from The Mara Crossing

by Ruth Padel

You go because you heard a cuckoo call. You go because
    you’ve met someone, you made a vow, there are no more
    grasshoppers. You go because the cold is coming, spring
    is coming, soldiers are coming: plague, flood, an ice age,
    a new religion, a new idea. You go because the world rotates,
    because the world is changing and you’ve lost the key.
    You go because you have the kingdom of heaven in your heart.
    Or the kingdom of hell has taken over someone else’s heart.

You go because you have magnetite in your brain, thorax, tips
    of your teeth. Because there’s food over the hill
    and there’ll be gold, or more likely bauxite,
    inside the hill. You go because your mother is dying
    and only you can bring her the apples of the Hesperides.
    You go because you need work.

You go because the astrologers say so. Because the sea
    is calling and your best friend bought a motorbike
    in America last year. You go because the streets are paved
    with gold and your father went when he was your age.
    You go because you have seventeen children and the Lord will provide,
    because your sixteen brothers have parcelled up the land
    and there’s none left for you. You go because the waters are rising,
    an ice sheet is melting, the rivers are dry

there are no more fish in the sea. You go because God
    has given you a sign – you had a dream – the potatoes are blighted.
    Because it is too hot, too cold, you are on a quest for knowledge
    and knowledge is always beyond. You go because it’s destiny,
    because Pharoah won’t let you light candles on Friday at sundown.
    Because you’re looking for

an enchanted lake, the meaning of life, a tall tree to nest in.
    You go because travel is holy, because your body
    is wired to go, you’d have a quite different body and different brain
    if you were the sort of bird that stayed. You go
    because you can’t pay the rent, creditors lie in wait for your children
    after school. You go because Pharoah has hogged the oil,
    electricity and paraffin, so all you have on your table
    are candles, when you can get them.

You go because there’s nothing left to hope for.
    Because there’s everything to hope for and all life is risk.
    You go because someone put the evil eye on you
    and barometric pressure is dropping. You go because
    you can’t cope with your gift – other people can’t cope with your gift –
    you have no gift and the barbarians are after you.

You go because the barbarians are gone, Herod
    has turned off the internet and mobile phones, the modem
    is useless and the eagles are coming. You go because the eagles
    have died off with the vultures and the ancestors are angry
    there’s no one to clean the bones. You go in peace. You go in war.
    Someone has offered you a job. You go because the your dog
    is going too. Because the Grand Vizier sent paramilitaries to your house last night,
    you have to go quick and leave the dog behind.

You go because you’ve eaten the dog and that’s it, there’s nothing else.
    You go because you’ve given up and might as well. Because your love
    is dead, because she laughed at you, because she’s coming with you
    it will be a big adventure and you’ll live happily ever after.
    You go in hope, in faith, in haste, high spirits; deep
    sorrow, deep snow, deep shit and without question.

You pause halfway to stoke up on Omega 3 and horseshoe crabs.
    You go for phosphorus, myrtle-berries, salt. You go for oil
    and pepper. It was your father’s dying wish.
    You go from pole to pole, you go because you can,
    you mate and sleep on the wing.
    Because you need a place to shed your skin
    in safety. You go with a thousand questions but you are growing up,
    growing old, moving on. Say goodbye to the might-have-beens

you can’t step into the same river twice.
    You go because hope, need and escape
    are names for the same god. You go
    because life is sweet, life is cheap, life is flux
    and you can’t take it with you. You go because you’re alive,
    because you’re dying, maybe dead already. You go because you must.