I grew up moving. And losing things — as the Elizabeth Bishop villanelle I posted earlier reminds us, the art of losing isn’t hard to master. Except, of course, it is…
Yesterday two of my sisters finally emptied an old dresser of my mother’s. Inside were old letters, photos, and ephemera from all over the world. My sister the keeper of everything familial asked me if I liked the irreplaceable grab bag of letters, postcards, poetry book (and more) that she gave me. Meaning: you aren’t going to throw this all away, are you??
And no, I’m not. My family all think I’m anti-stuff. I am — too much stuff weighs me down. But I’m certainly not anti-memorabilia, or scrapbooks, or photo memories, or the fragile markers of lives well-lived. It’s just that all my life — yes, literally — I’ve either had to move and leave belongings behind, or catastrophe (robbery, flood, fire, war…) has stolen them. I suppose I’m almost afraid to love them…
From the age of no more than 9, I had to have a small suitcase packed w/ whatever I wanted to take out w/ me if we were evacuated from Việt Nam. Even earlier, a flood took my red teddy bear, and my mother had to confirm, when asked, that yes, Teddy was gone.
Class rings, graduation gifts, my sons’ bassinet, so many things lost. And always the knowledge that I might have to (as I did, more than once) move quickly, packing light. It’s the price of growing up an expatriate, I suppose. That feeling of no roots.
So today’s poem is for the expats among us, celebrating not the losses but the exhilerating sense of possibility that a new country, language, & culture offer. There are few things I hate more than packing (root canal, maybe??). But there also is little I like as much as going somewhere new.
Here’s Michael Hogan’s ‘Expatriate':
There is much to recommend
staying where you are. Local
knowledge is the truest kind.
But the suitcase is in my closet once again.
The streets cough up a language
my dog can’t comprehend.
These moves choose me like love.
Or when love dies but clings
until I cut the white bars of skin
against the sharpest rock I find
to crawl newborn in the sun.
Staying where you are
you can still be startled in small ways:
the August lightning, an implausible death,
a glance in the bathroom mirror from a graceless angle.
But to move again!
The brain patterns itself and strains;
synapses brighten, then dim.
The rabbit heart beats wildly
in its tough tortoise skin.