As an Englishman in Italy, I am forever the outsider. But I feel the same when I go ‘home’ even though the culture is less alien. This is one reason I’ve always related to David Byrne.

David Byrne as he appears in True Stories (1986).

David Byrne as he appears in True Stories (1986)

I like the way he looks at the everyday world from an extraterrestrial perspective.

In his movie True Stories, Byrne is  the narrator visiting Virgil, Texas. He  says:  “I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don’t notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is”.

Craig Raine

Craig Raine

Craig Raine is an English poet.

When he was 35, he published a collection called  A Martian Sends A Postcard Home.

In the title poem, a visitor from Mars describes things like books, babies, the weather and clocks.

It’s very clever and a bit sad.

Can you imagine the place where you are as if it were new and unfamiliar?

Here is the poem:

A Martian Sends A Postcard Home by Craig Riane (1979)

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings

they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on ground:

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.

Model T is a room with the lock inside
a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly. Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt
and everyone’s pain has a different smell.

At night when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves
in colour, with their eyelids shut.