Optima dies . . . prima fugit.
The public bus is an AWD Mercedes,
all the better to skim the rippled
elevations surrounding Bergen.
My stop, abruptly, is here,
a quick jaunt away
from the unpastoral exurb
where I rent. So again
I have arrived at the route's
lowest point, at harbor's edge,
the promontory's base, above
which the campus rises.
I all but dislocate a shoulder,
clawing for support,
as the unanswerable brakes
enforce their appointed halt.
Now for the stairway,
terraced stones of uneven rise,
of grimed rock smoothed
by a century's rains, snows,
sleets, and thrusting feet.
I've passed this spot a score of times,
scarcely stopping to snag a look.
Today can hardly differ; I am to
teach My Ántonia--starting
in barely a pair of minutes.
Still I must take it in, a meme of Rome
in boreal Bergen, not quite as far
as furthest Thule. Much resists
the transfer, but nonetheless,
some lesser river god, sequestered
within a Roman arch, here
gurgles out a steady stream
of clear water--viewless and
plashless. For just a flash, I fail
to note that the slabs are
concrete, not Torano marble.
Not to worry, Kylling Kluk.
It is not that the sky will not
fall and kill us all. The sky
already fell--earlier today,
many days before--whenever
the sun bathes in this nameless
pond, dragging along
a sheaf of sheens absconded
during the quick descent--
the blanch of adjacent façades,
arboreal green, the dun of a trunk,
the sky's signature azure,
even some flashes of stellar silver.
The pavement's slick; don't slip!
This gold will stay, long after
Unlike Actaeon or Pentheus,
I did not approach unpermitted,
rapt as I watched--a cryptic
scene. A woman is written
on. A self is unpeeled, flashed
onto a mirror; an alter-self
might adhere, thanks to a
slogan, an image inscribed,
configured dot by dot
on unresistant, painèd flesh.
Funky tongues of black flame,
a faux tiger pelt are bounda-
ries and count a silent cadence.
Whether Lady Gaga or Edgar Degas
or a run-of-the mill flaneur
freshly landed at Gardermoen,
one'll likely like this Oslo
milliner's shop. Hats and such,
swirled of every tint, all for clientele
of every hue--so the mannequins say,
display their skin of coal, medium
black, light gray--arrivals from every
land, come to Oslo for a chapeau
of white or green or mauve or
orange shifting to red, or simple
stark black--for a start. And don't
forget the chemises, scarves, and tees.
I'd like to join in, top my pate
with an orchid hat--cream set off
with crimson--or a giggling foolscap--
scarlet mixed with tangerine. How
trans I would look! Why worry when
all here are trans anyway: northbound
travelers who crossed many oceans,
ladykins of sundry race? Icons, goddesses
are they--gloomed Melancholy sinking
into some deeper thought, ebonied Night
ever on twilight's cusp. I'll don a
floral hat, doff my man's mien.
Jean played Grieg while I auditioned
with Ginastera. My command
of technique outdid hers.
Why she won--I'll never know.
And surely not as I look
into Grieg's studio
above the fjord, a footpath
projecting backwards in
the large glass pane through which
I peer. Within, there's barely room
for an upright piano,
much less a full orchestra.
As my friend Wendy is wont
to say, facing such circum-
stances, "I just don't see that."
The ferry traverses the strait with a steady, limping gait
and sways so slightly, side to side--that old oceanic waltz.
We near the middle of the run, a stretch of sea
where a fearful, plunging trough might lurk below.
But cragged islets wink near dull horizons,
auger a placid landfall. So the lounge is jammed,
no one looking for scenery, some in a tune-out
helped along by beer or other booze.
We connect at this juncture only with a prior life.
A vacationing executive devours a report
as if for a Wall Street meeting in the morning.
A haggard couple in their middle years
would digest the irrelevance of this voyage,
intended as a bridge out of a slump.
We are drowsy or doze off. No one dreams.
At the Ballstad Dry-Dock
Hardly had I thought, here
beside Ballstad harbor,
that I’d find myself smack
in the middle of an
artist’s studio. Whose?
Whatever the case, I see
an installation in progress:
bland wooden beams are piled
in a nondescript heap,
into some grand design–or
they can lie as is, complete
icon of today’s flattened
art. To the right I view
a finished sculpture, no
additional touch of the
sculptor’s hand or tools required:
a married pair of barrels
stand sedate, barrel Junior
between them at their base.
The infant’s already a
tiny man with an agenda–
a play tool protruding
from his gullet! And what’s more,
I am in awe of the abstract
mural spanning the wall
of that shed, testifying
to brushes–beyond number–
painted out at end of day.
So who’s this artist who
returns tugs, trawlers, frigates
--slick with fulgent fresh paint--
to their trips atop chilling surfs?
I set out southward from Svolvaer
as a wind was rising. A storm was nearing,
but not so quickly that I could not
drive to Å, at least to Reine, if only
I kept my goal in mind, if only
I did not fear the road--and could
get the upper hand while driving
a near wreck of a rented car.
The light fresh snow splattering
the windshield hardly held me back.
But last night's mush on the E-10
lodged around the tires, dragged me
to a halt. The mess required removal
every quarter hour. Soon I was again
glancing down the highway--a wispèd coil
whimpering in the whitish distance.
Three hours passed, equal time
spent on stopping and driving.
I had not reached Reine; I should forget
At last arrived at Flakstad strand,
I would press no further, would turn
toward Svolvaer as day dimmed.
But then the Flakstad headland grabbed
my gaze embarking into the green grey
gulf. Not since I had watched
the red cliff at Cassis did I stare
with such a visual fix. And so I stood,
not knowing whether Reine or Å
was near or far.
Another car pulled up just then,
stopped near mine. Three people
climbed out--a woman, two men.
We had earlier met in a Svolvaer bar.
They were out of work, had lost their jobs,
were zeroing out their savings
on an arctic jaunt. We conversed
as wind pushed, and debris
whirled around. They knew
nothing of the mounting storm.
The trio resumed their southward
drive, toward Reine, toward Å.
I inched forward at the back of the queue at the dock,
boarding the fast boat about to sweep us out of Svolvaer
and deposit us on Norway's mainland.
"Where are you going to go?" she asked,
a blondish woman, kindly and aging.
The lineations of her bosom and visage were
dulled by the years--all but washed away.
"Where am I going to go? Bow Dough!"
I answered, sensing I was murdering
the Norwegian tongue.
"Oh you mean: Booduh!" So she exclaimed,
tilting my tongue in the right direction
as the express ferry departed the quay, angled past the jetty,
then skimmed the cold Lofoten gulf,
its waters a deep arctic blue.
I stood on deck, just aft the warm main cabin,
leaning on its solid door,
looking at all I had left behind.
I must snap a shot! . . . first must stand near the stern,
beyond the hulking shadow the cabin cast.
But into the clear light my eye and camera craved,
I exited, too, the windless nook just aft the cabin.
Blasted from behind,
I was about to ride the wind,
then rammed a foot forward,
bending my torso toward the deck,
staving off immersion in the roiled surf.
"Pardon my prow," said the ship
to the shore. "It's of no con-
sequence to me," replied shore
to ship. "So many prowling
keels have here taken rest,
hulls fire red or dull grey,
pausing on this green knoll's breast.
Just as long as you aren't
bringing along one more black
body, a corpse dragged from
ocean depths, a sea-goer more
akin to the men who forged
you from tempered steel plate--
more akin, I say--to
humankind than to land's green
breast, sea's liquid salt, or ship's
solemn angles. Let's stick with
the bloodless black swath at
hull's base--no slain whale dragged
from your hollow hold. Let them--
raucous devourers of
Tromsø cuisine--eat cake."
Consider this door,
no longer openable
in Bergen's Bryggen,
It's blocked by a stairway
leading to a bar or
brothel unvisited for
who knows how long--
green moss enlivening
aged timbers. An oxidized
hinge links stanchion and
mottled panels, paintless
here, bespeckled there,
punctured with nails somewhere
else. Rarely're decades
so nicely mapped and tallied.
I tacked on true tunnel vision as I drove
through the Nappstraumen Tunnel.
Not a lesson learned in one run--
say from Leknes to Nusfjord--
but passing through and back again.
So the going out is the passing in,
the end where the beginning is.
For some channel of the mind
runs beneath the Nappstraum current,
arctic flow with cod and whale
overhead. A voiceless wail
seeps out as one throttles forward.
A return to a roofless road
is beyond the curve.
But you'll never believe that
while a deep anaerobic slot
is all you see, the mind's
cunt or colon, while spangled
lights and sterile ribs
belt out a silent staccato.
All the while, anxious rubber hums,
about to burst. But in any case,
that key caveat is ever kept in mind--
never cross the center line.
. . the floods stood still as an heap,
the depths congealed together in the heart of the Sea.
(Exodus 15:8, Geneva Bible)
It is the height of summer--just past the solstice--
here on a ledge along the Nusfjord road,
above the Storvaten. Yet there's merely a glimmer
of Amun Re around here. Nor would you wish
to incur eyestrain if on the lookout for
any solar deity. Who would care
if it's a northern native or a transient
drifting up from the south?
Dim is the luminance, yet diaphanous
as well. Tales of ancient actions,
so long ago dispersed, are tallied here,
if only one could read them. Magma
spewed upward--a bubbling chaos
not worth the name of matter.
Igneous rock came out of the cooling,
but not free to stay that way
as ordinary stone. Forces known,
some only guessed at, pressed
upon it, morphed it to stolid,
darkened charnockite. The came
the sculpting glaciations, bending
layers of terrain as a physician's
fingers push downward on your belly.
A lake is scooped out; a diverse
detritus--pebbles, rocks, gravel
wrenched off from the heights--
has settled along the water's borders.
All of this far prior to when Jörð,
finally given a chance, could give
a veil, a tissue of green.
And from water's edge to summit,
from left to right--so it's said--,
this headland's a massive dusky
shoe,dropped by a giantess
who ambled by on her
way to swim, fully nude,
in the Nusfjord bay.
I was stuck with a lemon of a rental car,
going eastward toward Åndalsnes.
Wheels waffled, the steering shimmied;
I was tired. Mist churned into fog,
then yielded patches of clear sky
while the blacktop coiled, rose, and
fell in silent cadence. Mountains
loomed or were quilted in clouds.
I edged onto a diagonaling lane to
glimpse a stretch of landscape that half-
way greened in the chill summer, was half-
way curtained behind snow and thick-
ening vapors. But the lane was not
a lane, only a thin tongue of ground
edged by a ditch filled with brown
sedge. I quickly braked, but not
before my quirky vehicle could hang
over a hidden drop of unknown depth.
I feared an overturn, exited
while the car quavered. Yet short
was the crisis, brief the peril.
For a passing motorist
saw my plight, came to help, seeming
to know such mishaps as mine.
He may have told his name,
where he lived--but neither of us knew
a word of the other's tongue.
The task was swiftly done.
A downward push on the hood,
a turn of the steering wheel,
a spurt of acceleration--
the car was on the shoulder.
I wish to hike across that blooming
field, aim for that deepened line
delimiting a middle zone of foliage.
Yet the field lacks ground beneath,
is a sponge of moss and grasses
that downward sink, though
not giving way as I step.
I look without hurry
at the tripartite demesne--the slightest of slopes
tilting toward a brook or trench,
a foliaged rise (vernal if not summery)
reaching out to dusky elevations--
forbidding, frigid--that winter
failed to forget. Yet in that
gloomed purview, a snow-lozenge
immaculately gleams between
greyed mists and massed charcoal rock.
The varied zones call out in blended
disjunction as I regard them
and while I am a vanishing
point to them.
An unbegun conversation unfolds.
Words will fly and flow; some may reach their goal.
As a stone thrown into the fjord, others may sink
unheard, uncomprehended, or unbelieved.
The conversants have long lived here--
or will arrive one minute, depart the next.
In love with one another or not,
they are surely philogaiacs--lovers
of the earth, taking in a tonic
from grass cut and uncut, from blooms
yellow, white, and magenta, from clouds
grizzled or faintly glowing, from timber
and tin, from paint and builder's stone--
all of it cured and aged by winds friendly
or hostile, by long sunlight intolerant
of night, by long darkness that hates light.
So join me at the table; speak words few
in number or many--or refrain.
You may want to maintain the silence
that calls and calls--an empty refrain.