E is for Exile

Exile

Each of us waking to the window’s light
Has found the curtains changed, our pictures gone;
Our furniture has vanished in the night
And left us to an unfamiliar dawn;
Even the contours of the room are strange
And everything is change.
Waking, our minds construct of memory
What figure stretched beside us, or what voice
Shouted to pull us from our luxury–
And all the mornings leaning to our choice.

To put away – both child and murderer –
The toys we played with just a month ago,
That wisdom come, and make our progress sure,
Began our exile with our lust to grow.
(Remembering the train I tore apart
Because it knew my heart.)
We move to move, and this perversity
Betrays us into loving only loss.
We seek betrayal. When we cross the sea,
It is the distance from our past we cross.

Not only from the intellectual child
Time has removed us, but unyieldingly
Cuts down the groves in which our Indians filed
And where the black of pines was mystery.
(I walked the streets of where I lived and grew,
And all the streets were new.)
The room of love is always rearranged.
Someone has torn the corner of a chair
So that the past we call upon has changed,
The scene deprived by an intruding tear.

Exiled by death from people we have known,
We are reduced again by years, and try
To call them back and clothe the barren bone,
Not to admit that people ever die.
(A boy who talked and read and grew with me
Fell from a maple tree.)
But we are still alone, who love the dead,
And always miss their action’s character,
Caught in the cage of living, visited
By no faint ghosts, by no gray men that were.

In years, and in the numbering of space,
Moving away from what we grew to know,
We stray like paper blown from place to place,
Impelled by every element to go.
(I think of haying on an August day,
Forking the stacks of hay.)
We can remember trees and attitudes
That foreign landscapes do not imitate;
They grow distinct within the interludes
Of memory beneath a stranger state.

The favorite toy was banished, and our act
Was banishment of the self; then growing, we
Betrayed the girls we loved, for our love lacked
Self-knowledge of its real perversity.
(I loved her, but I told her I did not,
And grew, and then forgot.)
It was mechanical, and in our age,
that cruelty should be our way of speech;
Our movement is a single pilgrimage,
Never returning; action does not teach.

In isolation from our present love
We make her up, consulting memory,
Imagining to watch her image move
On daily avenues across a sea.
(All day I saw her daydreamed figure stand
Out of the reach of hand.)
Each door and window is a spectral frame
In which her shape is for the moment found;
Each lucky scrap of paper bears her name,
And half-heard phrases imitate its sound.

Imagining, by exile kept from fact,
We build of distance mental rock and tree,
And make of memory a creative act,
Persons and worlds no waking eye can see.
(From lacking her, I built her new again,
And loved the image then.)
The manufactured country is so green
The eyes of sleep are blinded by its shine;
We spend our lust in that imagined scene
But never wake to cross its borderline.

No man can knock his human fist upon
The door built by his mind, or hear the voice
He meditated come again if gone;
We live outside the country of our choice.
(I wanted X. When X moved in with me,
I could not wait to flee.)
Our humanness betrays us to the cage
Within whose limits each is free to walk,
But where no one can hear our prayers or rage
And none of us can break the walls to talk.

Exiled by years, by death no dream conceals,
By worlds that must remain unvisited,
And by the wounds that growing never heals,
We are as solitary as the dead,
Wanting to king it in that perfect land
We make and understand.
And in this world whose pattern is unmade,
Phases of splintered light and shapeless sand,
We shatter through our motions and evade
Whatever hand might reach and touch our hand.

~ Donald Hall

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