April is National Poetry Month so I’m tackling the Writer’s Digest 2019 April PAD Challenge hosted by Robert Lee Brewer.
Today’s prompt: Write an exile poem. Exile is a noun, a verb, and an American rock band from Richmond, Kentucky. A person, animal, or object can be exiled. But people and animals also exile others–or even exile themselves.
LANDS THAT ONCE WERE OURS
Driving two squabbling boys home in the misty dusk, I try to concentrate
on a radio interview with a young poet who,
the host says, has almost a million followers on Instagram.
This, because she wrote about loss and identity and homeland
to help her students who were grappling with their own hard things,
and then she posted her words and then they went exponential
and then here she is with followers and books and radio shows.
But I almost miss all of that
because the host says
She was 16 when she emigrated to Canada from Lebanon.
And my ear halts there,
or rather, listens there,
because I know what is coming next—I have already heard, already read what is coming next—
those inevitable words I know must be coming next: the war-torn country.
I wait and I listen and I brace myself, and though no one ever says them,
(I cannot believe no one ever says them)
I can’t stop thinking, can’t stop dwelling
on those words—
and how dangerous cliché can be,
how it has trained me to expect a whole cedared country
to be whittled down to two meager words,
how it has crowded out this young poet’s complex particulars—the loyal family, the laughing friends, the artistic endeavors—
and made a monotony of strife.
O that I could rouse myself from cliché’s hypnotic sleep, give back all the essence that has been slowly drained from those sapped words,
infuse them with the wincing power they once had, a power purpled with bruises not just of body but of spirit and of nation.
O that I could dredge them again in the scarlet loss that first horrified, and force myself to confront the real and violent rending.
But it is too late. Repetition has done its numbing work.
Even the most searing fire will be doused by a million rains.
Yes, it is too late to resurrect the flame these words once sparked,
and too late to apologize for so many other extinguishings.
We have appropriated horror for our own glib purposes in our safe and warless land.
Our children’s messy rooms have become disaster areas, our group of friends a tribe.
We have cushioned our destruction as carpet-bombing and branded our popularity viral.
We slather pity on refugees while praying that we ourselves are not required to provide the refuge.
It is too late to believe that words are still capable of affecting us and yet that’s a poet’s job: to trust
in the hefting power of words, to lace them together and have them haul meaning.
But what do I know of such weight as exile?
I know leaving only as a burden of choice,
as the wrench of a red barn rotting inward.
How suffocating are the towering trees when my heart still yearns for the consoling sprawl of vast and fertile land.