Exile Poems

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

Joseph Mengele

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.


Adam Mickiewicz

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.


Giuseppe Mazzini

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

James Joyce

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?


T.S. Eliot

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.


Ezra Pound

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.