• Athena Farrokhzad: Europe, Where Have You Misplaced Love?

    An Open Letter from a Poet

    Perhaps Europe isn’t doing so well because it has stopped listening to poets and started using the brash vocabulary of TV commentators? The international festival Days of Poetry and Wine is collaborating with Berlin-based Allianz Kulturstiftung to showcase the Letter to Europe project in 2018. Each year, the festival’s curators pick a prominent poet and give her or him an opportunity to address Europe and shine a spotlight on the problems they consider the most pressing. Last year, the selected laureate of the project was the Flemish writer and poet Stefan Hertmans. This year the laureate is the Swedish poet Athena Farrokhzad. The letter, translated from the Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida, will be read publicly at the opening of the festival and disseminated across many magazines and newspapers around the globe.

    A Letter to Europe

    Europe, I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing. Europe, 260 Euro and 76 cents January, 2018.

    I can’t stand my own mind.

    Europe, when will you end the human war? Go fuck yourself with your Christ complex.

    I don’t feel good, don’t bother me. I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.

    Europe, when will you retire? When will you take off your clothes? When will you look at yourself through the grave? When will you be worthy of your millions of guest workers?

    Europe, why are your libraries full of tears?

    It’s been a long summer and the drought is spreading. Not a single store has a fan to sell. Soon you’ll no longer have a liveable climate or any welfare. I fantasize about the walls that will greet you when disaster strikes.

    Europe, repeat after me: Football players can be French who are African who are French. It isn’t complicated. Everyone seems to understand the consequences of colonialism, except you, the cause.

    Europe, you are an avocado that rots before it ripens. You are a bomb shelter with room only for the landlord. You have a self-image made of Teflon, nothing sticks.

    You are an oversized blot of shame on the map.

    Europe, 63 years before Lampedusa, Césaire wrote that you were impossible to defend. How many dead in the Mediterranean this week? Each refugee who crosses your borders is a declaration of war.

    The wretched of the earth want the prosperity they created.

    Europe, when will you Brexit yourself?

    You are burqa bans in France, minaret bans in Switzerland, refugees’ jewelry seized in Denmark. You are Italy’s minister of the interior quoting Mussolini. You are asylum-seekers on leashes in Hungary. The worst is still Denmark.

    Denmark is an open door not broken down enough.

    One day, I’ll lock up Denmark with all of Greenland’s starving polar bears. One day, I’ll steal Denmark’s cars out of their garages. One day, I’ll make a ghetto plan out of Lars Løkke Rasmussen. One day, I’ll exact revenge for all the burned-down refugee housing. One day, you’ll beg all Roma for forgiveness. One day, the synagogue guards will be redundant. One day, Dublin will simply be the name of one of your capitals.

    Europe, one day I’ll eat pastries with Shora and Miriam and Hanna. No one will raise an eyebrow when we enter the finest bakery. No one will address us in English. We will stir our cups with exquisite little spoons. We will let our daughters order everything they see. No one will look away when we ask for high chairs. No one will sigh when the children spill.

    Europe, every day white people spit after us on the subway. They seriously believe that the seats are their birthright.

    Europe, you don’t seem to have recovered from the black plague.

    Europe, it’s the Muslims. It’s the Muslims and the Jews and the Roma and the Africans. And the ones who look like Muslims and Africans, but aren’t. And the ones who were Jews, but did everything to hide it.

    Europe, when will I write my poems with the confidence of a mediocre white man? How many did you sacrifice at Guantánamo Bay? When will Palestine compete in the Eurovision Song Contest? When will your borders stop hounding the Ural Mountains? When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?

    Europe, how can so many of your nations be monarchies? Do you think this is a fairy tale? How long will you pretend that Robespierre never existed?

    Erasmus is the worst thing to happen to my university education. I occupied Université Denis Diderot and slept with everyone north of the river. The linguistics faculty never heard from me again.

    Mina and Bahar have left, I don’t think they’ll come back.

    Europe, I pissed myself when the Greek truck driver drove off the road. But he just wanted to show me an ancient temple.

    You love Aristotle, but you hate Greeks. You love counting, but you hate Arabs. You love Sigbjørn’s poetry, but you hate Sami. You love decorating your balcony, but you hate your neighbors. You love handcuffs, but you hate sex.

    Europe, what will follow you? No wonder Ötzi had an ulcer.

    Europe, it’s been a long time since I longed for Gertrude on rue des Fleurus. The avant-garde is just empire wagging the dog. Picasso painted Guernica and said: A bull is a bull and a horse is a horse.

    Your machinery is too much for me. You make me want to go on an all-inclusive. There must be some other way to settle this argument.

    Europe, 20 years ago we hated the word multicultural because it made us into difference. Now we plead with you to welcome the other.

    Europe, repeat after me: Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome. Fremde, étranger, stranger. Glüklich zu sehen, je suis enchante. Happy to see you, bleibe, reste, stay.

    It occurs to me that I will never become Europe. I am talking to myself again.

    Europe, I used to be a Communist when I was a kid, I’m not sorry. I sold newspapers in the school hallways. My biology teacher always bought one, even though he was on the right. He said the eastern bloc was important to maintain balance.

    Europe, an iron curtain comes down when I write this. I long for the fifth Internationale. To what year should I attribute the betrayal of Social Democracy? When I walk along Landwehrkanal, Rosa Luxemburg whispers that she is freezing.

    Europe, in spite of everything, Rilke and Shelley are truly great poets. Sacré-Cœur has a magnificent view and Transylvania an unreal shade of green. In spite of everything, I feel sentimental when the Donau sparkles. In spite of everything, I am worried that the North Sea will conquer Rotterdam. In spite of everything, I have Googled fun facts about Albania. In spite of everything, I feel closer to the shots in Sarajevo than to my own history. In spite of everything, there is a place in Slovenia called Jerusalem. That’s where the crusaders settled when they couldn’t make it all the way.

    Europe, you cannot separate la mission civilisatrice from Christianity, Christianity from feudalism, feudalism from industrialism, industrialism from capitalism, capitalism from barbarism.

    I understand why Romanticism followed the Enlightenment. I understand why Marie Antoinette was sick of bread. I understand why Michelangelo took the Sistine job. I always confuse Versailles with Vichy and Weimar with Waterloo. I understand why it rained in Verlaine’s heart.

    Europe, one day the Lagos conference will take place and Africa will redraw your borders.

    Nigeria gets the Baltic states, except Lithuania, which goes to Angola. Algeria wants Poland, minus Warsaw. Cameroon takes everything between Normandie and Gibraltar. The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo agree on the rest. The official languages of Europe are Lingala, Kikongo, and Swahili. No one wants the Nordic countries, their forests have burned to the ground. The citizens captured as slaves and sold on the docks of Gothenburg. Although the journey is short, many die at sea. Those who survive spread across the continent, ending up mostly in southern Sudan and Eritrea. Half of them quickly die of domestic diseases. But the children can work, and twenty-five Nordic generations are raised in slavery. No one wants England, but Botswana finally offers. After a vote, Scotland and Wales fall to Somalia. The only free European nation is the united Ireland.

    I had no idea the song by the Cranberries was about the IRA. Europe, it’s not me, it’s not my family.

    It would have been better if the spinning jenny had never been invented. It would have saved us a lot if Marx and Engels had come out.

    Europe, some of those who want to close the borders to protect workers’ wages are the children of May 68, who have forgotten that workers have no homeland. Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?

    I hope those who were burned at the stake had a deal with Satan. I hope Galileo Galilei is laughing scornfully in his sky. I hope seal fat really cures whooping cough. I hope Jessie gets to import as much as she needs. I hope Jelinek uses the money to buy an island. I hope the Czech Republic doesn’t spend its coffers on lighting the monuments of Prague. I hope no Christian Democratic parties meet the threshold for Parliament.

    I hope partisans still live in the mountains. I hope they eye fascists like you eye rabbits.

    I hope Amy Winehouse rises from the dead and sings at my funeral. I hope Freud names your condition after Marine and her father: The Les Pens Complex.

    Europe, most Swedish party leaders identify with Pippi Longstocking. But they resemble Bambi’s mother’s killer.

    Every day we ask ourselves if we should get dual citizenship so we have a way out. Or will we be deported.

    I hear more and more people talk about Portugal. I know a bluff when I see one.

    I was eight years old when the war in Yugoslavia broke out. I was nine when I got Bosnian classmates. I couldn’t understand that they were refugees like us, even though they were European. In Belgrade, Tito’s mausoleum is to the right of the Iranian embassy. Enna still says that she speaks Serbo-Croatian. Our smallest common denominator is baklava. Europe, the award for lousiest food culture goes to you this year too.

    Europe, I have marched for abortion rights in Barcelona. I have dreamed of my body run over by tanks. I have seen the empty chairs in the square in Kraków. But instead of visiting death camps I want to read Victor Klemperer. Europe, words can be like very small doses of arsenic.

    Europe, when fascists murder children you raise national flags. Europe, I can make historical connections until the end of time. But the big difference between now and then is four million Soviet soldiers. The difference between the Winter War and now is 80 degrees.

    Europe, it really is the era of forgetting. I will either end up like Ulrike Meinhof or like Italy in the World Cup. My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.

    I’m angry at Communism because it fucked up the dream of Communism.
    I’m angry at the Swedish Academy because they gave feudalism a bad name.
    I’m angry at Iceland because language is not dirty laundry.
    I’m angry at Orpheus because he wasn’t patient.
    I’m angry at Luther because he never took a vacation.
    I’m angry at Gabriel because he isn’t moving to Bagarmossen.
    I’m angry at Putin because of this judo business.
    I’m angry at Merkel because she is no angel.

    Europe, those who never would have voted for Labour are now campaigning for Corbyn. I had high hopes for Syriza, and I’m still hoping for Podemos. Even though they share a slogan with Obama.

    Europe, I took my daughter to Zoologischer garten. She was afraid of the giraffe, but wanted to embrace the lion. Then we went to the Pergamon Museum. I wanted to show her the gate that bears her name. She fell asleep in the stroller and all I could think of was the sacking of Babylonia.

    Europe, I refuse to participate in any conversation about terrorism that doesn’t begin with the war for oil. I’m going to plant weapons of mass destruction at 10, Downing Street. Europe, how many of us were in the streets in 2003? How many did you still murder?

    Europe, no matter how many times we call London the Middle West and the US the Far West, you act as though these are the glory days of King Leopold.

    Europe, when will the white man release his burden?

    I still haven’t told you what you did to our parents in the 1990s. I haven’t explained why I have laser pens in my bag.

    Do you remember the white hands on lapels?

    Do you remember those who toasted in the bars of Madrid when Pinochet had a heart attack? Do you remember those who pulled their hair out when Milošević died in a cell? Do you remember those who danced in the streets of London when Thatcher had a stroke? Do you remember grandmother’s petrol blue head scarf? Do you remember me with braids in my hair?

    Anyone could have known that a coal and steel union wasn’t for the proletariat. Anyone knows the workers only have their shackles to lose. Anyone could have told the residents of Lesbos that the dykes already won.

    Europe, I think I would like Queen Kristina. But I’m not sure Queen Kristina would like me.

    Of all who have lived here, Spartacus is my favorite.

    Nothing we learned in school corresponds with reality.

    I want Öcalan to become head of the EU Commission. I want your history to end in filth and mud. I want our history to end like the movie Pride. I want the labor movement to walk hand in hand with the queer activists, the queer activists to walk hand in hand with the undocumented, the undocumented to walk hand in hand with their children, the children to walk hand in hand with their rabbits, the rabbits to have water bottles for the children in their backpacks.

    I want Cambodia’s farmers to burn our paper money. I want to forget that it is for my freedom of choice that the world is split asunder. I want transnational adoption to be banned. I want my children to belong to someone else.

    Europe, Clichy is burning, Brixton is burning, Husby is burning. My eyes burn when I read the newspaper. Will you let your emotional life to be run by the media magnates of the right? There was greater freedom of the press during the Viking era than during your democracies. Europe, you are totally brainwashed by liberal editorial pages.You wouldn’t know your own ruin if it smothered you.

    Europe, I read Allen Ginsberg as a child, I confess everything.

    Europe, you managed something no one else could pull off. You killed my brothers.

    Europe, where have you misplaced love? What have you done with your little specter? Where have you hidden your geraniums? When will you be stopped in security? When will you be tried at the Hague? When will you listen to refugees rather than journalists who go undercover as refugees?

    Europe, is this correct?

    My daughter is the great-grandchild of Ukrainian Jews who fled pogroms, grandchild of Iranian and Argentinian Communists who fled dictatorships, children of tired Swedes who hope they can stay.

    Europe, it’s those fucking Danes.

    The Denmark’s power mad, she wants to eat us alive. One day I will start a BDS movement against Denmark. One day I will drive a stake through Denmark’s heart. One day Denmark will be hacked up by the magpies of the Faroe Islands. One day only halal sausage will be served in Denmark. One day I will take apart Denmark like it’s Legoland.

    Europe, I refuse to give up my obsession. I refuse to come to the point. I refuse to buy the Berlin Wall. I’ve said nothing about the millions of poor who live in your flower pots. I’ve said nothing about your prisons. I’ve said nothing about how Ylva sang me to sleep that night. I’ve said nothing about how family ties will be dissolved.

    I’ll save Chernobyl and Chechnya for another occasion.

    I hope my feelings about Denmark shine through.

    Europe, stop pushing I know what I’m doing. I’m sick of your insane demands. Let a woman live. How can I write a holy litany in your hopeless mood?

    The plum blossoms are falling here too.

    You should have seen me come to Pasolini. You should have seen me triumph over windmills.

    Europe, my queer shoulder has been dislocated.

    It’s the final countdown.


    –Athena Farrokhzad, Stockholm, August 2018. (Trans. by Jennifer Hayashida)

    The preceding is from the Freeman’s channel at Literary Hub, which features excerpts from the print editions of Freeman’s, along with supplementary writing from contributors past, present and future. The latest issue of Freeman’s, a special edition featuring 29 of the best emerging writers from around the world, is available now.

    Athena Farrokhzad
    Athena Farrokhzad
    Athena Farrokhzad was born in 1983 and lives in Stockholm. She is a poet, literary critic, translator, playwright, and teacher of creative writing. Her first volume of poetry, Vitsvit (White Blight, Argos Books, translation: Jennifer Hayashida), was published in 2013 by Albert Bonniers Förlag. In 2016, her second volume of poetry, Trado, written together with the Romanian poet Svetlana Cârstean, was published.

    More Story
    Oscar Villalon and Arthur Phillips on Getting That Big, Fat Writer's Advance In this episode of the Fiction/Non/Fiction podcast, critic and editor Oscar Villalon and novelist and screenwriter Arthur...
  • Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

    For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.