Welcome to the second installation of APIARY’s new monthly column, Poetry Jawns with Alina, curated by our resident poetry expert, Alina Pleskova! Alina is an editor at an academic publisher by day, always wins the contest for who’s wearing the highest heels at APIARY staff meetings, and has made it her mission to deliver to you, dear readers, exactly the poetry your soul has been yearning for… but were too lazy/tired/busy to search for yourself. Today we focus on the act/art of traveling. Ms. Pleskova is currently visiting her birth city of Moscow, where she is no doubt enjoying her poetry in between bites of blintchiki and sips of ice cold vodka. Today she offers, among others, Wright, Dinh and Tsvetaeva.
The act of traversing horizon lines triggers altered states of consciousness, less resembling transcendence than a sense of synapse distortion. In monochromatic close quarters, reticence sets in; every stranger’s suspect, especially those in rumpled business clothes. It’s not easy to stay clear-headed at high altitudes, with pills and celestial sunlight thickly coating every attempt to make sense of things. I turn laconic and surrender to the rag doll jerk of turbulence, armed with a lapful of peanuts and books. Later, flipping through my cryptic marginalia gives rise to the voyeuristic sensation of coming across a stranger’s hand.
The disorientation usually abates some hours after touchdown, but some trips trail a longer shadow made of half-imagined memories and sentimental attachments. Visiting my birth city feels like tracking a past that never happened. Cheryl Strayed calls it the ghost ship that didn’t carry us— an alternate life that flickers through the mind at times, too fast or futile to catch a good look. I press my mother with questions until we wind up whisper-fighting beneath icons in art galleries, or during the third act of a lavish ballet. It’s never clear why we do this– why we bother to dredge up the inconceivable by mulling over how it might have been if we’d stayed.
Eventually, though, we find our way back to present: home is itinerant, after all. She’ll buy two drippy vanilla ice cream cones—our tacit form of truce, impervious to age or logic— and we’ll catch a ferry ride on the Moscow River, my head on her shoulder until we reach the shore.
I haven’t found a poem for that sort of travel, is the thing. The below are more general, but nonetheless resonant.
Yours amid visions of banyas and cherry blintchiki,
To Myself | Franz Wright
You are riding the bus again
burrowing into the blackness of Interstate 80,
the sole passenger
with an overhead light on.
And I am with you.
I’m the interminable fields you can’t see,
the little lights off in the distance
(in one of those rooms we are
living) and I am the rain
and the others all
around you, and the loneliness you love,
and the universe that loves you specifically, maybe,
and the catastrophic dawn,
the nicotine crawling on your skin—
and when you begin
to cough I won’t cover my face,
and if you vomit this time I will hold you:
everything’s going to be fine
I will whisper.
It won’t always be like this.
I am going to buy you a sandwich.
Places That Have Become Me | Bob Hicok
Poor starling in the B concourse of Logan Airport. You do not
have a laptop. You do not have a cell phone. You do not
have the sky. You have an Au Bon Pain. You have a seafood restaurant
that sells live lobsters to travelers. What a fancy lobster
that would be, who flies first-class to Dallas. While you peck
at the carpet as if it’s grass, I want to sneak up on you
so softly you believe I’ve always been there, that I am a tree
and chaperone you as a tree to Flight 1872 bound for Charlotte,
so you can fly down the B-10 causeway and show the Airbus
how grace is done. Speaking of things out of place, half
an hour away, if you ignore the speed limit, there’s a boat
hanging from the ceiling of the chapel at Babson College.
In this case, I don’t want to set the boat free; it’s an emotion
in the half glass, half wood, fully beautiful room
people go to speak to God in a circle of chairs, a boat
with recessed lighting, a boat with only the waters
of raised voices to sail upon, a boat that would look good
with a starling at its tiller. I said emotion, but it’s more
of a sense that heaven has room for our stuff, our boats
and windows, our eyes and the snow I wish had fallen
outside the chapel, in which the immediate sky
is a sky of rescue, a sky of gather two of every creature
that walks or gets lost in Logan Airport and bear them
to a time when trouble is over—this is the Bible
as it is written by this poem. Every large airport
I’ve been to has had birds in it; only one chapel
I’ve been to has had a boat in it: this means
our airports are more frequently imaginative
than our worship, and more accidentally cruel. I’m home
now, where starlings and boats are where they belong; I’m the one
out of place if you ask the river, the cows, the coyotes
who come at night, gather their voices into a hoop
and lament, it seems to me, nothing.
Sleep Cycle | Dean Young
We cannot push ourselves away
from this quiet, even in our sprees
of inattention, the departing passengers
stubbing out their smokes, arrivees in tears,
lots of cellophane, the rumpus over parking.
Wind scrapes leaves across the road,
first flashes of snow, it is dark then
it’s really dark. Forgive me for not
writing for so long, I’ve been
right beside you, one of the vaguer
divinities blocking your way with its need
to confess all its botched attempts at love,
what started the whole mess. I love this place,
its absurd use of balustrade, the chairs
that dig into the spine, motorcyclists
propping their drunk girlfriends in the sun,
men playing timed chess with themselves,
the guarantees and warnings that entice us
to the brink of what they warn about.
But we can do no more than pass through
these rooms and their sudden chills
where once a plea was entered almost
unintentionally that seemed at last
to reveal ourselves to ourselves,
immaculate, bereft, deserving to be found.
The Mind | Linh Dinh
The mind is a hotel with a thousand rooms. When I tilt my head a certain way, I think about certain things. When I tilt my head another way, I think about other things. If I sleep on the right side of my face, for example, I’d dream of a pale rose, the future, or a continental diner in Passaic, New Jersey. When I sleep on the left side of my face, I’d dream that a hand is squeezing my heart, that I’m in prison, or that I’m watching hockey at an airport bar, about to miss a flight.
Gradations of Blue | Matthea Harvey
The scent of pig is faint tonight
as the lime trees hang their heads against gradations of blue,
looking at the lone suitcase in the middle of the farmyard
with a sense of solidarity. Also forgotten.
Its owner never once looked up at them and exclaimed
I was still soft-fingered when I planted you.
In the plane, her gaze rests on a flock of cloud-birds,
pinkish purple with elongated necks, rests
on the plane’s wing-tip colored pink by the sun.
Her head is heavy with this childhood cargo,
like the hawk that usually flies between or above their branches,
found skimming the ground with its catch of mouse or mole,
or the barge that passes every day at four, its metal nose
just out of the water, while empty at eight, its sleek sides
flash signals to those on shore. Later, on the highway
a row of trucks lit like orange squares in the setting sun—
a colony of ants each with a piece of chrysanthemum
on their backs—begins to reassemble memories;
the petals become lining, the shape of the flower is lost,
so that years later, looking at an old photograph,
she will not remember the names of cousins and uncles
but the exact bend in the river behind them, the pattern of trees.
And, if you’ll indulge me, I’m throwing this in for good measure:
from “Poems for Moscow” | Marina Tsvetaeva
tr. Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine
From my hands—take this city not made by hands,
my strange, my beautiful brother.
Take it, church by church—all forty times forty churches,
and flying up the roofs, the small pigeons;
And Spassky Gates—and gates, and gates—
where the Orthodox take off their hats;
And the Chapel of Stars—refuge chapel—
where the floor is—polished by tears;
Take the circle of the five cathedrals,
my coal, my soul; the domes wash us in their darkgold,
And on your shoulders, from the red clouds,
the Mother of God will drop her own thin coat,
And you will rise, happened of wonderpowers
—never ashamed you loved me.
March 31, 1916