Magazine article World Literature Today

Leaving Home

Magazine article World Literature Today

Leaving Home

Article excerpt

A reply to Lawrence Ferlinghetti's

"Autobiography" (1958)

I looked away from home,

on the farm which my parents

couldn't leave because

it was either the season

for sowing or harvesting

or harrowing or rolling,

an outlying farm

standing solitary

on the fields

between two small villages.

At night I sometimes dreamt

that I could fly

over the trees

on wings constructed

from branches or other

available material,

but always woke up

on the earth.

I disembarked

on foreign shores

in the books I borrowed

in the book bus

where the evening light fell in,

making the gilded letters

on the spines of the books shine

and the safe, good smell

of earlier readers

that clung to the pages

struck me in greeting.

I rowed the last part of the way

to an island

in the small lake in the garden, encouraged

by my mother's mother,

who read Robinson Crusoe to me.

I established a prairie life

out on the fields,

when they were harvested,

and the sheaves

could be stacked

into forts I knew

from cowboy films

on long Sunday afternoons

with my male cousins.

Or after School Cinema I continued

David Livingstone's expedition

into the heart of Africa

equipped

with machete and compass

in between the beech trees

in the dark place right at the bottom of the garden

and dug myself

Eskimo-like

into holes in the snow

to sit absolutely still, listening

in the creaking winter

to what even back then

had vanished

and would not come back.

I dived straight down

into the Stone Age

after history hour was over,

ate berries and nuts

and ground

handfuls of my father's

newly harvested barley between two stones

round by the old chicken coop,

where foxes

dug in under the fence.

With the gardener's children I played

at travelling circuses,

in my bathing suit walked on a tightrope

stretched between the trees,

after a visit

by Circus Benneweis.

I started an Egyptian collection

at home

in my own room

after a tour of the Glyptotek art museum

with my grandfather,

who guided the way from the earliest times

up to the Roman emperors

and as a souvenir

gave me

a plaster cast

of an Egyptian scribe,

which still

stands on my windowsill -

as my father

on a lathe in the workshop

kept meteors fallen

black-seething

on his fields, magical

lava-like stones,

sent straight

from the universe to

him.

I listened

to birds that flew

from exotic lands

to settle

in the bushes of our garden.

I would not have gone anywhere,

if my aunt had not

kidnapped my sister and me

and hidden us

one afternoon in the half-darkness

of Kronborg's casemates. …

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