Anna Iltnere: Sea Library

Childhood drawing by Anna Iltnere. A house by the river with blooming water lilies.

Before going to sleep I walk down to the river for a swim. With my nostrils slightly above water, I watch the ducks moving among the water lilies. The lips of invisible fish blow circles into the surface on the other side. Cut grass and cold dew stick to my bare feet as I walk back. I wash them away, kiss my boys goodnight and climb into bed to read and to dream.

If I wake up before the others, I push my bike out of the garage and cycle to the morning sea, three miles away. It’s a gulf, to be honest, but we still call it the sea, the Baltic Sea, a tiny inner pocket of the Atlantic Ocean — where it hides what’s dearest, I imagine. There’s almost no salt in the Baltic Sea, they say, but my tongue still tastes it on my lips and my skin  when I leave gravity behind with my clothes on the shore and surrender my body to the waves. When I’m dressed again, I explore the white sand with my fingertips and put a couple of stranded splinters, tiny dark brown pieces of driftwood, in my pocket, stamp souvenirs from my own little journeys traversing same paths every day. I am a sea librarian now.

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Sylvia Warren: Honey

Lilly Martin Spencer, “Domestic Happiness”, 1849. Source: dia.org

The house I grew up in was a project, much like my family. My father would pick up bits and pieces from scrap yards and skips and the deadwood and bolt them into the rest of the house, a little like my mother did with my siblings. The heart of the home was the kitchen, at least I think it is the earliest room that I remember. I have a recollection of sitting on the split linoleum as a toddler, splashing a plastic toy in and out of a washing-up tub as my mother was kneading bread and flour sifted down onto the surface of the water. Mother says I must have made this up, that I was too young to remember, but accusing me of an over-active imagination was really one of her only criticisms of me. I knew my parents had always wanted me, because they told me so. They had chosen me when I was only a tiny baby, and then when I turned six they had taken in two more children, my new brother and sister. My parents loved me and looked after me, gave me a strict but fair upbringing, and considered the most important things in life were to be both good and kind.

They called me Sienna, and I never knew whether this was the name my birth mother had given me, or whether it had been changed before I knew that I had been chosen. The year before my brother and sister came to the house Papa made a sandpit in the small yard that counted as our garden. He spent a week of evenings after work cutting and measuring planks of wood, cutting small crescents of plywood to act as seats. He worked with his shirt off, glasses fogging slightly with the exertion, and I squatted next to him in bright pink shorts and red wellies, sucking my thumb. There’s a photo somewhere, just after he had filled it with sand and declared it finished. He is smiling, his hair slightly curled with sweat, and I am sitting happily with a bucket and spade, staring up at somewhere beyond the camera. Each corner of the sandpit has a seat, and there I am in the middle without a care in the world. It was before I learnt that, for people like my parents, nothing can ever be considered complete.

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Backgammon in the Ruins of an Old Palace of Saddam Hussein’s: Bezav Mahmod and the Image of Kurdistan

Once, long ago, my mother fled a genocide (the Al Anfal campaign). She fled on foot over massive Kurdish mountains carrying me on her back and my little brother in her stomach.

My grandparents, Kurdish villagers/farmers, were faced with brutal oppression. They were forced into the Kurdish struggle, taking up arms to resist the annihilation of their identity. For 50 years they lived with war and the struggle of the Kurds. My grandfather Selman Mahmod Bamernî became a peshmerga at an early age. He was involved in many bloody battles and lost many comrades in the process. He was seriously injured twice, and twice placed in Iraqi prisons. He was often separated from his family, once for over five years, so long that, when he came back, his youngest children did not recognize their own father. He has devoted his life to the Kurdish struggle. A humble person with honor, compassion and an absolutely wonderful sense of humor. He has made many laugh heartily in his day.

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