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The Book of Departures

Barca; Photo credit Octavio Delgado

“The contemporary world is a place of exiles and refugees; the displaced run like rivers to myriad countries floating towards the sea.” —Marilyn Buck

In 2002 I came to Canada as a political refugee and writer in exile—having survived political persecution, illegal imprisonment and torture due to my work as an independent journalist and human rights defender. When I arrived in Toronto, I didn’t have a passport, I didn’t know anybody in the entire country, and I didn’t speak a single word of English. All I had were four dollars and a suitcase full of books.

Cristina Peri Rossi, a Uruguayan poet who in 1972 fled the military junta to Barcelona, said that, “If exile were not a terrible human experience, it would be a literary genre.” And quickly added, “Or both things at the same time.”

Exile for me has been both things, and in The Book of Departures I explore the poetics of absence and displacement. Here the exiles appear exactly as who they are: mythmakers extraordinaire! Part of another cartography, citizens of a floating nation that drifts between memory and despair…

Still a work-in-progress, The Book of Departures represents my first full-length book of poetry. These poems are full of abandon places, empty suitcases, postmen that don’t call, doors that slam shut. They are poems of estrangement and nostalgia, images of loneliness and separation–elegies for a loss beyond words. They pose the heartbreaking question: how long do you keep alive the dream of returning home?

The Exiles

The exiles
cannot breathe at night
cannot close their eyes

completely awake
they collect 
one by one
the piercing drops
of a bereft and ancient
memory

the walls of their house cry
as if they had kept
the ocean between the bricks

from their forehead
sets sail a ship loaded with stars
and rainstorms

and it becomes clear to them
that the night
begins in their heart

The Book of Departures — working draft  2015
© Ari Belathar All Rights Reserved