Friday, June 27, 2008

Exile

Are we truly alone
With our physics and myths,
The stars no more

Than glittering dust,
With no one there
To hear our choral odes?
This is the ultimate question, the only question, asked here by the Northern Irish poet Derek Mahon. It is a poem of exile, from the ancient familiar, from the sustaining myth of rootedness, of centrality. A poem that the naturalist can relate to, we pilgrims of infinite spaces, of the overarching blank pages on which we write our own stories, our own scriptures, having none of divine pedigree.

Yes, we feel the ache of exile, we who grew up with the sustaining myths of immortality only to see them stripped away by the needy hands of fact. We scribble our choral odes. Who listens? We speak to each other. Is that enough? Having left the home we grew up in, we make do with where we find ourselves, gathering to ourselves the glittering dust of the here and now.

Are we truly alone? Mahon again:
If so, we can start
To ignore the silence
Of infinite space

And concentrate instead
on the infinity
Under our very noses --

The cry at the heart
Of the artichoke,
The gaiety of atoms.
Better to leave the blank page blank than fill it with sentimental hankerings for home, with those prayers of our childhood we repeated over and over until they became a hard, fast crust on the page. Incline our ear instead to the faint cry that issues from the world under our very noses, from there, the tomato plant on the window sill, the ink-dark crow that paces the grass beyond the panes, the clouds that heap on the horizon -- the dizzy, ditzy dance of atoms and the glitterings of stars.