The Émigrée by Carol Rumens

There once was a country… I left it as a child

but my memory of it is sunlight-clear

for it seems I never saw it in that November

which, I am told, comes to the mildest city.

The worst news I receive of it cannot break

my original view, the bright, filled paperweight.

It may be at war, it may be sick with tyrants,

but I am branded by an impression of sunlight.


The white streets of that city, the graceful slopes

glow even clearer as time rolls its tanks

and the frontiers rise between us, close like waves.

That child’s vocabulary I carried here

like a hollow doll, opens and spills a grammar.

Soon I shall have every coloured molecule of it.

It may by now be a lie, banned by the state

but I can’t get it off my tongue. It tastes of sunlight.


I have no passport, there’s no way back at all

but my city comes to me in its own white plane.

It lies down in front of me, docile as paper;

I comb its hair and love its shining eyes.

My city takes me dancing through the city

of walls. They accuse me of absence, they circle me.

They accuse me of being dark in their free city.

My city hides behind me. They mutter death,

and my shadow falls as evidence of sunlight.