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Week 34: 29 April 2012

Ruth Padel

Poet and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

To Speak of Distance

To speak of distance, the sanctuary lamp:

something you must do or find

and a world you must escape. Never mind

ghost-rumours of an immigration gate.

Grab a revamped passport. Speak of hope,

born as she always is on the site of loss:

a cinnamon bird

with a thousand resistance strategies

fretting her wings like mica charms

or ancient pilgrim songs

sewn into the Book of Psalms. The task

is to assimilate - to move between

the languages, in your case

Hebrew, Arabic, Norwegian, Greek –

and celebrate your journey to the shrine.

Everyone’s crossing is a pilgrimage.

The hard thing is to pass; harder still, to fold

those wings, to drop the mask

and translate old words

into new. Jump to it – you’ll find

fresh bearings somewhere for a crossing-place.

This is our exodus: cliffs of fall

on a floating island. Here is our constitution.

Look, here are the moon and sun

in never-before-seen positions, struggling to be heard.


Listen to Ruth Padel performing her poem here.

Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel is an award-winning British poet. Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Zoological Society of London, and an Ambassador for New Networks for Nature. Her most recent book The Mara Crossing is a meditation in prose and poems on all aspects of migration, human and animal .

For more information see and to purchase a copy of The Mara Crossing published by Chatto & Windus click here

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Nowhereisland is a Situations project led by artist Alex Hartley, one of 12 Artist Taking the Lead projects for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad funded by Arts Council England. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the University of the West of England, Bristol; Bloomberg; Nicky Wilson Jupiter Artland; the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Yellowbrick Tracking.

Identity designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Wolfram Wiedner, website by Wolfram Wiedner.