Just when did you stop using the word "home"? When you speak of this rickety old house you always say "that place". You don’t speak of "going back". What does "going back" mean, anyway? All you ever do is leave. Again and again you leave. And you get farther and farther away. Each morning you wake up a little farther away. The surface of the distant sea is a vast brightness under the sun, a pool of molten metal, a chasm of light growing wider and wider. Soon you’ll lose sight of the line of grey-blue mountains on the opposite shore.

You want to speak out, but nothing could be harder. Want to say what it’s like to climb from the first floor to the second? Try. Step by step. Second by second. Your feet take you up the stairs, one step after another, fifteen steps to the landing. Then you turn. Then another seven. There. You spoke. But the words are hard, like a rough outline. It’s so black up there. Rotting handrail, nails under the threadbare carpet, and two pails, plastic ones, in the middle of the floor, catching rain. Never mind that the lights don’t work. You can feel your way along. Use your feet to feel your way along. Still can’t speak. Once you speak, it’s just words. You can’t speak without words. A little saw trims off all the branches and leaves, so you become a piece of timber, white as bone. Every day you climb the stairs you think: this is exile. Feel every step carefully. Miss a step and the whole world comes tumbling down on you. Each step could be a chapter, this two-storeyed house a great epic of humanity in exile. Still it’s not you. You can’t speak of a feeling you can’t grasp. So when someone mentions reality, you want to laugh.

You say you’re on the run, you’ve escaped to this strange city. From one corner to the next, unintelligible street signs. What have they to do with you? Read a thousand-page book, turning one page at a time, or turn one page a thousand times, what’s the difference? The exile only moves along the traces of a dotted line, remaining motionless at every dot. Feels worse than standing still. You’re nailed down there, not at all gloriously. You don’t move because you haven’t the strength to move, buried alive in the tedium of each passing day. It’s like your poetry, a lie about reality. When did words start to resemble the old paint on the wall – flaking, peeling, falling away? When you don’t speak, you hear that awful sound – another day over!

Living, for the sake of living, but what is living for? The beautiful sea and clouds in this place have you trapped in a round glass bottle. Water rushes in, gushing on to your head, swirling around your feet, washing your brain. You learn to gaze at the sky, all morning, a sky full of patterns. The old house is so tall you don’t dream. You’re drowned, at the bottom of the sea, a sunken ship, a pile of bones full of holes, sunken on the bottom where reincarnation stops. After you died, absolute mass, absolute emptiness. This discourse is buried. Up on the surface, under the sky, the clouds’ big feet are trampling you. You look forward to that day, ecstatically, when you can take revenge on words the same way.

Your feelings are changing, too. Changing without your knowing. When did you start yearning for all the good old things? Did dust cover the blood overnight? You talk of your childhood as if it wasn’t you, but someone else who slipped into your body. In a shop window a fake blue-and-white Ming vase catches your eye. You gaze at it, wondering whose shadow that is, reflected vaguely on its surface. An old matchbox suddenly makes your heart ache. A few Chinese characters and a trademark, a stupidly symmetrical mountain done in the false naturalism favoured by the imperial house. Thirty years you lived beside it and never felt close. Why do you now, awake at midnight, close your eyes as if dreaming, and walk on the mountain’s roads? Why revisit, at the time of the thaw, the little path where tourists don’t go? You think about the hat you left on the bench – maybe it is still there.

At first, you were afraid of forgetting. You were afraid that you yourself would forget, afraid that you’d be forgotten. So every morning you talked, you wrote, you performed a ritual at the desk. You used your own voice to search for memories to fill the growing void in your heart. You searched: a face, many faces, a phrase, many phrases lingering in your ears. You followed the wind’s pulse for a long time. Then, suddenly stopping, you discovered the faces were gone, leaving you with only a block of wood cradled in your hands, not even suitable for masks. The moment you parted, memory stiffened and died. A nail was suddenly pounded in between your eyes. Now, all you remember is that dead face, that same expression, frighteningly young. You know it’s you who have left the days behind and crossed over to the other side. Memory has distorted you. Even though your fingers are locked tightly together, the moment you must "remember" your face starts to melt, running off drop by drop. The harder you try to remember yesterday, the more you lose of today. You die no matter what. Die forgetting or die remembering, it’s all the same. While you look on, gaping, the world slips away under everyone’s eyes. Now you’re really afraid. Afraid to remember. People you forget or remember forget or remember you. Life or death, just a couple of names roaming around, until one day you forget: do you remember yourself? Between you and your shadow lies such a short distance filled with so many lonely ghosts.

Here’s this old house you moved into last July. The second floor room overlooking the street – you tidied it yourself. Your nest, for better or worse. The neighbours are fine. Two little animals live on the roof. They run to and fro all night like wild cats or like horses galloping overhead. Next door the old drunkard locks himself in and sighs. Sometimes he comes across you on the stairs, brushes past you, his eyes staring vacantly. You can hear the stare hit the wall, break up, and shatter on the floor. You’ve lived here long enough but still don’t know each other’s names. Behind the thin wooden wall he curses in a foreign language. And you curse in another foreign language. You guess this is how dead soldiers converse. Dead soldiers from foreign countries, lying side by side in great heaps. On the other side of the thin wooden wall is your foreign country. Another star over there, nothing to do with you. A pair of madmen. So long as you go mad under separate roofs the world is safe.

So, who else do you talk to? What do you say? Your bloody umbilical cord has only just been cut. The muddy tiles are sharper than knives. Now you’ve finally had a taste of exile. The saw cuts every day, bites with jagged teeth, tearing you to bits. Grass grows in your follicles, its pointed fibrous roots turning in the flesh. Itching, smarting. You want to laugh, to go out in the street and laugh, to face the strangers walking toward you and laugh. You giggle and hide in someone’s shadow. Now you’ve had a taste of being chased off the land, of being chased from time. It’s the taste of being unleashed, unfettered. The taste of freedom. A calf chased from the milk pail, starving and mooing loudly. Wonderful freedom! You just want to talk to yourself. A monologue. But if a calf can just repeat the same word day after day, you can’t. You need to invite eavesdroppers, or borrow their ears to listen, so you can’t possibly deceive yourself. What you want to say is all said before you can open your mouth. There’s a mark on the steer’s rump. The sizzling of the red-hot branding iron on its hide makes you laugh. Others chat about how much meat will come from the steer. You listen. Listen and wait. At last it gets a little quieter. When it quiets down, make an eye of plaster, and, looking into the deepest part, where it’s blank, do you see anything but a piece of darkness? And so it is that in darkness, all is blank. Your language stops there, with the slamming shut of the cell door. Walking around inside – the prison guard’s boots. But you’re locked out. Like water kept outside a bottle. Glimmering freedom. You’ve had a taste of being a fish just pulled from the water, having lived to the end but unable to die. Even the howling of the guards would be good to hear. Even the sharpening of knives. Although you can’t hear a thing, it’s such a short distance between today and yesterday, and you’re locked out of what was yesterday, dumped into this vacuum of today.

Thirty-five years old, too old. Too late to start life all over again. You can only write, letting the words drop one after the other, a black mass of eggs laid on paper. As when flies dash against the window pane, in the end don’t you want to know if their heads crack and bleed? Is it because the sky is so tempting that they kid themselves so cruelly? And what about you? Aren’t you also kidding? In the midst of absolute emptiness, you and your poems reproduce each other, inbreeding. Without gestation you give birth to a mass of ugly things craving spoiled blood. Boisterous laughter is followed by sobbing. Should an idiot be afraid of repeating himself? You’ve had your brains gouged out. You line up against the wall, stand at attention, and dress ranks. What you write is blank, and you are written into blankness. Vast empty words gun you down in slow motion. Such a slow death isn’t even a death worth speaking of. The old house knows quite clearly; you must admit defeat. Suddenly the walls are bleeding. You haven’t fallen yet, but you can feel the vast ruin inside your body.

Silence. The only theme left. You ought to keep silent, to maintain that expression in your eye, the expression of a fish that’s used to being immersed in salt water. In this world the victor is the one who is able to live without pain. You dislike numbness, you choose defeat. Speak out, expose the lies that hide in silence everywhere. Talk to the sky. Your lips have already died, these words are only posthumous noises. You’re delighted, no one likes to hear you announcing their death.

You’re homeless. Who needs a home? The noise of passing cars all day outside, like the pedestrians on the street, brushing past one another. A ray of sunshine and a poem pass on the desk in like manner. Neither sees the other as real. Even you wonder, why decorate and redecorate the room? Like a memorial hall. Do you want to turn today into a yesterday worth going back to? Now you’re the old thing no one cares about. You know you’re already interred in the yellow earth. Seen through the yellow earth, everything is refracted into a kind of reverse image. Where to return to? After all, under the yellow earth there’s no such thing as a foreign land, and yet it’s not your homeland. You’re just born in this place that used to be without you. You’re nowhere. In this old house, you grow used to the meaningless noise next door. Footsteps echo in an empty room. Who knows whose poems are being read? Stanza after stanza of ghostspeak. They say this house is haunted. And you say, yes, indeed, it is!

Auckland, 25 April 1990