Memories – by Candy Royalle

Following is the poem Memories, by poet and performance artist Candy Royalle. I first met Candy and saw her perform at Sydney University, where she was speaking on Palestine with Antony Loewenstein and my boss, David Shoebridge.

I was floored by both the words of this poem and their performance, and wanted to share it as widely as possible. You can also watch the piece being performed live on Youtube here:

Memories

I am my grandfather’s memories
of sunshine streaming through olive trees.
Of women sitting around and clucking like hens
as they crush garlic with spices to make
that night’s meal
whilst men tend gardens
plough the fields
of their ‘baladi’
their homeland.

I am my grandfather’s memories
remembering that he was raised as a Christian
in a land of Muslims
with Jewish friends.
He played in the dirt
with his future enemies
shared meals
and didn’t yet know
that history was in the making
somewhere in Europe.

I am my grandfather’s memories
and the things he doesn’t even know yet
Like: he was one of millions of pawns
negotiated in a deal
that would alleviate the guilt of the world
for crimes committed
that they had no hand in
there was no hatred –
yet.

I am my grandfather’s nightmares
where stories came
horrors that caressed the ears
of him
his parents
others in their community.
It whispered that death
was wiping out whole villages
mass graves were being filled
blood was being shed
so much
that rivers ran upon the earth
turning it crimson.
Violence was making the ‘arrad’ arid
land once fertile –
wasted.

I am my grandfather’s nightmares
where he wished to be deaf
to the stories of the ‘nakba’.
Where to stay was to die
where to leave was to die –
death comes in many forms
and when your feet can no longer
touch the dirt
you took your first steps upon
that’s a form of death too.

I am my grandfather’s memories
of the stories coming closer
of terror being sowed
whilst the peasants plowed the land.
He thought of the danger
his aging parents were in
he thought of his own life ahead of him
he’d seen his people torn from the earth
no more roots
they wandered out
dazed
confused
crying for their losses
mourning the dead
asking ‘allah’ what they did
to deserve this.
He’d seen whole villages
razed to the ground
and he knew
that a knock on the door
was imminent
that the violence ravaging his land
would not stop
in fact it intensified daily
and so knowing that under occupation
was no place to live
he left one day
saying goodbye to his parents
he swore he would send for them
once he had found somewhere safe.

I am my grandfather’s memories
as he stepped out that door
one last time
held his hand up
to shield his eyes
breathed in slow through his nostrils
and forced himself to remember
every smell.
He opened his eyes wide
allowed them to sting
and looked upon his village
one last time
he forced himself to remember
every sight
then closed his eyes
and committed to memory
all those memories
before 1948
so that he would leave in love
and not hate.
Opening his eyes
I am his memory
of walking away
of the crunch of dirt beneath his feet
listening to the earths
conversation with him
how the wind wished him well
through the trees
and he talked back with his heart
knowing he wouldn’t return
he swore to his homeland
it would reside forever inside.

I am my grandfather’s memories
as he immigrated to Lebanon
to try to start again.
How he worked long hours
as a refugee in a foreign land
trying to gather the money required
to save his parents
from the death which was beckoning.

I am my grandfather’s memories
as he managed to bring his parents over
then start his own family
getting married
having children
tragically losing a wife
getting married again
having more children
and trying to provide for them.

I am my father’s memories
of being born into a displaced family
where the homeland is referred to constantly
where he had a sense
that he belonged elsewhere
where the injustice was keenly felt
but where the world seemed not to care
nor understand
the plight of his people.

I am my father’s memories
of a family striving to survive
always on the outside
and he as a child growing
in another war torn country
but knowing that he would leave
before the army could get to him.

I am my father’s memories
of being kidnapped twice
and twice being set free
for he did not subscribe
to any form of religious extremism.

I am my father’s memories
of constant warfare
being shot by rubber bullets
choking on tear gas
listening to missiles
soar overhead
hoping against all hope
that their bullet riddled apartment block
would not be hit next.

I am my father’s memories
of being 18 and knowing if he did not leave
he would have to bear a weapon
and the death that comes with it –
either behind it
or in front.
So he left that land
knowing that he could never return –
he became a deserter of a war
he did not agree with.
As that plane
ascended towards the heavens
I am his memories of hope
for a better future
but sadness that he may never
see those whom he loves
again.

I am my father’s memories
of picking grapes in France
trying to save enough money
to get further away.

I am my father’s memory
of boarding a plane for Australia
where he knew my mother to be
and tearing up his passport
arriving as a refugee.

I am my own memory
of being eight or 9 years old
and listening
to the voice of my grandfather
on a tape he’s sent us
from a land I can barely imagine
but whose music I hear
whose food I eat
whose history I am already learning.

I am my own memory
of being 10 or 11 years old
and seeing my Dad
cry for the first time
because we would no longer be
receiving those tapes.
My father who knew his father was dying
and couldn’t return
didn’t get to say goodbye to his ‘Baba’
on his deathbed.
That’s when I became
my grandfather’s memories
you see he could no longer remember
now that he had been buried.

I am my own memory
of being a teenager
and struggling to exist
between two cultures:
one which sought me to hang onto a past
and one which forced me into the future
one which sought to fill me with love
and one which forced me to belong to this land.

I am my own memory
of trying to understand
why my father was always so angry
until I was old enough to see
that where once my father
had been a warrior
he was now nothing more than a worrier
and I mistook that fear
at losing his family
his land
everything that I took for granted
for anger.

I am my family’s blood
where these memories
these histories
course through my veins.
Where my own feet
have not yet touched the soil
of where my great grandfather
my grandfather and
my fathers footsteps roamed.

I am the memories of the displaced
the lost
the hidden
the lies
the propaganda
the hatred.

I am the memories
of blue skies
dry heat
homous
tabouli
tabla.

I am the memories
of that lost land
and this land gained.

———————————————-

Copyright Candy Royalle 2012. Used with permission.

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