‘If nothing’s here, nothing’s there’, writes poet Stephen Dunn about the instinct to believe that happiness is a place other than where we are, over the horizon, up in the sky, on the streets of a foreign city. If you are expecting to find salvation there, he says, all you’ll find are reflections of the same emptiness you left at home. The best reason to travel? Joy – when the idea of salvation is the luggage that we leave behind. This poem comes from Dunn’s 1984 collection, ‘Not Dancing‘.
There’s no salvation in elsewhere;
forget the horizon, the seductive sky.
If nothing’s here, nothing’s there.
I know. Once I escaped to Tangier,
took the same face, the same lie.
There’s no salvation in elsewhere
when elsewhere has empty rooms, mirrors.
Everywhere: the capital I.
If nothing’s here, nothing’s there
unless, of course, your motive’s secure;
not therapy, but joy,
salvation an idea left behind, elsewhere,
like overweight baggage or yesteryear.
The fundamental things apply.
If nothing’s here, nothing’s there –
I brought with me my own imperfect air.
The streets were noise. The heart dry.
There was no salvation elsewhere.
I came with nothing, found nothing there.