Excerpts from Joe Milford’s poem cycle: Exiles
Exile Poem IV
Paris came back from exile. Discord tossed the apple. Welcome Western culture as we know it.
Adam ate the fruit. The flaming sword and the wife he left behind, Lilith. I’d have taken both to a happy bed.
Persephone with one seed gave us wintry eternity. Pluto hammers his awesome inventions into hone.
Exile Poem VI
They used DNA to know you drowned
Outside a South American town. Your torture
Of science and vice versa identified
Your bloated corpse floating in the sea.
Your soul a shark eaten by sharks
Forever hungry and empty swastikas
Spin above your soul in hell’s experimentations.
Pole, Romantic, who has read your writings?
Russians, who you lived with, after being banished
Embraced your sonnets. You said there are two ways
Of fighting: as a fox or as a lion. Can either of these
Beasts escape the censors? Slavic language versus
Slave to mystics. In the end, you were buried with kings,
Disinterred, ironically, as the living ilk of yours who walk this world.
Carbonari, secret society, you would help free
Italy and establish European democracy. Young Italy
Born from your exile. You organized riots as triumvir
And hid from the police during the revolts. Was there ever
A home when they called you “Chief of the assassins”?
You believed a country was to be like a family. No borders
But keen responsibilities. Middle-class republic. Imagine that.
Exile Poem VII
A bookseller bought a lock of your hair
For $100,000 today. Che, buried under an airstrip,
Physician and guerilla, now your revolution visage
Taunts from the coffee cup on my colleague’s desk.
Exiled from Dali’s subconscious into the American alienation,
Lorca, your poems of women, guitars, moons, the sacred soil.
Into an unmarked grave went your body and lilting from
those gypsy lips went your sonatas, soaring mariposas.
Neruda, crossing the Andes on a donkey, nearly drowning
Escaping to Paris to a Picasso welcome. Only the poets
Live lives such as this. Truth be told, you nearly drowned
Protecting your manuscript, refusing to lose it and swim.
Exile Poem VIII
The Jesuits had no idea who they were educating, going
About their habits and stern disciplines. Self-exile for an elopement
To teach English to sailors—then living to the end in Paris
At the behest of Ezra Pound. Your kaleidoscope—your Homeric
Oeuvre—eighteen hours, eighteen organs, eighteen colors,
Eighteen sciences, eighteen trials of Odysseus, all there
Chapter for chapter—and then Ulysses, the text itself, found
Exile on two continents. You once said, “No pen, no ink, no table,
no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination.” Wanderer, the island of Ithaca
Or the island of Ireland—which did you choose in the afterlife?
Expatriate on a Grail quest. A long wasteland to tread
From St. Louis to Westminster Abbey. With Virgil and Vivien,
The purging fire of the pen mapping Modernism. Quite fitting
That little gidding brought you home, no aging prufrockian
Peacock searching for carnage in the foam and detritus.
Ideograms, Images, Vortices, the occultism of Yeats,
The Japanese Noh plays and the Chinese poetry—and then the war
To end all poems. Through the Cantos we leave our faith in modern
Civilization behind. On trial for treason and declared unfit for reasons
Of insanity. The urgency of your life imitating the parataxis of your arête.
Joe Milford is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s workshop and a professor of English. His first collection of poetry, Cracked Altimeter, was published by BlazeVox Press in 2010 and his second is forthcoming from Hydeout Press.