When D.A. Powell’s “The Imaginal Stage” reminds us there are more planets than stars/more places to land/than to be burned, I take this as a hopeful statement, as in more places to stand, more places to call, or at least to feel, like home.
Most clichés reveal an element of truth. After a month-long visit to India, I was ready to return home. My husband and I stayed our last few days of travel in beautiful Goa in the southern region, along the Arabian Sea. Because of its coast, it felt most like home than any other region we had travelled to. We were able to enjoy swimming and surfing there much like we do in our coastal town. I felt a serenity that only comes with the familiarity of home, when you feel your heart at ease.
We met many wonderful, warm, and welcoming people during our stay on campus at O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) where my husband taught as a Fullbright/Nehru Specialist. After the initial overload to the senses and recovery from jet lag, we found a rhythm and I could sincerely say I’d miss our new friends. Still, I was longing for home. But I learned on that trip how fortunate I was to have a home to return to. At JGU, we met Sonam Tsering, a Tibetan refugee studying for his MA in Public Policy. He’s been in exile for fifteen years and can’t return home since he was smuggled illegally out of Tibet so he could study under His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. He writes of his refugee experience:
“The saddest thing about being a refugee is that there is nothing around you that you own and even the heart and mind choose to run away every now and then towards the homeland.”
Perhaps because I was missing home while curating this summer quarterly’s collection of poems, I found a thread of longing in each one. It was certainly easy to pick up in Lucy Griffith’s poem, “Attention” where its first line reads:
Home—the place of attention.
In her second featured poem, “Queen Yucca”, she imagines the yucca tree as a landmark for the lost, providing for the wanderer what a home often does: food, water, shelter. Then we have “Girl as Birch” by Rebecca Kaiser Gibson. I wondered what home for a girl portrayed as a tree might mean. Could it be a resilience as this poem speaks of? The springing back, after being pushed from the path could signify the insistence to return to one’s rooted place. But does this necessarily mean it’s where our roots are? For Sonam, the answer is yes. He considers Tibet his homeland. For me, it’s the American northeast. And for many of the Indians I met, from all castes, their answer, too, was yes. Given India’s long history of fighting for independence, their homeland pride runs deep.
When the speaker in Elizabeth Coleman’s “The Errand” hears the dialect of a foreign language in a neighborhood filled with pictographs she loved but could not read; the German sibilant obscenities remind her of her ties at home; her toddler grandson’s consonant-clustered thanks. For Samantha Kolber, and her fellow Vermonters, it is written in [their] bones. Though sometimes, the bones are in undesirable cities. As in the Indian poet Nandini Dhar’s “Intimate Ossuaries” a city’s kept bones are chronicled by a young girl, but No one will buy this portrait of a city’s/detritus: no museum will light her way home.
An ancient tribe from the New Mexico region known as the Mimbres depicted their culture’s story in clay with geometric markings. Edison Dupree’s “Paint on Clay: Homage to the Mimbres” tells of their bowls, often used for burial ceremonies, with holes cut out, to allow their souls to come and go: Soul could ride on a grain of sand,…or just as happily/fall, in raindrop’s belly,…or drift away and never return. One could say for the Mimbres, home was where the soul was.
The couple, in “Brace’s Cove” by Jay Featherstone, during a walk along the beach, encounter a thigh-high city made of pink and gray granite, home to druid figures piled up from rocks. The speaker muses about the inhabitants, how they tilt their oval shoulders/as if it were bad luck to say: so close to paradise. William R. Stoddart’s paradise in his poem “Through Such Blue” consists of a sky so blue that I ache thinking of that silent/glide through a mute town.
Home is considered more often a feeling than a structure. “It’s where we stand, not where we sleep” says British-born American essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer. Sonam Tsering misses his homeland, but in its absence, he stands among the Tibetan refugees and finds some solace. In India, seven thousand miles from home, I found comfort beside my husband, nearest the sea.
Hoping you, too, find comfort in these poems of longing, wonderment, and attention.