Monday, 21 November 2016

Heaven-Proof House

Autumn in the Botanischer Garten, Berlin 2016, photographed by Julia Grime

Berlin is in its late autumn. I'm writing this in Cafe Bilder Buch, while outside the skies are getting greyer day by day and the air turns sharper. It's a city of many trees and right now their colours are burning with the intensity of ending.

I'm here for complicated reasons, that I'm still figuring out myself. Mostly, I'm here to make poems with refugees and asylum seekers. Berlin has become known as a place of safety for displaced people, especially from the Middle East. My work with so-called "marginalised" people in the U.K. has now led me further afield, to Berlin and to new people and new questions. Some of these are questions for myself.

While I tap on my keyboard, a pianist is playing quietly. He's called Martin Ben David and he's been round the room with a hat for donations. Soon he'll be off to Dortmund, he told us before, so his performance is partly his goodbye to Berlin. I jot down a little of our conversation, because I'm making word-sketches of people I encounter. He says: “I want to be a bridge between people. A connector. It is a passion for me, We are meant to be this. To feel a small fire in our heart. Not to accept these sad souls surrounding us, to help heal them.”

This is a big room, a sea of comfort, big sofas and grand old bookcases and cupboards around the edges. They've been lighting candles for all the tables. As the day darkens, the room feels more and more unhooked from time. It's as if we are floating off in a little bubble of gentleness and German voices and candlelit faces. Beside me is Julia my partner, who has come to be with me - and for her own reasons. We've also got our two cats with us, back at the flat. The immediate family is here, and soon I will start work.

There's a hint of a storm in the music now. The notes are cascading around us and I start to think about rain. As soon as I write, I see rains sweeping across Belfast Lough when I was a kid. The memory jolts me because it's no longer possible to think of that time without remembering the death of my father last year. But it's the season to write about him and about my childhood too, some skin needs to be shed. This is the more complicated storyline, the one I don't understand. I've said for years that I will write it but often doubt I have the words. Perhaps something of it will find its way into this blog. It's a story about my own family, fleeing the threat of violence. 

The music has stopped, I've written some words, it's time to go.

Heaven-Proof House is a poetry project based in Berlin, devised by Philip Davenport from arthur+martha CIC and supported by the British Council and Arts Council England.  

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