Travelling alone

30 June 2005 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Ödemjuka belles lettres från en till en (‘Humble belles lettres from one to one’, Schildts, 2002)

Blind Alley Travel Bureau

We arrive on the last arrival.
Turn the lights out when you go, the airport staff ask.
To this place you and I must travel. It was the only departure
that was called. The only place there is, said the guide.
One’s vision is blocked by the view. We’ll find no somewhere else.

‘When I fall asleep, drive the last stretch by yourselves,’
says the driver.
A last summer family lift him into
their homeward-returning back seat.

The postcards are so faded on the stands that we don’t send any,
besides, no one would be able to make out where it was we’d gone.
All your disguises I pulled to pieces long ago.
The barbed-wire tail is twisted. The paws have vanished into the river.
You still walk with sagging brown velvet.
At last you tie up the cloth at the end of a jetty.
We sleep on a veranda, each in a green suitcase.
To begin with we follow the signs but the arrows grow out of the metal,
get twisted and go flying off towards some alleyway.
Often I find you floating in the sand, or among the blankets in the water,
stumbling on an unmanned picnic.
Those great white birds, their feathers give off dust.
A branch has overflowed into the car, the cotton grass
has flowered in the glove compartment. The contents
of our cases won’t stay inside, soon even the bathing robe rustles among the leaves.
The beach-balls grow roots. Root fibres tear open under our shoes
when we pull them out in the morning from under the stairs.
‘Soon no one will ever have been here.’

Go out on the pier. There you sit. There the bathing steps fall down into the water.
There one of your shoes. Cracked gardens clatter, the hotels creak against
the boats, the chiming of the keys in entrances. Step forward, says the door. Pull out
the box in reception, turn the pages in the book with sagging surnames.
Go through the corridor. The room numbers count come in,
the forever-ironed sheet, a tangled comb, a hunchbacked shoehorn,
a wilted piece of soap, a route description of a circle.
We keep the chairs company in the restaurant. The floor shows us into the kitchen
which lays the table with a fork of laced thorns, a ladle inside out.

Do we go out with a lantern and a dog?
More and more sand gathers in the crannies of our faces.
Soon we can remember only the number of words that might fit on a postcard.
We stay at an ever-increasing distance from each other on the beach.
You look familiar over there,
but I did travel here, didn’t I, alone?

The brothers-in-law and the journey to the lighthouse

In a waffle shop by the side of the main road my brothers-in-law were born.
There they were kept under dusty clouds on diamond-patterned mats.
In their hearts glowed a little waffle-iron
into which a great love could be stuffed.
But my brothers-in-law contained a greater love. My own
could be ordered under a picture of a tear-dripping ice-cream cone.

The brothers-in-law wanted a box with a bird of passage inside.
‘If you open the box and put the love into it, the bird
preens its feathers and counts loves me, loves me not’
they explained.

Every time my brothers-in-law fell in love with my sister
they had to go out and get fresh air.
‘Take the bus to the lighthouse,’ my parents commanded.
We covered the last stretch on foot and though about when we were little
and not in love. How we sat in the kitchen with our scarves still on
and with hair like the grass on windy islands. We were interested
in what was happening out there. Until the batter came
and filled the moulds in our hearts.

The light leaked on the pebbles and the boats’ hulls,
on the brothers-in-law’s white uniforms. A brother-in-law stood on the sea side
and cooled the checked pattern that smarted across their chests.
A brother-in-law climbed up into the lighthouse. A brother-in-law
lay on the shore and spied. One of my feet trickled out
but a brother-in-law wiped it dry with a brother-in-law’s sleeve.
I put a flat round stone in a brother-in-law’s mouth that was shedding tears
over his chin. A brother-in-law put a brother-in-law down on the shore.
Their arms and the grass fluttered.
My sister painted a weathervane
in their hands.

Birth cert.

I stepped in through the door when my father was three years old.
and sat at the kitchen table fastening a pinecone to a ball of yarn.
When father stepped out through the door, I took hold of the cone
and hung there on the end of the yarn that remained in my father’s hand.

Father hurried out along the road. I rattled forward in the gravel.
On the field father’s brothers stood gazing up at the sky
where a fighter plane flew lower and lower
and made an emergency landing on the field where father’s brothers got excited.
Father vanished into the oats and fingered one of the struts.
The pilots stepped onto the field and looked up at the house.
That’s where we live! shouted father’s brothers.
Horizon line instrument, I thought at the landing wheel.

The pilots stepped in through the door and settled down in the drawing room
and were called conductors.
Father and I sat in the kitchen with the ball of yarn and the pine cone.
There was pointing at the clouds and at discs on the pilots’ uniforms.
With a teaspoon one pilot illustrated their emergency landing on the field.

In the evening the pilots smoked and drew sketches outside in the gravel.
Father and his brothers breathed at the window and held their pinecones tightly.
At night the pilots went roaring aloft
on the double sheet next to the dresser.

Father slept in a small double bed with the ball of yarn in his hand.
My mother’s side still was empty.
I told father bedtime stories about companies until he closed his eyes
and we dreamt that the pilots’ broken airplane started.
That we mended it with wood from a pinecone.

The neighbouring houses searched about in their engine hatches.
Small steps arose in the field. As the plane was assembled back together.
And the pilots kissed cheeks and foreheads. When the pinecones and the sky
were ready for takeoff. And the pilots sat in the drawing room
and raised their teaspoons to the ceiling and illustrated their departure.
But father showed them us running a lap round the house
and me ploughing through the grass. Father’s brothers stood in the field,
for a while they were hidden in a cloud of smoke,
but soon we saw them gazing up at the heavens
where the pilots were growing smaller and smaller and waving
with their black airmen’s gloves like little notes in the sky.

Exercise with ghost train

The ideal goodbye is the ghost train journey. One person
takes a seat in the carriage. The other waits on the small wooden platform.
For letters there’s no time. And getting away there is none. There are
no spontaneous stations. Only a very single ticket. Whoever
travels away along the rails will not escape.
If you stand on the platform you can look up at the trees and close your eyes
for a little. Eat a cone with something in it. A short time passes, and
then the departee pops up again. The platform: is just the same.
The carriage, likewise. But the face? Wide open? So say:
Imagine if it had been real. Don’t go leaving again.

If the carriage is empty upon its return, ask yourself the question:
Is the amusement park director a coward?
If he’s not a coward, he’ll take a midnight stroll along the ghost train track
and find the lost one at the foot of a stuffed bear:
The traveller had thrown himself from the carriage in the dark
intending to reappear on the small platform in a few years’ time,
with a cloud and a piece of the latitude on his backside.

The ghost train’s crucial point: Before setting off one doesn’t say
goodbye to anyone. One doesn’t grieve. One doesn’t turn

one’s head and wave. One doesn’t turn one’s head.

Translated by David McDuff


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