The burning house

Poem inspired by a photograph by Sebastião Salgado, in which a woman with her children watch their own house go up in flames. During the years of the war of independence in Mozambique, many sought exile in the neighbouring country of Malawi. However, when they were allowed to return, they set fire to their houses in Malawi, as a symbol of their determination to return to Mozambique.

In burning the house that kept us,
we are not being ungrateful,
nor is it a gesture of anger.
This is a decisive blow,
a means of destroying the door
to future desires of return.

We make ourselves homeless to go back home.

Only thus the cell dissipates.
Only thus the knot unties.
We leave no harbour behind.

Emptying the ground is the first step.
Emptying the ground of a house already empty.
Giving it back its former emptiness,
before we appeared empty-handed,
scattered scree from our homeland.

May this land we leave be reborn.

Some people exorcise the dead.
We exorcise the people we were.
Erasing our past from this land,
may this past from our souls be erased.
As this house ceases to exist,
may this past be less than a shadow:
this land, this stumbling, this time.

Malawi for us is no more.
But does our Mozambique still exist?