The Illegal Age

After Donald Trump’s election as US president, a poem by Ellen Hinsey


You too have felt it: the imperceptible shift in latitude.

The way the air resistantly parts before the iron wedge of storm.

Later, you will recall you once sensed it—in the instant
Of darkness before daybreak, for which we have no name.

Do not think it has not been prepared; do not think there are not
Those who are waiting.

Later, you will remember the air smelled of precision;
You will recollect how doubt wordlessly descended.

Was it in those final moments, when they were led down to
The water before the terrible act, that you first suspected?

You too will believe you were alone to perceive the tenebrous
Advance heralded by manacles.

A way forward has been made for the hour without mercy.

Later, you will recall how each letter tightened in the throat;
The tongue stammering into silence.

Don't think your compliance is not being observed.

Later, you will realize that compromise is the wood that burns
Most brightly in the hour before regret.

But by then, all the doors will have been marked in yellow chalk.

Still, let us not pass each other this final time, without recognition,
Without looking each other in the eye.

Remember: in the ink-light of testimony, a record may still be kept.

Ellen Hinsey is the author of Mastering the Past: Contemporary Eastern and Central Europe and the Rise of Illiberalism (Telos  Press). Her books of poetry are The White Fire of Time (Wesleyan University) and Cities of Memory which won the Yale University Series Prize. She edited and translated The Junction: Selected Poems of Tomas Venclova (Bloodaxe)