Thursday, 26 January 2012

Turning grenades into pineapples

In 2010 I volunteered as a Bollywood dance teacher at a youth arts festival in Bosnia with a UK and Bosnian charity called Most Mira. We used art workshops to inspire and bring children together, and recruitment is currently underway for the 2012 festival.

Since 2010 I've been helping with the organisation of the festival, travelling to Bosnia numerous times, learning as much as I can and putting together a small collection of poems. The first of these was commissioned by Keats House as part of the "Stories of the World" project funded by the Cultural Olympiad is called "Turning grenades into pineapples." The title comes from an anecdote about a child who came to the peace festival with a grenade drawn on his t-shirt, one of the Most Mira volunteers spoke with him and helped him colour the grenade in yellow, then add leaves.

With the help of the Keats House Poetry Forum who  meet fortnightly to discuss poetry projects, and an on line poetry forum organised by Harry Giles a small collection of poems about the stories and memories I have heard during my visits to Bosnia is forming. With a bit more polishing, it might reach daylight...

This is one of the first poems I wrote, about a families memories of the war.

The Only Photo

This was all your aunt had saved,
when you met her in Sarajevo;
the picture corners curl
like the drying edges of pastry
your mother still rolls
out with a broomstick.

There is a pensive you,
held just out of focus.
Your brother is clearer,
and guilty only right now
of having ears that point
out like signposts.

Everyone dressed up and lined up
by your father’s walls,
that now haunt the new mortar
your brother stuck the old bits to;

once he’d fought his way back
to the family rubble, which held
the coffee grinder like a silver miracle
-with a few unground beans
that your mother had roasted before she fled.
Not knowing she was leaving a device
that would defeat everyone,
by just waiting for you all to come home.
By staying hidden from shells, boots
and the grabbing hands that tried to hoard

With his ears now stuck to his head,
your brother fixed the dent in the grinder,
built up the walls, sawed down the shotgun
and trained his Alsatian to hear a false “good morning.”

Your sepia mother stands in the centre,
holding you high with her chin lifted slightly.
There is no one who remembers her being that young,
but everyone knows she loves that scarf
and you are the only bald one in the frame
wondering what paisley tastes like,
as you try to worry your first tooth out of gum.

You can’t count yet, but you will have twenty years
from when you unfreeze from this photo
until you forget how to sleep.
Your fan-eared brother will have twenty years
until he learns he needs to be a builder,
after he’s learnt how to fight.