You have flown to the dangerous country,
how easily you have left this life behind,
this street, this quiet city street,
where letters arrive each day dependably,
where trees make a canopy in summer,
and winter, it is winter now, possesses a cold clarity.
But in the place where you are there is heat,
there is hunger, and the trees have been cut down,
and dogs, there must be dogs, slink out of the night’s
blackness, teeth bared, and the sound of drumming penetrates
your sleep even when there are no drums. And slowly,
you begin to forget the words we are used to saying here,
they speak another language there, a language that has no place
for words like snow and safety, a language I will never know
because I have never been to the dangerous country,
and I do not think I will go.
I think of a tear in a curtain, a jagged man-high tear,
that you step through easily, without a glance backward,
because you are drawn to the dangerous country,
to the need and the want and the hunger,
and to something more that I cannot name.
I feel such a distance, such an unreality,
when I think of you in the dangerous country,
with the heat and the dust and the dogs,
the drums and the knives, the nightmares and the screams.
But I tell myself there must be birds and flowers,
rare flame-colored exotica surrounding tiny pastel houses
that a child might draw, there must be children flying kites,
running along a curving shore where watercolor waves
wash up in shades of ultramarine, there must be
painters painting paintings of it all, and laughter
and singing, because people laugh and sing everywhere,
O tell me that they sing.
Do the people there, do they ever ask you
what it is you mean by winter and by snow,
by safety and by silence? Do you try to explain?
And then I begin to wonder what it is to be safe,
do I feel safe here, and is there safety anywhere,
as I move through the rooms of this house, drawing the curtains,
the street so quiet now, and twilight coming on.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 25 Number 9, on page 30
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