I extend the same invitation/challenge to any blog readers out there who don't actually know me.... (There are a few of you, I'm sure.)
"You gotta try, dontcha?"
(jottings on a succession of napkins
in a Manhattan bar of that name)
is very far away
and famously cold,
and that is where you've sent me
(not the real one, of course,
but a Siberia of the heart):
very far away from you,
denied the warmth of any contact;
a friendless waste,
and no hope of return.
So now I'm writing from Siberia
(not the real one, of course
- though how I wish my small rebellions
might deserve such persecution;
I know I lack the courage or the talent
of those dissident heroes of my youth) -
no, not the real one,
but some Mid-town bar
on a Russian theme:
a recent venture; tiny, bare and basic;
hidden in a subterranean arcade
beside a Subway station entrance;
imported beer, nasty but strong,
and 57 varieties
of frozen vodka.
The owner touts a myth
of Cold War connections for the place:
a rendezvous of spies long since,
surreptitious swapping of worthless secrets
amidst the rush-hour throng.
But now.... a haven for refugees
from the oppression of commuting,
where secrets are traded freely:
the lawyer on his seventh shot
discourses on his troubled marriage,
and a fat man in the corner observes
that mistresses are no better.
"Redheads are the worst of all."
We all concur with that,
and sigh, and sip in silence for a while;
and the enormous sound of ice
cracking in a glass
inside my chest.
But this is just a staging-post,
a foretaste of the chill to come:
in fact I'm only en route to Siberia
(and not the real one, of course).
For the next nine months or more
Toronto will be a Siberia for me.
Oh, not such a bad place, after all
(not as bad as the real one, of course
- though Ivan Denisovich at least
had his stolen roofing-felt
to give him warmth and purpose);
not such a hard sentence to serve.
No, a jewel amongst cities,
so the guidebooks say:
young, vibrant, cosmopolitan,
a cultural mecca, a yuppie heaven.
Perhaps, perhaps - but they might have said
the same of Tomi
and Ovid would not have been consoled,
whether it were true or not.
It's not a case of how hot or how cold,
or how bleak or how dull,
it's not how bad or how far away
or even how long....
All exile is
a state of mind and heart,
a futile railing against the tyranny of circumstance
that takes us somewhere other
than we would choose to be;
a gnawing pain of separation
from the things we want;
a stubborn wistfulness to return
to where we were before.
Siberia is not so bad
(even the real one)
if you can embrace it as your home,
look on loss as purgation,
and view desolation as a clean slate.
But I cannot:
I have no wish to live beyond the ocean,
and I have no wish to live without your friendship.
For me, then, this is no holiday,
no new beginning,
no step up to a better career
and a brighter future;
it is a twofold exile, a compound pain.
The first of these, at least, may be endured,
because it is finite;
but not the second: it crushes the spirit,
smothers all frail hope
with its cruel song of forever.
If there is to be no way
of winning my recall....
I say, "The hell with Toronto!"
I will stay here, in Siberia,
and drink vodka.