Gypsy, my father once told me, it’s part of our name.
Wendt from Wendland, from land of wanderers. Still,
my favorite romance was that this heritage came
from my Austrian grandmother. Born on the boat to Chile,
Francesca Weisser – who died, before I was born,
about the time my runaway father was rounding Cape Horn
bound for Germany – rumor was, she had gypsy
blood, too. So when I phone my mother
from Norway, and once again she wistfully
prods, have you gotten this out of your system?, what
can I say? My friend Helen tells me she once
tugged a canoe free from river-bank mud
and the next day a memory surfaced through muscle,
through more than forty years: herself as a child
struggling a turtle, dead, from leaves and mud till
her hands held wonder: maybe what’s happened is filed
within us, our bodies remember what minds cannot.
How else to describe it? And how to explain it’s not
just adventure I’m after, but what the inner
world has in store: reflections of earth’s geography
buried so deep in the system, each country I visit,
each new landscape tugs, tugs, and the country
within the body responds. Lungs, in Eastern
Oregon, opening, lungs unfurling, they’d turn
the body inside out, if they could, greeting
the sky, informing me, this is where you belong.
And look at Italy, all of the senses meeting
as one: resurrected, the skin drinking song,
and color, and light baptizing the tongue,
saying this, this is your home. No longer young,
and still, no end to this road. The way in Chile
the heart, overfull, finds hearts to contain it. The voice
in Germany, tuned with its own. And now in Norway
the feet, for the first time ever, knowing the source
of their song: earth’s anchor – gentle, that shudder
of glacier, mountain, fjord – solid under
bones connecting to bones, what holds us together
resonant, what the body always has known.
Roald Amundsen, what did you tell your mother?
Did your blood, the closer you came to the pole,
get dizzy with gravity? Did you let yourself hear
in your ecstatic pulse, a mother’s moan? Her fear?
From Surgeonfish. Cincinnatti, OH: WordTech Editions, 2005
(Winner of the Editions Prize)