The topic is on my mind because I’m about to go back to the place that feels most like home to me, Seattle. I counted up a while ago: I’ve moved 55 times I think, most often as I taught as a visiting poet all over the country. When people talked about putting down roots I said, “Roots are for trees.” But now I’m going to plant myself in the place I love best. I remember driving down I-5 from Snoqualmie Pass, coming over a rise, and seeing Seattle for the first time: Puget Sound spreading out, The Olympics to the west, the Cascades to the east. My heart rose up in my throat. I lived there for nine years, but it was home from the moment I saw it and has been ever since, no matter where I lived. I’m posting two poems here: the first, by Bruce Weigl, about returning home, and the second, by Warsan Shire, about being driven away from home by violence. I encourage you to post poems and passages that speak to you about home.
I didn’t know I was grateful
for such late-autumn
yellow in the after-harvest
sun before the
cold plow turns it all over
I didn’t know
I would enter this music
that translates the world
back into dirt fields
that have always called to me
as if I were a thing
come from the dirt,
like a tuber,
or like a needful boy. End
lonely days, I believe. End the exiled
and unraveling strangeness.
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
Traveling at Home
by Wendell Berry
Even in a country you know by heart
it’s hard to go the same way twice.
The life of the going changes.
The chances change and make a new way.
Any tree or stone or bird
can be the bud of a new direction. The
Natural correction is to make intent
of accident. To get back before dark
is the art of going.
And I love Tom Waits’ line: “They say if you get far enough away/you’ll be on your way back home”
The speaker Jane Kenyon’s “Christmas Away From Home” captures what its like to return to a family home where the surroundings are intimately familiar, but no longer home.
Christmas Away From Home
By Jane Kenyon
Her sickness brought me to Connecticut.
Mornings I walk the dog: that part of life
is intact. Who’s painted, who’s insulated
or put siding on, who’s burned the lawn
with lime—that’s the news on Ardmore Street.
The leaves of the neighbor’s respectable
rhododendrons curl under in the cold.
He has backed the car
through the white nimbus of its exhaust
and disappeared for the day.
In the hiatus between mayors
he city has left leaves in the gutters,
and passing cars lift them in maelstroms.
We pass the house two doors down, the one
with the wildest lights in the neighborhood,
an establishment without irony.
All summer their putto empties a water jar,
their St. Francis feeds the birds.
Now it’s angels, festoons, waist-high
candles, and swans pulling sleighs.
Two hundred miles north I’d let the dog
run among birches and the black shade of pines.
I miss the hills, the woods and stony
streams, where the swish of jacket sleeves
against my sides seems loud, and a crow
caws sleepily at dawn.
By now the streams must run under a skin
of ice, white air-bubbles passing erratically,
like blood cells through a vein. Soon the mail,
forwarded, will begin to reach me here.
from Peter Makuck, a beautiful poem that’s right on-topic. (Correct formatting to come.)
Late for dinner with friends
in the hometown you seldom return to,
you can’t resist
the route past Cohen’s cornfields,
now rows of look-alike condos,
and the turn on to Evergreen Lane in low light,
a lane no longer flanked by cedar and spruce,
the house you grew up in not white anymore.
The deep front porch, once open, enclosed.
Barnesi’s woods at the bottom of the hill,
a shopping center, the pond filled in
where hockey kept you
and your friends after school.
A man with hair as gray as yours
comes down the walk, glances at you
in that suspicious car across from his house
and slowly disappears down the hill while . . .
Light dies in the eyes, hearing
Fades. Once back to the Source,
There’s no special meaning—
And yet old Mr. Combs staggers from the dark.
You mowed his lawn next door
while he rocked on the shady back porch
with a glass of amber whiskey and cubes—
Oh how he loved his drink!
And now he’s dust
Under the breathing pines.
Not a shade of attachment in these voices.
But you’re not Etsuzan, or Li Po.
You’d love to cross the street, knock on that door,
even pay to look through the house, get closer—
but to what? Perhaps if you wait
your mother will emerge
with a long neck can to water her geraniums
in boxes hung from the porch rails.
And there in the drive
your father will squat with a catcher’s mitt
to help with your curve, knuckle, and drop.
Empty road. The scrape
of red leaves blowing past on the asphalt.
If you don’t leave now, Benny might flash by
on his sky blue Schwinn, and a crow caw
from the backyard oaks no longer there.
Tell yourself, Leave.
Shift the car into gear.
Your friends and good wine will be better.
Beautiful post, Sharon. It gives` me permission to go back in time once more while details are still vivid.
Another passage about home came to mind, this one in prose. Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) was born in Denmark, a country that always felt too small and cramped to her. She found her true home in Africa, on a coffee farm in Kenya. But eventually she lost everything she loved there: the farm, her friends, her lover, the country. She carried all of that back to Denmark with her, settled into her childhood home, sat down at her desk and looked out the window. What she saw was a vivid vision: “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills,” she wrote–the opening sentence of Out of Africa. Sometimes home shines most brightly when we’re away from it and have to summon it up in our imaginations.
two short ones…..and I have one more by Dick Davis still waiting
to be found somewhere!
Where I used to be
I could hear the sea.
The black ragged palm fronds flung themselves against the twilight sky.
The moon stared up from the water like a fish’s eye.
I had the loneliness that sings.
It made me light and gave me wings.
Is it the dust and the iron railings and the blank red brick
That makes me sick?
There is no space to be lonely any more
And crumbling feet on a city street
Sound past the door.
by: Evelyn Scott (1893-1963)
and: (no title for this one)
A land not mine, still
the waters of its ocean
chill and fresh.
Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk
and the air drunk, like wine,
late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of pine trees.
Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.