At The Border, 1979 does not use a lot of imagery and poetic language and instead adopts an almost prose-like narrative. Detailing the story in plain fashion. However, it does occasionally use words with various meanings as a poetic device. Although the narrative voice inconsistent, through the dialogue and detailing their actions we get to see an insight into the thoughts of several characters: the guard, the sister, and the mother. There is seemingly a mix of different standpoints towards the move home and these are generally spread amongst the different generations. It would appear the adults in the piece are very welcoming of the transition and believe it will be a positive, life-changing event. The child’s perspective seems more balanced and reasoned and almost appears to be s sense of trepidation.
Form and Tone
At The Border, 1979 is an autobiographical piece detailing the immigration from Iran back into Kurdistan, her home. The poem contains a sort of dramatic irony as the family assumes that the grass will be greener on the other side, though the suggestion is that this will not actually be the case as the reasoned viewpoint of the young narrator balances the rhetoric from the adults. This gives the poem a bleak undertone. It is presented in seven stanzas of varying length. Rhyme is not used in any significant way throughout the poem – meaning this piece is classified as free verse.
At The Border, 1979 Analysis
‘It is your last check-in point in this country!’
We grabbed a drink –
soon everything would taste different.
In this first stanza of At The Border, 1979, which can be read in full here, the narrator is using the first person, although they use the pronoun “we”, ostensibly describing the actions of their family. The person delivering the dialogue in the first line is unclear, but this could well be a checkpoint guard. It is suggested as early as line three that the narrator believes their moving will make their lives better. The line about everything tasting better is a metaphor.
The land under our feet continued
divided by a thick iron chain.
In this shortened stanza it would appear that the family has reached the border itself. The chain probably represents the line between the two countries.
My sister put her leg across it.
The border guards told her off.
From this stanza, it becomes very clear that At The Border, 1979 is narrated by one of the children in the family as she describes the actions of her sister. The child’s playfulness is eventually admonished by the guard. But it is an interesting addition to At The Border, 1979 and is perhaps put in as a reminder of the innocence of young people that are often exposed to hardships in war-torn countries when forced to immigrate. It is this playful innocence and blissful unawareness that make for such a stark and interesting comparison to the passion of the elders mentioned in this piece.
My mother informed me: We are going home.
and people are much kinder.
In this stanza, the narrator describes interactions with their mother. The mother obviously holds an idealized view of their homeland and she waxes lyrical over it. She uses the adjectives clean, beautiful, and kind to describe the roads, landscape, and people respectively. The narrator does not reveal whether they believe their mother or not just that this is what they were “informed” and an interesting choice of word. Are we to assume the child is being almost “brain washed” by the descriptions of her homeland?
Dozens of families waited in the rain.
comparing both sides of the border.
It becomes clear here that a lot of other families are sharing this experience and it sounds like the results of this on different families are fairly uninformed. As various mothers begin to cry, can we assume this is because of the strong emotions involved returning home? Somebody even goes as far as to state they can “inhale home” it is clear a lot of people have “built up” their view of their homeland, but the narrator, who it is revealed is five years old, just stands and compares the two sides of the checkpoint. Possibly wondering what all the fuss is about.
The autumn soil continued on the other side
It rained on both sides of the chain.
Here we reveal the narrator’s musing on her comparisons of the two sides of the border. She notices that it rains just the same on both sides of the border. That the ground was exactly the same. In fact, we can take from this stanza that there were little-to-no differences between the two sides of the divide. This is really interesting as in many ways it emphasizes how arbitrary the positioning of these borders is. They are not placed because the areas are radically different, clearly, they are (apart from in the biased minds of the parents) practically the same. They have been placed because a government has said that is where they are to be placed. The symbolic nature of crossing the border is lost on the girl who sees the event from a less blinkered perspective than the adults. Once again the narrator’s viewpoint displays innocence and naivety. It creates an anti-climax of sorts as it is clear that the parent’s overly hyped version of the world beyond the border is hyperbole.
We waited while our papers were checked,
The same chain of mountains encompassed all of us.
The third line of At The Border, 1979 is a very interesting statement that the “chain was removed” obviously this is probably a reference to actually being let through the checkpoint. But these words certainly convey a double meaning whereby the family feels a sense of freedom from being allowed to return home. Another man emphasizes the ecstatic nature of the group as he literally bends down and kisses the mud. But here we see the phrase “muddy homeland” does this, once again have a double meaning. Is the narrator trying to hint that home might not be all it has cracked up to be? We see the final line carries a sinister air of foreboding. The suggestion being that whilst the family feels free they are all, in fact still slaves, just slaves to their own country.
About Choman Hardi
Choman Hardi, born in 1974, is a contemporary Kurdish poet. Her father Ahmed Hardi, was also a poet. During her younger years, she found herself moving from country to country as a refugee having been born in Iraqi Kurdistan. She eventually sought asylum in the UK where she gained a PhD at Oxford University. To date, she has four poetry volumes published. Three of these are in Kurdish and one of them is written in English.