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Thursday
May122011

Roads

A little breeze will scarcely blow,
How I loved them, I’ll tell you so.
A little breeze will scarcely caress,
I’ll be a fool, my mind bereft.
I’ll cry. But when with crying I’m done
I’ll go house to house and tell everyone
that there’s nothing more precious than these roads that wind
            from morning until evening time.
            You’ll give me lodging.
I’ll say: thanks, although,
if I stay, who’ll travel my road?
I don’t know, folks, my home is where?
Only this - white dust did fill the air.

(Imants Ziedonis, "Roads")

* * *

We have visitors. Visitors from far away. Sometimes it feels like they're from so far away that they must have broken free from my own past.

1. I take them to Momofuku, where people shout with mouths full of trout roe and market greens. They can’t believe the noise, the way we sit shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors. “But this is New York: everyone has to surround themselves with energy, excitement,” I try to explain, mouth full of pork bun. They can’t believe people stand in line for food.

Perspective: In Latvia, a good restaurant is a quiet one. One where you can think while you eat your food. I wonder if they remember bread lines.

2. The sound of the sirens on the roads outside our window. Some are emergencies, others the sensitive car alarms set off by the whiz of passing traffic and the rumble of the train. Shouts at night, motorbikes revving and racing through traffic lights. Louder when you know someone from far away is sleeping in the next room.

Perspective: How many roads have I lived on where I can hear trains outside my window, or the rumble of trolleybuses over cobblestones? Three? Four? Are my dreams of fields of dandelions powered by their engines?

3. In May when the sun sets in this city, there’s a light that falls over the asphalt and concrete, a light much like how I picture the light in heaven. If there were a heaven. “Tāda gaisma,” I say. That light. Our visitors put their hands to their hearts too. This universally beautiful light. Perspective.

* * *

I’m eighteen. Standing on the edge of a ravine, watching these young boys who are now my only friends swing on a rope, knocking each other over like bowling pins on the return, laughing uncontrollably with mouths open. Latvian mouths. Latvian teeth, Latvian tongues. I stand above them, at a distance, surrounded by trees in the last burst of green from the summer, wondering if I will ever understand the things they’re saying. We ride a bus back into the city. They fill out crossword puzzles and make farm animal noises in the back of the bus; I sit quietly on top of the wheel well, watching birches and pines and tower blocks spin by along the road, punctuated by pauses at geometric shelters full of old women carrying baskets. Feeling every mile between me and home.

Fifteen years later, the city streets dipping their tails in the last of this universally beautiful light, we walk arm-in-arm down 14th street. The arteries of roads and sidewalks throbbing with taxis and pedestrians. Clogged at the corners, noise and people and light. And still I feel every mile in between.

(If you have a moment, you can listen to the song and poem that inspired this post here, third song down, Jānis Holšteins - Upmainis (Goran Gora): Ceļi.)

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.

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