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Exiles

1

Only they had escaped to tell us how
the house had gone
and things had vanished,
how they lay in their beds
and were wakened by the wind
and saw the roof gone
and thought they were dreaming.
But the starry night
and the chill they felt were real.
And they looked around
and saw trees instead of walls.
When the sun rose
they saw nothing of their own.
Other houses were collapsing.
Other trees were falling.
They ran for the train
but the train had gone.
They ran to the river
but there were no boats.
They thought about us.
They would come here.
So they got to their feet
and started to run.
There were no birds.
The wind had died.
Their clothes were tattered
and fell to the ground.
So they ran, their hands
hiding their genitals,
and shut their eyes and imagined
us taking them in.
They could not hear
the sound of their footsteps.
They felt themselves drifting.
All day they had run
and now could see nothing,
not even their hands.
Their bodies were light and
   were lifted up.
Their faces faded around their voices
until only their voices were left,
telling the story.
And after the story
their voices were gone.

2


They were not gone
and the story they told
was barely begun,
for what does it mean
when the air is silent
and faces fade
and bodies are light
and lifted up?
Only that these
exiles came
into a country not their own,
and into a radiance without hope.
Having come too far,
they were frightened back
into the night
of their origin.
They heard their footsteps
and felt the warmth
of the clothes they thought
had been lifted from them.
They ran by the boats at anchor
hulking in the bay,
by the still train waiting
under the melting
frost of stars.
Their sighs were mixed
with the sighs of the wind.
And when the moon rose
they were still going back.
And when the trees
and houses rose,
they saw what they wanted:
the return of their story
to where it began.
They saw it
in the cold room
under the roof
chilled by moonlight.
They lay in their beds
and the giant shadows
of the risen trees
brushed darkly
against the walls.

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