The Lion In Exile



The other night, I dreamt of lions. I am a poor man and I do not think my dreams have any real value. I live in a rented room of a cheap hotel in the hum and drum of a graffiti written city. Dreams are things I throw into the trash, stuff I send down the toilet. I do not spend any more time thinking about them than I spend thinking about breathing. But since the lions, I have begun to change my mind about them. I was walking in a field of high grass and trees and the lions watched me intently, their faces kindly. They surprised me with their friendliness. Do not lions attack and eat us?


My room is a barren place, a few pictures hanging on the walls, a cracked mirror above an old sink, a bathroom down the hall. I sleep in it, that is all. I like to walk. I walk most all day long. I know the city from its streets. I think of myself as something of a poet, though admittedly in my time it is like singing in the shower. I do not publish my poetry. I just pretend for a while that it is good and I am a poet then and then I know again that I am a poor man living in a rented room of a cheap hotel in the hum and drum of a graffiti written city.


I think of my race in various ways. Let me explain. I once knew a man who wrote a book entitled All Men Are Mariners. I never read his book, but I liked his title for it very much, so that one day I wrote:


                                    Men are mariners on the homeless waters

                                    And they call with sea sick mouths

                                    To the sirens dancing along the shores

                                    In the sands of their restless hours,

                                    The storms under a blood red moon

                                    Threatening to drown them in the deep.


Another way I looked at my contemporaries had to do with the time I spent in the Army. Hung over, I spent some time on a hill overlooking a little town. From the hill, I watched men leading their cattle pulling carts full of wood from the hills back to their town, where their women and children, after a day in the fields, waited for them. The axels in the wheels of these carts, ungreased, seem to scream up to me on the hill, piercing the headache of my hangover with a knife of sound that seemed to cut in two my soul from my body, my body from my soul. I wrote:


                                    In the silence of the world,

                                    We tread the dusts of a dirt hard road

                                    Beside thinning animals

                                    And withering trees

                                    Towards our barren towns,

                                    A fire our only comfort there

                                    For the children our wives bear alone.

                                    Who can speak for us?


Then there is death. We are born free to die. We breath air like fish swim water and birds fly the winds in the skies around the planet, until we die. Are all things meant but oblivion? When I was a boy, I used to imagine, in the woods where I played near my home, that after the whole world vanished I also would vanish and there would only be the nothingness. I used to have to shake myself loose from the grip of this imagination, take a deep breath, and become a breathing boy once more. But I could never forget the nothingness. When I went to high school and read Sartre's Nausea, I thought I knew better than him Quentin's sickness. I wrote:


                                    The dark drowns in its depths

                                    The breath of all breathing things,

                                    Like a flood of the waters,

                                    Like a quake of the mountains,

                                    Like a fire from the heavens,

                                    And what is there left to say

                                    In the dark of the depths?

                                    Who can speak for us?


You may imagine that I felt like an outsider in this world, a kind of misfit, exiled from the main flow of things, unable to catch on to where people thought they were going. I was like a child in winter gazing through a window into the warmth

of a home from which I had been orphaned, a stranger in the cold. Why should I reckon with my dreams? They were nothing but the garbage of the hard time a prisoner serves for a crime he cannot remember committing.

That was the way it was before I dreamt of the lions. I wrote then:


                                    He roars in judgment

                                    But also for salvation.

                                    What he devours,

                                    He also saves.

                                    When he devours death,

                                    We know his joy shapes,

                                    Out of the nothingness,

                                    His life for the living.

                                    We know he speaks for us!


Let me explain. In exile with me is the lion who is the king of the beasts. We fear him with our cities and roads and towns and harbors. We fear him as if he were a devouring animal. We would capture him and cage him up in our zoo. We would train him to serve our pleasure. But he remains an exile, a lion in exile, and it was there that he found me, and gave me a family of lions with which to be. More and more these days, I feel less alone and more in the main streams of time with the lions in exile. We are found by the Lion in Exile. I write now:


                                    He roars to gather his people

                                    From the warped generations,

                                    From the lost generations,

                                    From the beat generations,

                                    From the silent generations,

                                    From the warped generations,

                                    From the twisted generations

                                    Unto Himself in a world where

                                     His Name is almost forbidden,

                                    The Son of God,

                                    The Son of David,

                                    The Son of Man,

                                    The Lion King He is,

                                    The Lamb He is,

                                    The Person Jesus Christ is.


Actually, I am an old man you see sitting alone in a park and dreaming of lions in his barren room in the hum of the city.


John Emory McKenna