Go Back to Your Own Country
Let me tell you about countries: nobody has their own
and where we come from moves. Our mothers’ wombs
aren’t where we left them. Continents calve. Jerusalem
holds a tray full of glasses which a scrum of men take
and put back, take and put back, unworried for the weight
she must shift. Let me tell you: some of the countries
aren’t where we left them. Someone pulls a string and six
tumble from Yugoslavia’s pocket. Someone halves
Sudan like a branch over their knee. Someone crumbles
a bailey between Berlin and Germany is one place
again. Only Adam had his own country, and he could not
go back. A country is land that’s learned to disown.
This poem has been reproduced with the poet’s permission. It first appeared in Contemporary Verse 2.
If a poem has love I will call it lovely. If a poem rings powerfully true I will call it stunning. This is a lovely, stunning poem which begins so well with a request to come alongside and explain. “Let me tell you” – that is such a good way to begin a poem, and such a good way to start to complicate a racist and nationalistic mindset with the thought that wombs and countries are never where we left them.
Jane Zwart teaches literature and writing at Calvin University and co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing.
The occupations of Occupy London are, according to their website, “about social justice, real democracy and challenging the unsustainable financial system that punishes the many and privileges the few”. But the juxtaposition of the protesters’ camp and St Paul’s is challenging those of us on the inside of the Church of England wearing the vest of vested interests.
The juxtaposition highlights the challenge that has faced Christians down the centuries. Juxtaposed is the soft and the hard, the fixed and the flimsy, the playfulness of the tent and the seriousness of established tradition, the movement and the institution. These contrasts are not new. Paul, to whom the Cathedral is dedicated, was, as Giles Fraser pointed out, a tent maker and missioner of no fixed abode. Tonight a friend who is beginning to explore the Christian faith emailed me her puzzlement that “God and religion don’t seem to match”. What has been happening in London seems to be another replay of this mismatch. (Is it either the grace of God, or prophetic imagination and energy that makes more of a match?)
Madeleine Bunting has written of the spatial aspect of the paradigm shift represented by the protest. For her, the protest is about “seeding questions in thousands of minds, shaking certainties and orthodoxies so that there is space for new alternatives.” It is about “taking key symbolic public space … to use it for conviviality, living, learning and participation.” To me that sounds exciting, and something which Christians should be engaging with. In fact, it represents the very heart and aspiration of Christian practice. Conviviality, living, learning and participation are fundamental to the intention of Christian liturgy.
The British Jewish community seems to have responded to the protest positively. In the statement they have published today, they “welcome the movement’s openness, pluralism and commitment to imagining a more just world.” Their statement includes a reminder that “the Jewish heritage includes a long tradition of reshaping society to help the least fortunate, from the teaching of prophets like Amos and Jeremiah, to Rabbi Hillel, to modern figures such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Naomi Klein.” The church shares the same Jewish heritage, but the juxtaposition and apparent conflict of tent and Cathedral suggests the ease with which an institution can forget its origin as a movement of liberation.