Because We Are Nomads
What traveler would dare to tell her tale –
even in her middle years, pausing
as if the road ended here on this ledge
instead of beneath some distant shaded oak,
as if looking back were ever safe, when the way
ahead is masked, unmarked.? As if Time were willing
to sit down on his heels and gnaw a bit of bone.
And who would care if not those whose love
she bore upon her back like household goods
hauled across summers, winters, ice and mud,
over grassy paths and roads of dust and stone?
When the stakes have been pulled up,
when the children have gone to hide and seek
in the fields of corn, who would be left to listen?
The land is rutted with the tracks of wagons
that passed, shuddering under loads of hope.
At mileposts, museums have hung up scraps of the past:
totems to an imagined possibility of return; the walls
are papered with photos of people we never knew
(or did know, once, before they grew to be somebody else)
names written in the invisible ink of blood.
History sings the Siren’s song: “Turn back. Turn back!”
How do we resist the call? How do we pass
through nightmares of what should not be told?
We gather together beside moving waters, lean
into one another, arms braced like tent poles,
our voices rising to form a canopy above us.
Spirit eyes gleam outside the edges,
as one by one we lay logs of memory upon the fire.
Visions flare, smoke clouds the darkness.
The smoke stings our eyes, but we sit
—still we sit — telling down the long hours
until dawn comes to set us free, until light brings forgetting.
We shed our blankets, heavy with the smoke
and nighttime smells, rinse our faces in icy water,
throw dirt upon the smoldering coals and set out
to morning’s fresh chorus of birdsong…
because we are nomads…
An omen, I think, of darker days to come.
Poems by Judith Edelstein have been published in Hummigbird: Magazine of the Short Poem; Verseweavers: The Oregon State Poetry Association Anthology of Prize Winning Poems; Willawaw Journal,; and the anthology The Absence of Something Specified. She is a retired teacher and librarian, living in Corvallis, Oregon.