floor where I’m sitting to join them; Raikia shows me how to move my arms in a slow, sensual wave, I start to laugh, feeling awkward at first, but then happy. The children are also dancing in a circle.

Children dance in a circle

Judi asks me, “who do you think is happier in a moment like this, a group of women in the UK or US or these women?” I say, without much thought, that I think right now this gathering is a very happy one, and that everyone in the room is enjoying themselves. When Judi asks Maedeh why there are no boys, or men, she says they are never present at the women’s parties but that they are not missed either. Judi asks if she wouldn’t want a boy to dance with if she liked him, and Maedeh gives an emphatic “No!” and tells us when the time comes, her father will find a boy for her and will ask her if she likes him, if not he’ll find another one. She says two boys waited for her sister who is 19; “one waited for nothing” because Mina didn’t want to go to him, and now there’s another in Sweden. Maedeh is matter-of-fact, “If a boy wants to wait and I like him then we can get married when we ready.”

We share stories, and our lives. When Maedeh speaks Judi and I expect that she and perhaps some of the other women would wish to have some of the choices we in our western worlds assume are the better ones, and find out that’s not the case, that things are also less patriarchal if more gender-specific, than what we assume. For example, Narghes, who is also 14, tells me it is her mother who will pick the wife, or suggest someone, for her older brother, because her father is dead. She tells me her father had taught her to read, and wanted her to learn languages. At some point in our conversations, I share a anecdote from Greek Orthodox weddings, that the liturgy uses the quote from the Bible about the wife fearing her husband at which point the wife stamps her husband’s foot in symbolic resistance. Azize and Maedeh look suprised, and ask why a wife would be told to be afraid of her husband, I say to remind them of who has the authority, they tell me both have, but each has a different kind.

There are other ironies and surprises; that we communicate across language and culture in ways that reinvent our language and culture. My VIBER messaging with Narghes was a mash-up of discourses, and went on from our first month of friendship. When she messaged me that she’d like a pair of black tights if I could find them for her, to when the family moved to the Malakassa camp, and finally got their papers under the family reunification law to go to Geneva. We shared hundreds of texts, emojis, voice messages, in our digital exchanges –

Bai Bai [Bye Bye] – Narghes writes, Okey [Okay]; You vato slip??? [you want to sleep???]; Hi you kam tomoro [you come tomorrow]; Andrstan [Understand]; vat taim you kam [what time you come]; Hi Adrianne you kam tomoro my mazr koking for you [you come tomorrow my mother cooking for you]; Ined nmbr hosin and maide [I need number hossein and maedeh]

*

The nation state, says Agamben is in demise, borders are being contested, people are being smuggled through at costs that sometimes include their lives, certainly the EU is in crisis, and the refugee influx has magnified what Agamben explains as the “unstoppable decline of the nation-state and general corrosion of traditional political-juridical categories.” But as Arendt said of the Jews in 1943, “Refugees driven from country to country represent the vanguard of their peoples – if they keep their identity.” These families, unhoused, as they are from country and citizenship are examples of this challenge; rather than feeling themselves as having failed life’s standard, they show us how the standard is life itself, as in sheer life, as in what it means to continue with the traditions and values that shelter us.

Narghes’ mother wants to give me a gift, it is a black patent leather bag someone has given her, and she thinks I might like it. She also ties up the bag of raisins I’ve brought because there are still some in the bag, but I say I want her to keep the raisins, and she says tashakor [thank you]. My proximity to these lives has made the obvious newly tenable, and newly proximate.

References:

Girgio Agamben, “Beyond Human Rights” Open 2008/No.15 Social Engineering http://novact.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Beyond-Human-Rights-by-Giorgio-Agamben.pdf

Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees” in Altogether Elsewhere, Writers on Exile. Ed. Marc Robinson.

https://www-leland.stanford.edu/dept/DLCL/files/pdf/hannah_arendt_we_refugees.pdf

All photos by Adrianne Kalfopoulou

 

Guest Post, Adrianne Kalfopoulou: When Refuge becomes Refugee

In a stupor of grief and dreadRefugees in tents
Have we not fingered the foulest wounds
And let them unhealed by our hands?

“Why Is This Age Worse…?”
–1919 Anna Akhmatova (trans. Stanley Kunitz)

It seems a long time since the picture of a drowned 3-year old Aylan went viral in September 2015. Much was made of the dangling “Velcro straps on his sneakers”, that Aylan was dressed like any child going to a playground in a red T-shirt and blue knee-length shorts – the Turkish guard who picked up the tiny body looked away as he carried the child. How hard it would be to look. And he must have looked when he first picked up the drowned boy. It seems a long time because there have been so many bodies since, and so many of them children. There have been meetings and discussions in various parliaments in Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Germany, and of course Brussels, and some horrid policies have passed through them like Denmark’s law (passed in January) in which the government is now allowed to seize assets of “asylum seekers on arrival in the country and confiscate any non-essential items worth more than 10,000 kroner (£1,000) that have no sentimental value to their owner.” One wonders who decides on what is or isn’t “non-essential” or of “sentimental value”. Similar laws are now in place in Switzerland and southern Germany.

Young refugeesTo be a refugee means the refuge of what once provided the rituals of stability, like home and shelter, no longer exist, that larger threats than those of the risks of being a refugee are being fled. “I don’t want to touch that one” says a friend, “too heavy”, “too complicated” – what will happen if we let ourselves touch the bodies being washed up like the Turkish guard who lifted the dead Aylan from the sand, if we help the luckier to dry land? They will touch us too, the pain and mess of these displaced lives will be real and, especially, there will be names and faces connected to their tragedies. I am about to say something to a friend and warn her that it is unpleasant, and she says, “are you sure you want to tell me” and really means “I’m not sure I want to know” because once told, she cannot, as she tells me “unknow it”; phrases like “the immigrant crisis”, “the Greek debt crisis” desensitize, the particulars are conflated, the faces and names lost. It is more efficient that way, apparently, when dealing with numbers (think of pyramid schemes of debt, think how all the added 0s of the billions lent, and the billions now owed in the Greek financial crisis that are not being addressed in “real terms”; i.e. the IMF – imagine even the IMF – is calling it unsustainable, that the debt cannot be paid back when the economy itself is being cannibalized though there are very real people starving on the streets and homeless as a result); so the question is what are we, or what is “Europe” trying to be efficient about. History has given us some very dark examples of the efficiencies of regimes wishing to keep themselves untouched by groups considered threats to an idea of citizenry and/or belonging. Giorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer, Sovereign Power and Bare Life theorizes the biopolitics of “The Camp as Paradigm” in a chapter that addresses the separation between “humanitarianism and politics” as “the extreme phrase of the separation of the rights of man and the rights of the citizen.” I want to say what Clarice Lispector says in The Passion According to G.H. that “till yesterday” there was a way of “fitting into a system.” That now that system is broken and the privileged do not want to “use an unprotected heart.” Perhaps Europe has lost its heart.

Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s foreign minister, says “the distinction between protection and the right to a better life has got blurred” having been part of a renegade contingency of Central European and West Balkan countries, including Hungary, to react to the immigrant crisis by being among the first countries to close its borders to refugees (and so removing themselves from the Schengen agreement of an open border system – that founding European Union dream that promised the free flow of populations). To Angela Merkel’s credit who, initially anyway, sought a joint EU solution for the crisis, responded that “When someone starts to define limitations [to immigration], others have to suffer. That is not my Europe.”

drawing of houseAs we entered the port for an activity session with some of the refugee children, we all noticed that there were twice as many tents as there had had a week ago; before the borders closed a lot of the volunteer work involved giving activity kits and baby carriers to mothers on their way north. Once they closed hundreds, and in the case of Idomeni, thousands were now stuck (read Phoebe Ramsay’s updates “On the Ground” on her Facebook page). Tents were everywhere, on any open space of pavement or grass, “Welcome to Europe” Alicia said. “Look at this….” Yes, look at this. Look at the woman using cardboard to sweep away the banana peel, cigarette stubs, and used tea bags from the space around her tent. Look at the children quietly returning crayons after doing their drawings, giving their drawings of houses and homes to those of us who sat with them, look at the boy who shows me there’s a hole in one of the sheets at the shelter and would like to know if there are any sheets not torn that he could have. Listen to the teacher from Aleppo who asks if we could bring some white board markers for the lessons she’s giving in the shelter, look at the fact that the toilets are overrun, that someone has thrown out a doll that looks perfectly fine, look at the boy who is downloading music on his phone, tell me where the border might be between them and us, or you and I?

SR Pod/Vod Series – Authors Talk: Author Adrianne Kalfopoulou

Today we’re proud to feature Adrianne Kalfopoulou as our sixteenth Authors Talk series contributor, sharing the process behind writing her nonfiction essay “The Journey Where” in her podcast “Travelers.”

The search for belonging is a major theme that Adrianne discusses in her work, as well as being mindful of its greater context. “What I’m working on becomes a part of something outside of the space of the text itself,” she says, tying themes of travel and the open sea to Homer’s Odysseus and the current Middle Eastern refugee crisis.

The “kind of clash between world views and points of reference has often fascinated me, both personally in terms of my own kind of microcosm, but also how that connects with larger, more existentialist questions having to do with what people are willing to risk for greater freedoms that are never guaranteed.”

Adrianne’s podcast is a thoughtful discussion on the ideas present in a writer’s work and the world. 
You can listen to it on our iTunes Channel.

You can read Adrianne’s essay “The Journey Where” in Superstition Review Issue 16, and listen to her read it aloud in SR podcast #193. She has also been published in Issue 9.

 

More About the Author:

Adrianne Kalfopoulou lives and teaches in Athens, Greece. Her most recent publication is Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living (Red Hen Press 2014). Her poems and essays have appeared in online and print journals including Hotel Amerika, The Harvard Review, WORDPEACE, and Superstition Review. She occasionally blogs on Greece, and is the Writing Program Director at Deree College in Athens.  adrianne kalfopoulou’s website

 

About the Authors Talk series:

For several years, we have featured audio or video of Superstition Review contributors reading their work. We’ve now established a new series of podcasts called Authors Talk. The podcasts in this series take a broader scope and feature SR contributors discussing their own thoughts on writing, the creative process, and anything else they may want to share with listeners.

SR Pod/Vod Series – Recording: Author Adrianne Kalfopoulou

Adrianne  Kalfopoulou greyscaleThis Tuesday, we’re proud to feature SR contributor Adrianne Kalfopoulou reading her nonfiction essay “The Journey Where” on our podcast.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can follow along with “The Journey Where” in Superstition Review Issue 16, and read more of Adrianne’s work in Issue 9.

Also check out Adrianne Kalfopoulou’s Authors Talk podcast, posted Friday February 12th.

 

More About the Author:
Adrianne Kalfopoulou lives and teaches in Athens, Greece. Her most recent publication is Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living (Red Hen Press 2014). Her poems and essays have appeared in online and print journals including Hotel Amerika, The Harvard Review, WORDPEACE, and Superstition Review. She occasionally blogs on Greece, and is the Writing Program Director at Deree College in Athens.  adrianne kalfopoulou’s website

Guest Post, Adrianne Kalfopoulou: The Center of the Sundial

Gnomon

From the Greek word meaning one who knows,
it’s what we call the center of the sundial
whose understanding comes to us in shadows
that are its voice, and ours, the saint of all
who speak and can’t quite say what they are meaning.
How do they know, you ask, they who stand
inside their bodies, by their words, by things
that must be larger than the shape they’re in.

Bruce Bond

Graffiti in Greece

Photo provided by Adrianne Kalfopoulou

On Sunday, September 20 (2015), there’s going to be another election in Greece. We just had an election this year, in January, one that had felt hopeful and brought in Alexis Tspiras’s SYRIZA party. There had been euphoria for the anti-austerity changes it promised. Less than 6 months later, SYRIZA called for a referendum. There had been little headway with the Euro group, who essentially wanted previous (austerity) agreements to continue despite the fact that Greece’s economy had shrunk to a level of no-growth & unemployment had risen again. Youth in the 20-30 age range were the hardest hit; unemployment was at a staggering 51.8% in May 2015. But the Euro group wanted Greece to be an example, too. Even if things were not working out, as Tsipras said in a meeting after he buckled to the Euro group terms, after 61% of the country had voted “No” or “OXI” to the measures (or perhaps because of this), Europe, and particularly Mr. Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, refused to cut any of the unsustainable debt. Famous economists the world over were speaking of how much better it would be for Greece to leave – but then what – large ideas have a tendency to have very concrete body counts when they fail.

*

To be in the midst of “things/that must be larger than the shape they’re in…” is what it often feels like to let the body succumb to a terror and also, a gift; the unknown moment of a certain nakedness, experienced as the wager of crafting a piece of writing, or any art that will transcend the moment in hopes of becoming more than itself, as William Carlos Williams famously expressed it in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” —

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 4.01.49 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I had hoped not to write incessantly about Greece, to speak so constantly and obsessively about the facts of its and others’ failures, but the moments one finds oneself in aren’t always moments of choice. Perhaps Greece, too, didn’t believe it would find itself in such a dire situation. Its leadership certainly was negligent (to be very generous about it), and in Tsipras’s case, dangerously naïve. But the history of humanity is more about its failures, the grand gesture that meets with the flawed reality of fact, than it is about the successes of those ideals. It seems as if every so-called ideal or success has been built, since antiquity, on the backs of those who sacrificed. If not the outright slaves, then those who, willing or not, were sacrificed. The tragic heroes are those with enough compassion and sense of the collective good to take it on themselves to admit to the mistake. There is Oedipus, who swears he will do all it takes to rid his city of the plague only to discover he is the source of the scourge and then, heroically and nobly, puts out his own eyes… Gnomon, “the one who [now] knows” … There are others, too, Antigone, and Hamlet. While mistakes have been made in the building of the Eurozone, no one is sharing the responsibility. It seems easiest (apparently) to scapegoat Greece, to sacrifice it perhaps.

Graffiti in Greece

Photo provided by Adrianne Kalfopoulou

Meanwhile, Syria has exploded and refuges have poured into the country since August. A crippled economy is doing what it can, and Germany is taking in the largest percentage. It (perhaps) is also finding itself in the midst of “things/that must be larger than the shape they’re in…” Maybe they want to show the world they’re not always stingy and vindictive.

*

But back to Greece. John Psaropoulos has a pre-election piece in Al Jazeera. He calls it “An Election without Aspirations.” It’s poignant to hear the resignation in the words of a woman who forgives Tsipras’s “negotiating stumble with Europe’s debt-collectors, saying ‘it was clear that he wasn’t ready, but there were interests in Greece and abroad that wanted him to fail.’” Kostas Lapavitsas, who is part of the Popular Unity party, says,”Greece has become already a marginal and insignificant country in the monetary union and the EU. Why? Because it’s going nowhere economically. It’s a beggar, fundamentally, and it has terms dictated to it. We want to reverse that.”

*

In Greek tragedy the reversals and catharsis have come when those in power have their fallibilities revealed, belatedly, sometimes forcefully made to see them. It is already very late and no one has taken the responsibility for seeing… none of the governments, including SYRIZA, have taken the mistakes seriously enough to pay the collective costs. But this includes the Eurozone members too. As Williams has told us:

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 4.02.45 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Try not to make things personal,” someone said at work, at the beginning of the year’s faculty meeting; it was said with humor, and in light of the political climate. A 23% VAT tax was put on private education. Removed from meat, which went back to being taxed at 13%, and now put on education. It was another absurd mistake. It was going to hurt language schools as well. People could barely afford to pay tuition let alone tuition with an added value tax. Another large chip in the country’s dismantling. Another example of blindness or plain idiocy in the country’s leadership… I want to close my eyes and just smell the tang of the fall sea, let “the center of the sundial” come to me “ in shadows”… it forces its own recognitions. Anna Akhmatova in 1919 in her poem “Why Is This Age Worse…?” (trans. Stanley Kunitz) tells us “In a stupor of grief and dread/have we not fingered the foulest wounds/and left them unhealed by our hands?//”

Guest Post, Alissa McElreath: Place

Can a place still hold its inherent importance in a life– its spirit and meaning, when the people who are inextricably tied to it are gone?

I have been turning this question over in my head and exploring the answer in my writing for some time now. Loss, and longing for Place: these have been themes for me that seem to reoccur almost unconsciously in my own work.

This summer I was able to step outside the “boundaries” of the written page to explore the question for myself when I finally travelled back to my mother’s home country, Greece, after too many years away. The last summer we were able to visit, eight years ago, my son and daughter were 5 and 2, respectively. That summer was also the last one that saw my grandmother alive and well, although “well” is not the right word, as the tumor in her brain that claimed her life one year later was already working its damage. My grandfather had passed away two years before, only a matter of weeks after my daughter was born.

With both my grandparents gone, there was no one left to lift their arms in greeting to us when our family of four tumbled out of the taxicab in front of their apartment building this past July. Yet I still craned my head to look towards the side balcony, where my grandmother had stood eight years ago in her soft housedress and waved to us when we first arrived. In the years since their deaths, I haven’t been able to shake the sense that a gigantic door in the universe somewhere had slid closed; that behind the door my artist grandfather still sits painting and there, in her kitchen, is my grandmother, making jam from the sour plums that hung heavy on the tree by the front veranda. In these intervening years, I couldn’t imagine Greece without my grandparents in it. If they were gone, surely the place was gone, too? How could one exist without the other?

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When I was a newish mother, I remember leaving my son for the first extended length of time when he was about ten months old. He seemed impervious to my departure, yet when I came back home a few hours later, and took him from his grandmother, he burst into violent tears.

Why had my return saddened him to that extent?

Later, when talking to an older and wiser friend, she told me what she had learned years ago and what I hadn’t known until then: that very small children separated for periods of time from their mothers (and fathers, too) often cry upon their return because it is only then, upon being returned to the familiar landscape of their bodies, that they realize just how much they missed them.

Perhaps his tears were a response to the knowledge that he had existed, for a time, in a space without the person most connected to it. The child misses his mother, without even knowing it. Place, existing separate from the attachment to the people most important to it, can be frightening.

Place is rooted deeply inside of us – it is like the ultimate time capsule. Its value lies not in just the geographical parameters that we can identify, but in the sounds, smells, and feelings that arise when we think about a particular location. A smell can shake us from the present and send us spinning back in time. A sound can make us pause and close our eyes, as we struggle to bring to mind some other place, some other time. Yet I always thought place had value the most because of the people who were tied to it. Like an empty house on moving day, place without the people who make it alive for us would seem hollow.

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I know, intellectually, that it is possible to miss something without even realizing it. Last year, for example, my parents came to visit one weekend and brought with them a box of correspondence – from old but good friends I had made during a semester I spent in London – that had been in the wardrobe in my former bedroom back home. I hadn’t thought about the existence of that box and its contents in over two decades, yet each letter, note, and postcard brought back a piece of me that I had been unconsciously missing, and filled me with questions:

What would have happened if the box had ceased to exist? What if it had been discarded, or destroyed?

How can you miss something you forgot existed?

Would I ever have remembered any of the things inside of the box, or the people attached to them, if the box had vanished?

It’s actually a terrifying thought — to miss something, or someone, only because a sudden reappearance triggers the memory of their existence in the first place. No matter how hard we might try and tell ourselves that things don’t matter, that we need to unmoor ourselves from attachment to place and possessions, the truth is that they do matter, in real and compelling ways.

I thought about that box of letters when I stood in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens this summer, in front of my favorite piece, this bronze statue of the Jockey of Artemision:

Jockey of Artemision

As a child and young adult, I had been to the museum so many times that I can’t count them all. I know I always rushed through most of the rooms until I came to the one that housed this statue. There, I would stare and stare at the horse and boy, and imagine what it must have been like to be the fishermen who found them in fragments at the bottom of the sea. When I was in college, I had a postcard of this statue taped to the wall of my dorm room. Yet, in the eight-year gap between visits to Greece, I had not thought about this statue once; in fact, I had forgotten about it entirely until I entered the room. Away from Greece for so many years, the jockey and his horse had simply ceased to exist for me.

I am not sure why that fact seemed so terrible to me as I stood looking at the horse and boy that afternoon. I think there, in front of that beloved statue, the enormity of what it had meant to be away from Greece – from my second home country, from a place that is so inextricably tied to who I am – hit me full force, and along with it, all the other losses attached to it. I was a child again, crying at the return of something precious.

Past Intern Updates: Ljubo Popovich

Ljubo PopovichLjubo Popovich, Poetry Editor from Issue 8, shares some thoughts about his time at ASU and his discovery of non-Western literature.

I always thought that my parents and elders were pulling my leg when they told me to enjoy my college years – that they are the best years of my life and so forth. When I was in college I came close to feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork, and I never got heavily into the social life of the students that lived on campus, of going to the football games or participating in clubs or fraternities. I had a few friends, but my main concern was getting out into the world, and getting through this period of uncertainty and dread of the future. Eventually, I switched my major (twice), and landed in English. Finally things were getting interesting. I could stop plodding through Architecture and Engineering and simply learn what I genuinely cared about. My appreciation for literature grew and blossomed at ASU in my last two years. I felt much more comfortable in this realm.

I spent hours in the library, wandering through the stacks, always using what I learned in my classes as a jumping off point for further exploration. This curiosity has become a central part of my life. I became interested in literature and culture outside of the United States. When I stayed in Montenegro, I had the chance to visit Italy, Greece, Germany, England, Switzerland, Serbia, and Croatia. Now I can’t wait to go back and eat the exotic food, walk on the beaches, drive through the mountains, and experience entirely different cultures. The great European and Asian writers that I discovered gave me further encouragement to see as much of the world as possible.

What the future holds is still an unknown, but I know that I found a limitless source of joy in the works of Chekhov, Goethe, and Gogol. Dostoevsky and Akutagawa, Maugham, Victor Hugo, Cervantes, Italo Svevo…wherever I turned, there was a fresh perspective. I have learned that one book is always the doorway to another, and that life makes sense when you are lost in a good book. My experience with Superstition Review gave me a taste of the publishing world, and I think that my thirst for literature will now lead me toward a career with a publishing company, or perhaps as an editor of a magazine. For the time being, I work at ASU Online, in student services. Though it gives me much needed work experience and enough of an income to plan for the future, I am always on the lookout for opportunities in the fields I am most interested in.

Although I have only been out of college for half a year, I am beginning to understand what my parents meant. My years at the university were formative and they were some of the happiest years I have had, despite the struggle and uncertainty of that period of my life. Most importantly, I met the girl to whom I am now engaged, and I received the basic tools I will use for the rest of my life: education, determination, love, patience, and intellectual curiosity.