EXILE IN MY HOME LAND
by Dale Jacobson
When those great deep shoulders of granite shift
the foundations of cities shudder and the moon
whitens like cold fire on the ancient petroglyphs,
freezes the first graffiti of the continent in millennial time.
The wind sings a narrative of erosions and erased camps--
hunts a lost note of jars among broken shards of clay,
urns that once held water or dreamed in the throat of noon--
and summers rush back to me like bullets of light
that shatter into constellations-- all days consumed
by the night that kneels over sleepers,
collecting dreams like water in its big dipper.
Night that cradles the earth like a bright robin egg
or future skull whose eyes are lost in the dark,
night of subterrestrial waters with their cool passages,
night transparent to itself, darkness leaning perpetually
original cipher that dreamed the universe...
Those young days.
Torn away by each evening
the moon scaling its cold vigil over the ruins
of gone peoples. I came to my continent companioned
by my shadow whose hand always touched the earth,
the earth shifting,
the light shifting,
all shadows lengthening
toward night where primroses
and collect in their dark circles
the silences of mouths that sang each day bright.
My native land...
In my childhood days
when everything turned in waves of light
and the sun-singing cicada stretched
a taut wire across summer afternoon,
an electric meditation the frequency of Zen,
the world was home to my wandering,
gravel roads, green-shuddering fields,
meandering river that kept its own time.
No earth beyond the prairie
leaning into the horizon, falling toward
a mirage of distance like a far memory of itself,
I felt all its stored time beneath my feet:
buried seasons and centuries, the elder
energy of creatures that had entered rock,
pillowed on the long slide of the geological dark.
Earth was always near and far,
at my feet, long lands of a childs eye,
horizon always a step away and rolling toward
the crisp and deep sounds of dusk:
lone dogs calling from the center of time--
and then night came on,
lunar shadows shuffling their untame ghosts,
the great trees swaying in the dark wind.
In childhood summer, bright jewel of the year,
afternoon shadows pinned to the earth
the shapes of night waiting to be born-- ancient terrors
the invention of fire never drove away.
The land, razed and rolled by glaciers,
made wealthy by rain and sun,
held its lakes and silence, rivers and fields,
like a mind in the center of dreaming,
the sun shimmering in the tassels of corn,
this harsh prairie mother in whose other eye
autumn raged blazing death and winter stormed.
I saw the wings of hawks flattened in the dust,
barns collapsing upon their emptiness
in slow motion through the century-- everything crushed--
pulled to earth, worn down under
the open naked depth of sky
even as new waters rippled and roiled each spring--
my great uncle in his casket more deaf than usual,
all his years blank on the cool mask of a face--
people, animals, houses and nests fell apart,
and the winds tore down what they weakened.
The soul of the prairie--
golden rod and blue flag insignia,
immense-- I took for my own--
greater than the towns and church steeples--
greater than my nation, its tired century--
this land whose son I am.
I later learned others came before,
who I imagined haunting the trails
we roamed by the river, who once
wandered where I did in those young
tall days, spirits out of time I came to know
as I knew the land--
whose footsteps once imprinted the soil,
whose voices reached into the wind
like ours calling each others names,
and though the wind had made them
anonymous, and though I was told
my forebears came from across an ocean,
they were my ancestors just as the stones
were old, and I felt their presence
in the habits of the prairie, the trees
that seemed to speak into the dusk,
the turning cool light, the deadfall hours
under the pale rising moon,
and their time I felt deep in the earth.
My footsteps followed theirs, a legacy...
(and walked beyond, each morning a frontier,
each day collected by dusk moths,
the night haunted by lost worlds...).
Though their lives were nowhere written,
their names taken flight,
so faint not even the wind could stalk them,
in my mornings I felt their morning near
as I felt the earth ancient--
born under my same sun and moon,
stars whose threads of light
touch the tips of trees,
like myself born to the same mantle of dusk
and cloak of dreams on the edge of the world
where black furies and fires and fears burn
the remnants of day in the gray-orange hour--
all of us born to the vagrant winds never the same.
I wandered the country,
the winding river,
fields under wide skies, in childhood
driven from town by voices that rose
like looming snakes spitting caustic words,
The adults were angry.
And beneath their anger,
the bitter quiet of injured souls
who had lost their place,
down and out...
their lives used up on work, the secret war,
and older wars they didnt choose:
their childhood ruins,
(the worst wounds turned inside out)
and the other war a conflagration
that walked across the world.
They retreated into themselves,
my mother like a raccoon
addicted to glossy objects and baubles
from lack of love, anything that shined
in the darkness that was her home--
her parents too poor to notice more than survival--
and my fathers gentleness ripped from him
by his Baptist mother whose God was more ruthless
than the phony artist who demolished Europe.
They wanted a tool,
a word to halt the wind,
but their rages never found the charmed calm.
The wind was history
and older than history,
a corridor out of the past, train of ghosts,
hospital for the dead,
a long discontent...
It came from somewhere hollow,
turning on absence, making its own road,
born from the hours of the moon
where lost rings gather emptiness...
Always departing, it spoke of departures--
the poverties they feared,
the poor house
my father kept mentioning, whose address
I could never learn though I hunted
all over town among the poorer houses
and even places it might be hidden in shame.
It was gravity they feared, the old griefs,
a century in collapse,
a century at war--
And in autumn the wind came dragging its feet
with the rasping dance of dry leaves...
They wanted to stop time long enough to locate
or their lost childhood--
nightly painted into the dark by their own shadows...
and then the new world rose each dawn
with a strange light and they wondered:
Is this the country we built from our dreams?
Are these our children?
Beyond the city I sought the voices quieted,
hard words that traveled the edges of pain--
and those I heard at school, bully critiques,
cowardly cliques learning to hate what was human
in themselves and others--
voices of tradition...
Beyond the playground and the great class project
I wanted to hear the world,
the place of belonging
I once knew--
and my own voice calmed among
the simpler clans more in sync,
rustling and scurrying their clandestine business
with the sound of arranging paper in the leaves,
birds building their own space by wing or song,
opening airy hallways by warble and call,
and the always-present river rippling its way
past the solemn stones,
the verb and noun married.
...In the center of everything the stillness,
the high balance of noon tilting west,
dusk sliding between the light,
the underlying quiet within the cooling air,
the huge hollowness of atoms secretly singing,
the universe a drop of creation
within the shaft of a well with no wall--
the irreducible moment:
stirring branches gestures within the void,
beneath song the pure pause that is silence:
the leaves turning toward the night--
the sharp cry out of the beginning of time.
It was a world ancient powers cast up,
those early days when everything I touched
and all names were mighty.
Summer's light was lifted from
the roiling sheen of an infinite coin
struck by moonglow in the wishing well
of dream waters--
quantum fire singing like a tuning fork
too high to hear,
origins in the depths of sleep...
Each dawn the sky was flung up--
swift wings invented the horizons!
when the only coin I had to spend
against all the real estate of the world
was myself, play made the day great!--
(in the bliss of my ignorance of war)--
the light of the wide horizons flowed
home when my name was given back,
all the world depended upon knowing
someone within myself was known--
and I went out into the day, transported
the lonesome spaces of my body emptied
by night-- and in sharing and being shared
my tribe of fellow children, who had
no king or khan, high priest or chief,
created a small legend of ourselves,
the original communion without ritual
before religion made us kneel down
to original sin-- and in evening our voices rang
in the oncoming coolness of a world dissolving,
in the weaving energy of our wild running,
our calls growing larger across the void...
Sharp announcements of the jays or crows
pulled the colors of each morning from the dark,
and across unfenced acres of the sky
clouds moved, massive barges laden with
their dark vapors, waters that had climbed
out of the ocean on ladders thin as light--
or were hauled up by the vagrant wind
that touches everything like an afterthought,
the workings of the day immense and without effort.
Weather seems easy and is always free...
and perhaps governed by the secret everyone yearns,
open and available as the mutable sky.
Energy is eternal delight, the great Blake says.
a hard thought to hold when
you're under it and it's bad, bad yen
the sky falling. In the land of play
all was not serene...
I learned the world
could change-- the day darken, the clouds marshal
a black force,
the prairie build danger out of distance.
And when the summer storms broke,
and lightning cast its signatures like ice cracking,
fissures cascading in the darkening chasm,
and thunder's burden of silence collapsed
through all the hollowness of the ages,
its accumulated rumblings shaking
the foundations of the sky,
and the winds
gathered out of nowhere as if the gates
of a riotous congregation of ghosts had opened,
weaving huge empty baskets,
the wombs of tornadoes,
the world revealing its indifferent face:
power surging and sweeping where power would--
the heavens in motion, whipping the tall
grasses in the ditches,
the trees flailing the air:
and then I saw the smallness of my hands...
I came to learn, as we all must who at last
that nothing lasts in a world
where the weather can tear down your house,
and even the people who make the house large,
and even closer to home,
the house I lasted in--
and then where would I go,
where could anyone go, broken like a toy,
outlasted by the world, forever late,
always the last one home, a memory--
become so lost not even a trace
of my shadow could be found
except roaming the dreams of others.
I didnt understand this method,
though some deep voice in my solitude
said it had to be: change,
a world built on ruin--
myself changing-- youth so hard to let go
because it is all we know... place we begin...
But the world knows more,
(does the butterfly know
the sleeping colors within its cocoon?).
The world shifts and the wind shuffles
fate (and in the country of death
no possessions allowed)-- and I grew taller,
Jack of the bean stalk
stalking my giant, who was myself--
changed by the simple act of breathing,
learning another world even as
I didn't notice the vanishing shores
the past growing deeper into darkness--
somehow those days one day gone
their roads fields bright flowers people
voices ghosts of memory unreachable dim
floating island of failing light far off...
haunting the edges of my days...
my interior worlds and words...
I entered the sacred shade,
on the way home from school
when I was seven: immense
evergreens-- I walked
the turning path that dipped
and climbed through the grove,
the light filtered by
the sky ascending guardians,
this place secluded like a vault protected...
where all the voices of the wind
gathered in the tree tops...
Trees burst into flame,
planes sweep low, birds scream
like voices escaping nightmare--
napalm furrows the forest into smoke!
An invisible passing hand
rolls heat waves up the sky...
I saw the jets like whips
slash the sky on t.v.,
ten years later, an eternity lost,
a country lost, another in flames,
seventeen, almost draft age,
eligible to die in a place on t.v.--
Viet Nam a mythical land
where my schoolmates went
to go crazy and never come home,
nor did I, who never left--
but the war exiled everyone
and the expanse of prairie,
the rumors of mountains and sea,
never were the same distances,
open roads to the future!--
the world became a tomb
of the living and the dead
where whole forests and cities
were smoke locked inside a box.
Bad yen the forecast--
the sky falling,
advancing shelves of fire
consume the forest,
and I am there,
or could be if the presence I call myself
were born in another country--
there I am
in my home land a Viet Cong, Charlie, gook,
who once entered a sacred shade and felt
a power emanate from the soil-- origins--
massive waves like the magnetic field
rise over me, an ancient belonging--
I am there:
in a moment connected to all moments,
one body among many,
one face among many,
all over the changing world all atoms secretly singing,
each day born of quantum fire-- light lifted from
an infinite coin in the dream waters where I go to wish--
where many masks dream, many minds born
from the faceless power beneath all dreams...
I once entered long ago
a sacred shade serene,
and then walked into
the world and came to know
all faces fall away
into the night wind,
and the night wind falls away
I recognize my losses in the wind
that touches all faces, the wind of absences
in the presence of many in the presence
of a faceless power behind the wind
and behind the masks of all faces...
what can I do but test the wind,
always indecipherable?-- its journeys,
touch my face, a baptism of distance--
I am "a fugitive seeking asylum,"
hunting my home town:
my ancient soil--
while the wars continue finding their range
past the bright flowers and I return
each night to the dream waters where
all ghosts of myself invoke the first wish
the first stuttering word to resurrect
the day-- though all the earth shifts
and lightning and thunder talk out of the ages...
A far crow cry out of another age,
turn of the breeze through the aspens,
the blaze of summer on the gravel roads,
dry crackling drone of grasshoppers,
dust of the sun on their wings: moments
when all the gone and future worlds collapse
and time stops like a pause in the wind--
and then the vivid light of childhood
almost returns like a butterfly glancing past
the dark well of my pupil, then slips away
with the flutter of a shadow...
an age gone...
If these moments are nostalgia
the ghost of myself yearning to open
an autumn door and walk down
a collapsing stairs built of echoes
of old stories--
if voices call
from beneath the years
at the edge of daydream,
they invoke a shining world that once was,
flashes of another time, a glimpse of myself
a child on the footbridge when afternoon light
crowned the dark river and though the river
flowed and the light shifted and the shadows
lengthened even as the shadows of the fish
swam toward twilight,
the world was
neither new nor old but certain,
made of pure fire.
And still is.
The sky is the same sky--
(though Ive become stranger to myself,
a tattered spirit, a wandering scarecrow
scared of my own shadow under
a surreal moon,
roaming scattered dreams
or listening for the last echo of a lost voice
riding the faint wind of millennial time, the voice
that once sang the world before the time of work,
before the landscape of childhood became ashes...)
in the stillness that resides beneath
cacophony and chaos, in the undiminishing
quiet unending hour beneath dawn
pulling the colors out of the night,
the sky is the same page, tabula rasa,
open unwritten epic of each bright day...
(And what could each day be,
instant island between the past and future,
two faces of one nightmare my country fears,
historys ghost haunting tomorrow?)
Great sun rising over the world weve made,
whose walls fallen or enduring entomb
the world we failed to erect-- (tell me,
whose children mattered and whose
did not in the dream America made?)--
fire bound sun rising over the sky hung windows,
towering cities, monolithic banks of San Francisco
whose streets the homeless wander, all great cities
of the shining perishing republic!-- and villages
in other lands where the dark birds came
roaring and left fire, great sun rising over
the bombed ruins, smashed windows without walls,
doors without houses-- people without houses--
or the unbombed slums propped against
habit and the weather, one world divided
into power and need, the extremes of one people--
once-holy sun of our childhood daydreams,
hollering play, fire of origins!-- its light falls
and the shadows fall and we are the day,
the word spoken, bodies moving in the light,
in the stillness beneath all the shouts of children,
each word spoken enters the wind that touches
all faces-- we are the day falling toward the past
where everyone is equal under the same sky
I once knew as child, where my imagination,
soaring, dove into myself each deep night.
(And who doesnt want to look across the river
to the other side of the city-- across the night
to the other side of the world where
others suffer-- who doesnt believe
my suffering belongs also to the world?--
now I lay me down to sleep--
and almost hear other voices calling
out of millennial time--
whose echo I am...
the long biological halls where
the hammer of the sea still thunders...)
One sunset I saw the river of light flow into sky--
I saw the red horizon gather all my days
and float them up into the dimming sky
toward the stars that speed and spend
the centuries, and in the oncoming darkness
I saw my life diminish across the wheat fields
like a canoe made of moonlight--
the child I was...
when the world seemed free--
I saw the same sky that belongs to us all...
daydream of who we are--
who we were:
world we invent:
I came to exile,
in my native land,
like a ghost haunting my own ground,
everything just out of touch,
a world locked within itself.
I wandered the streets of my town,
the day bright with flowers in the lawns,
a place at peace among the vegetables,
while at night the desperate dreams
of the citizens and their children
put on the faces of their own rage
and wild rebellions and ranged
under the swimming constellations
like banshees nailed to the wind.
I roamed the citys edge, the country roads,
yearning to see the light shine
as the sun brightens and burns morning fog away:
the fields ignited in their own auras,
the hawks blazing in their turns,
flicker tails a flurry in their own fire,
electric in the communal light as if
the flash of a mirror could pass over the world
and return the clarity I once knew--
some shadow had passed through my eyes
and each day was dimmed and dulled--
a nanosecond late as if the patina from light
had entered the air...
The world was washed and lost
in its own age--
or I was lost in the wrong
or my true self exiled in another land
flung far away--
an ancient child
I could no longer invoke
lurking behind my eyes,
who once walked the earth...
Copyright © 2000 by Dale Jacobson
You can go home again.