Wandering

March 16 2017

Today I’ve watched from afar as the Trump administration proposes gigantic cuts and as Wilders failed to win the Dutch election. In Lund I took a long run through some parks on the north, including–if I understood the Swedish well enough–the site, memorialized with a ring of stones, of a church that was there from 1050-1536. After breakfast I did a walking tour of the city and, much later, did another very short run to “walk” the dog out towards the more “suburban” area. To be perfectly honest, there was some running, some walking, and a lot of snuffling (on the dog’s part).

One thing that’s become very clear to me on this trip is that I like to get to know places by moving through them and within them. I didn’t feel the need to enter a lot of the buildings, in part because what I was really doing was mapping them. Their beauty/characteristics mattered to me, but more in the way that they created a whole story in their common presence and organization. Lund has defied me a bit though; it’s “grid-adjacent” but with some interestingly-angled roads because of topographic and historical reasons. So I kept on getting disoriented, which is fairly uncommon for me.

Wandering
—-after Pablo Neruda’s “Caminando Alrededor

So it is that I am tired of this world.
So it is that I go to the movies or to the coffee house
burnt up, hollowed out like a sunken ship
greeting each day from the sandy bottoms of the ocean.

This is why March twinkles like the rhinestones on her shoes
when it sees me arrive with my walk weighted like a toy soldier’s.
It opens the gates for me and ushers me to wander this town where
the bones dig deep through layers of earth
like the rings of a tree.

It pushes me along the cobblestones, towards red tiled roofs,
towards grand statehouses that hog the blog and pump themselves up,
towards small stuccoed cottages that smell like coffee and crayons.

It pushes me between fancy shops with color bursting through window panes,
towards the ruins of a church and the church of a ruins,
towards the library that sounds like rain.

Wandering, I walk the streets over and over, memorizing
the words that they write, moving my lips to make those sounds
over and over so that the map of this place is written
on the soles of my feet.

 

 

Waving, not Drowning

March 15 2017.

So apparently stuff has been happening back in the United States–tax returns revealed, Steve King is blathering racistly and, most importantly, Barack Obama has put out his March Madness brackets.

Here in Lund, Sweden, I have been pushed around by strong, serious winds in 45 F sunny weather as I wandered the city center. So, beautiful except for the winds. I have also walked a dog and spent an evening with a bunch of Swedes for a surprise birthday party.

As I’ve been telling people (here, there, everywhere), this is the first time in my adult* life that I’ve visited somewhere where I don’t speak or read the language, and it’s been an interesting experience. I’ve thought a lot about language learning (how do you start to pick up cues and put the pieces of language together) but also about communication in general (how can you tell what’s happening in a group of people without understanding a single word) and finally I’ve been thinking a lot about those processes as they’re changed/modified/emotionally different when you’re a tourist vs. when you’re an immigrant.

*When I was 20 I traveled with friends (who were on the same off-campus study program) to a couple of countries where the language was unfamiliar. I think being in a group shielded me from some of ways I’m thinking through my experience now.

Waving, not Drowning

I’m pretty sure I’m waving, not drowning
in all these syllables swirling by my head.
I stare at signs for too long and rely on the color red.
I think I’m waving, not drowning
as I stare through the words at another world.
When I say, “I’m sorry,” you switch to English right away.
I’m pretty sure I’m waving, not drowning
but it’s very true that when I met a Spaniard on the train
my Spanish tumbled out with jam on its hands and a big grin.
I’m pretty sure I’m waving, not drowning,
even as I know that I’m not drowning because I’m at the very edge
of the waters
with a safety vest made of my impermanence.

 

 

Transported

March 14, 2017

I’m sitting in a cathedral in Lund, Sweden, listening to a group of choirs (there should be a more exciting plural for this happenstance) rehearse. Hearing choral music amplified and shaped by cathedral acoustics reminds me of how religion can work: beautiful harmonies, powerful chords, notes in crescendo vibrate through the air and our bodies. 

Transported

Their hum my ticket
i ride this train to glory
shivering with nerves raw
the church walls an organ
as voices swell until 

there is nothing
but song.

København

I’m tired and jetlaggy right now, but I spent a wonderful half day biking around Copenhagen. I’m not paying attention to US news..ok, I’m not paying much attention. Instead I’m basking in old buildings and bike traffic and unexpected newnesses. Cities are cities, but my favorite thing about visiting a new city–particularly in a country not my own–is that there are small ways in which it defies my expectations. I don’t mean linguistically, although that can play a role. It’s more that every city has its own way of organizing, of flowing, of thriving.

København

The church bells sound low
and the air smells of salt
while seagulls scream as they swoop

I’m biking in another language
and sometimes I miss the turn
but I keep my eye on the woman ahead of me

she knows what she’s doing
while I’m just playing tourist for a day
mapping out mustard yellows and brick reds
and the weight of bricked history on cobblestone streets.

transien(ts)ce

March 12 2017 – unexpected time-to-spare in the airport. One of my students might be doing research on how “community” is structured or formed in liminal spaces. They are particularly interested in airports. And it’s a question certainly worth exploring because airports are such interesting places–they have to accommodate a lot of rapid/frantic/nervous movement while also offering spaces of rest and gathering. In this way they’re like malls, but with the primary goal shifted from prompting consumerism to facilitating travel, though there are consumer spaces and processes that govern the airport. [I’m particularly annoyed today by the fact that programs like TSA precheck exist to make it possible for people with more money to go through security processes faster; why should wealth be able to grease people’s way through the system?]

Some of you may need to know that there is now a premium donut shop in the airport. Nuff said. I have also seen people asleep in corners or slumped down in the (not that comfortable) arm chairs. Some occupied by computers in areas designated as “business centers.” Most, though, are walking briskly, determinedly, towards their gate towards the baggage claim towards their car towards the light rail towards somewhere.

transcien[ts]ce

you’re hugging your bag to you as if it contains your whole life.
you walk with joy in every step; in your head you are whistling.
you don’t smile and maybe you are calculating costs and challenges.
you turn your phone towards me, showing me your Skype caller,
but I fail to wave quickly enough.

you sleep hard and deep through the clatter of moving walkways and suitcase wheels.
you wear sandals and a shawl and I hope you are going somewhere warm.
you bend your head to your phone furiously typing, perhaps poems.
you scramble to hold bag and pull luggage and balance coffee,
I hold my breath to jump up just in case, but no need.

you search the monitor for your airplane and gate, staying a moment too long.
you wait in the long line for coffee, aching to wake up.
your daughter in pajamas, twirling instead of walking, greets me.
you look up from your phone and you smile as if you know me,
I return your smile. If we had more time we’d be friends. Instead
we all go on our ways.

 

March 11 2017

I’m headed off on a big fun trip tomorrow, which brings up all sorts of other leavetakings and arrivals.

 

rushing

the day I left I woke up late with a start,
hung over with beer and the anticipation of departure;
last-minute packing revealed that not everything would fit.

I had to choose what to discard.

On the floor a pile of odds and ends stood, like an altar,
reminding me to honor what and where I leave behind
before I rush off to new adventures.

Even When They Say No

March 10 2017

Last day of winter term classes–super cold day, several meetings, but then dinner at home with my students!

I was cleaning up my office a bit and found “The Low Road” by Marge Piercy which includes these lines:

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

In that spirit:

Even When They Say No
your mind on auto pilot
until one day you wake up look around stand up
with no idea what to do.

trust that dance line with
the whole world in their hands saying act up
you owe us that much

you owe us hope you owe
us we. We mean you belong if you’ll listen up
and then act

even when they say no.