An exodus is a "going out," as one might gather from the major narrative known by that name. It is a compound of two Greek words, one meaning "out of" and one meaning "road/way."
I have been struck in the past two days by the contrast between my life journey and the Odyssey. Wily Ulysses had a long and adventure-filled journey home but it was a journey BACK to Ithaca. My life has been a journey AWAY from Fresno. Looking back at old journals as well as the course of my life, it seems I knew it long ago.
NorthwardI continued climbing, occasionally glancing back down and out to the sea.Well, not really—it was just a small bay. But beyond, out where those little fishing boats were headed, was the sea. And above the sea were clouds stretched across the sky like last Wednesday’s washing. Or perhaps the thousand sails of another fleet, navigating the winds alone without the water.The rocks were getting steeper as I turned my back to the sun—the sun, which seemed to lay its flat hand on me and push down, down, back where I came from. But I had no more to do with that little village. So I climbed, climbed, climbed,κατά τὸ βοριά, ξένος.
29 May 1965
This is from the end of my freshman year in college. The closing phrase is adapted from the first poem in the Mythistorema series by George Seferis: κατά τὸ βοριά, ξένοι (northwards, strangers). Here I recast it in the singular. I am journeying alone, a stranger.
We had taken a break in classical Greek the second semester and read some of these poems, a bit of modern Greek for different. I still have the ditto sheet text in Greek and my translating notes, tucked in a copy of Seferis’ poems in English. For some reason this phrase lodged itself in my memory and has been with me now for fifty years.
I have removed the opening fragment of this since it seems stupid and irrelevant now. The rest of this handwritten page in my journal still speaks.
The commonplace divergence of two waysrespects itself and forces men to choosethe roads they travel. Each choice means they losethe other way, the speculative daysthey might have lived, companions they’d have metand shared these journeys with. But none should callhis path the poorer for the loss, for allthat he has gained in what he chose, and yetshall gain, exceeds in its realityeach ‘might have been.” Thus, with finality,I go another way than yours, alone.I ask no absolution, as my ownquietus I have made, I ask but peace,and friendship when the bitterness shall cease.4 January 1972
This is a sonnet written in my final year of seminary. I can think of a particular context for the poem but now I see a larger theme. "Thus, with finality, I go another way than yours, alone," really leaps out.
Roots RedefinedI felt I was a son of the soil,The dusty earth of the San Joaquin ValleyWhere Thompson seedless grapes were raisedThen sun-dried into raisins.This was one of the waysThat Mother Earth spoke to meAnd held me firm.And on Sierra hillsidesAmid pine duff and fallen conesWhere firs and wildflowers also grewAnd there were great slabs of granite;This too was my terroir,Soil of my vintage.But there were toxins,Perhaps not in the soil but in the air I breathed,A miasma of true believers,Of the resentful obedient,And the broken soul.Dreamers came to CaliforniaAnd dreams died or were surrendered.Maybe now I understandDante’s judgment on the broken vow.My grapes now grow in New Mexico,A conscious homage to ancestorsYet my soul’s feet are not drawnTo walk the earth between the vinesIn that distant place,That Golgotha where men were crucifiedBut women will not weep,Where souls are dry and thirsty.My garden is in high grasslandFar from the place of my first birth,Mercifully separated by miles.The first shaking of dust was when I leftTo go to college, and another was whenI crossed the ocean for FranceTo return a stranger to family.Another was the adamant refusalTo return after dropping out.Sleeping in the streets of LAWould have been preferable to such a death.When I chose New Mexico and left my past behindIt was a mighty shaking of the dirt from my feet.Perhaps it was then that the powdered soilof the Valley no longer claimed me.My home is here, anchored on east and westby the Sandias and the volcanoes,Nourished by the Rio, graced by boundless sky.The moon is closer here; the heart is freer.Art is valued here and some still dream.I left the prisons of family,Of rigid doctrine, of proprietyWithout regret. I like my life.My garden flowers and bears fruit.This is home. My family now is one I choose.No accident of birth or choice of others defines it.A few close friends and wonderful acquaintances,Tasks I enjoy, nourishment for the soul—All this is mine. Here I am eager to liveSans peur et sans reproche.I am free to change my own narrative.I leave Chorazin and Bethsaida to their own fates.3 July 2015
This is a backward look, and forward. My roots are no longer in California; they are in the Rio Grande valley. It is a reflective, wistful, and angry poem. I recall thinking to myself (not sharing with anyone), "What am I running from?" This was in the early 80s. The answer that came was this: "myself." Well, I am not running any more. I feel at home, I like myself and my own company. All those rounds of shaking the dust from my feet and moving on...make me shake my head and let out a small sigh now.
I have been sad this evening, sensitive to abiding wounds and the drive to keep migrating. This post is about finding peace in one's journey.
I conclude with a sonnet that is the story of almost every LGBTQ person. It alludes to The Chronicles of Mídhris and Ian Dyrnedon, who slipped through the dimensions and found himself in a parallel world, never to return to earth.
I have a familyIn truth, I have an earthly familyas Ian has a Mithron one. It workslike this. Whatever DNA now lurkswithin us, here’s the charming oddity:for all that blood or forming may have doneour kin is now the people we have foundor have found us in life’s great whirling round.Together we hold hands beneath the sunand moon and stars with fierce united hearts.We have a history, a journey shared.We face each other, souls so fully baredthat life no longer lies in scattered partsbut in a new and glorious chosen whole.We’re a forever family of soul.2 July 2015