The Exiled Mind
In this passage, the California-born narrator of Kamal digresses a moment, reflecting on what it means to be an exiled poet with the task of writing an epic poem set in his former homeland.
To M.O Reader! You know not what’s ahead.
I do! I lie awake in bed
(alone, alas – my wife is prone
these days to sleeping on her own)
and in my mind I see outspread,
just like an 18th century chart, a
detailed but vast, mapped but untread,
known but untamed world — my Carta
Magnifica still unwritten, unread,
untold, unheard! To you, ethereal.
To me, no greater or more material
kingdom has ever existed. A giant
of countries – strong and self-reliant,
yet private, secluded, monasterial.
It is, you see, a land designed
by shifty sextant: the exiled mind,
detached but still in hearing’s range
of all the ways my homeland’s changed
(to help you better estimate
the course my former country’s on,
see stanzas sixty-six through eight
in canto ten of Byron’s Don);1
— and all these changes grow ornate
with Distance’s hyperbole,
which renders even more superbly
my own tableau of beasts and tribals
below a Cartouche of priests and bibles.
O Reader! To take you there verbally!
for though our lawyers might define
our status as a “separation,”
the laws of cline transcend relation.
(How much we changed). But hear me through!
For if you pause your game controllers,
turn your headphones’ claws askew,
ignore the latest wartime pollsters’
news and from the Tube unglue
yourself – or as my son says, “off it!” –
and listen to me, no greater profit
possibly could come your way.
Just ask that convict, Kenneth Lay:
Discordant views should not be scoffed at.
Uneasy planet! East and West!
To you I make this same request:
Tranquilize your telephones,
and temple bells and megaphones
which for your soul’s devotion call.
Free your mind of Wall Street’s numbers,
the music in your shopping malls,
and SUVs, the latest Hummers
(there’s nothing wrong with feeling small),
the pills to help your loins grow bold,
your dreams of gold from daughters sold
or children’s PhDs endorsed
by foreign firms, or those out-sourced,
or what your priests or stars foretold –
ignore it, world! Ignore it all!
And hear my story of Kamal.
For you will be my orphan’s parent,
and like Cervantes’ poor knight-errant,
my hero’s born to give you pleasure,
not me – for I have seen his life
already, heard the mingled measure
of his strivings and his strife,
his strains and struggles mixed together.
Like I said – these words you read
are stains of blood. Kamal will bleed.
And if he is to long outlive me,
(and fame, you know, in yours to give me),
it’s through his pain. For he will bleed.
Kamal will bleed.
1Here are stanzas 66 through 68 in Canto 10 of Byron’s Don Juan (to which the poet refers above):
I’ve no great cause to love that spot of earth,
Which holds what might have been the noblest nation;
But though I owe it little but my birth,
I feel a mix’d regret and veneration
For its decaying fame and former worth.
Seven years (the usual term of transportation)
Of absence lay one’s old resentments level,
When a man’s country’s going to the devil.
Alas! could she but fully, truly, know
How her great name is now throughout abhorr’d:
How eager all the earth is for the blow
Which shall lay bare her bosom to the sword;
How all the nations deem her their worst foe,
That worse than worst of foes, the once adored
False friend, who held out freedom to mankind,
And now would chain them, to the very mind: –
Would she be proud, or boast herself the free,
Who is but ﬁrst of slaves? The nations are
In prison, – but the gaoler, what is he?
No less a victim to the bolt and bar.
Is the poor privilege to turn the key
Upon the captive, freedom? He’s as far
From the enjoyment of the earth and air
Who watches o’er the chain, as they who wear.
As mentioned in my review of Barbara Reynolds’s excellent book on Dante: ‘As talent agency, Exile (and its partner agents Poverty and Lost Love) boasts a remarkable portfolio of lyric writers, not just Virgil and Ovid, but Voltaire, Byron, Pushkin, Hugo, Nabokov, Brodsky, Soyinka, Zireaux – and this is just a sampling from the A-list.’
Note: Quite a few guesses but still no solvers of my poem: “A Little Morsel of Immortality.” First person to solve it receives a free signed copy of my next novel. -Z
Published as part of the dVerse Poetry group.