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They peopled landscapes casually like trees,
being there richly, never having gone there,
and whether clanning in cities or village-thin stands
were reticent as trees with those not born there,
and their fate, like trees, was seldom in their hands.

Others to them were always one of two
evils: the colonist or refugee.
They stared back, half-disdaining us, half-fearing;
inferring from our looks their destiny
as preservation or as clearing.

I envied them. To be local was to know
which team to support: the local team;
where to drop in for a pint with mates: the local;
best of all to feel by birthright welcome
anywhere; be everywhere a local ...

Bedouin-Brython-Algonquins; always there
before you; the original prior claim
that made your being anywhere intrusive.
There, doubtless, in Eden before Adam
wiped them out and settled in with Eve.

Whether at home or away, whether kids
playing or saying what they wanted,
or adults chatting, waiting for a bus,
or, in their well-tended graves, the contented dead,
there were always locals, and they were never us.

—James Lasdun

from Landscape with Chainsaw, 2001
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY

Copyright 2001 by James Lasdun.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. from Landscape with Chainsaw. Copyright 2001 by James Lasdun. For further permissions information, contact W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

James Lasdun (1958- ) was born in London and now lives in the US. Lasdun is the author of five poetry collections, including Bluestone: New and Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015).

Learn more about James Lasdun.