In memory of a childhood home
I. The Bog
The swimming moose rises like a phantom
from the depths of my mind,
her unfazed gaze pinning me down
as she crosses the lake from shore to shore.
From our canoe, we watch the moose emerge
between water lilies and frogspawn,
cantering away unhurriedly through the afternoon forest.
The hoarse cries of cranes from a nearby field
carry over the water and the reed.
I am glad for the mosquito repellent.
Behind our island, the great lake gives way
to stretches of waving reed grass,
so high you never see
what lies beyond the bend.
The waterways winding through the reed fields
are quiet and still, the plunge
of our paddles the only sound.
The heron perching in the alders to the right
rises with a cry that makes me wince guiltily.
We have disturbed its peace.
There is movement to our left,
a plop and a rustle,
Maybe an otter, my father says,
and I peer so eagerly into the green-yellow wall
that he starts to laugh, the sound
breaking the silence.
I have never seen an otter in the wild.
In the evening, we roast fish over the fire,
and the lights of the houses on the shore
are as far away as the stars overhead.
My parents tell stories about the time
when they first came to our island,
with my grand-parents, how they opened the door
of this house for their friends, too
– just like today, you had to use your horn
when you arrived on the shore,
so someone would row over and pick you up.
They laugh at the way people cringed
at the prospect of using the outhouse,
which someone named Villa Lakeview,
and the reality of no running water.
We laugh, too, there is still no running water,
and still an outhouse with the sign
Villa Lakeview by the door, and what’s not to love
about that? A screech owl calls in the dark,
making our dog jump. We laugh some more.
The wood smoke makes our eyes burn;
it doesn’t keep away the mosquitoes.
There is a sadness to the cries
of the bittern in the reed beds, my mother says.
Their sound is eerie and haunting,
and I imagine it to carry over the dawn waters
for days and days, until the lakes end,
and from there into the next world,
the one beyond this one, or beside it,
I’m really not sure. It is present here,
in the tall-grown firs and the lichen-covered stones
that hold the trolls’ memories of wars passed,
in the giant moss cushions near the shores,
tiny fairy cities, if you look close enough.
I still feel the world beyond when I roam the island
for the last time. I visit the rock plateau on the far end
and the ten-feet anthill that was already there
when my parents first came here.
I visit the place in the middle of the island,
where the woodland spring used to be,
buried now after last winter’s storms.
Has the näcken found a new home?
Slowly I make my way back through the forest’s remnants,
splintered tree trunks and wild raspberries all
that remain of its former glory.
I find deer droppings in the tracks of the logging trucks
and birch shoots in the undergrowth.
The pink flowers of willowherbs are swaying in the breeze.
How long before the elves will dance again?
A pair of buzzards circle over the clearing,
their cries piercing the hazy afternoon.
I have learned to imitate the bittern’s call,
I can take this place with me.
III. Swans Migrating
When we open the car doors,
the air smells of diesel and tar,
and of salt and seaweed.
It embraces me like a dearly missed friend.
Home is a strange feeling.
You are not allowed to stay in your vehicle
during the crossing, but we don’t want to, anyway.
We want to see the glittering waves and the wind parks,
looking from one shore to the next,
as we cross from one home to the other.
There are seagulls sailing overhead,
white feathered and black-banded.
The younglings are grey and brown,
and even though they fly as well as their parents do,
they still beg for food with screeching cries.
The adults are quiet, sailing beside the dark blue chimneys.
Sometimes they will dive in front of the ferry,
using a current to arc up again on the other side.
Do they care which side of the ocean they are on?
I ask my mother. Maybe, she says, but I think
they make their home wherever there is food and shelter.
I look down to the white specks of gulls swaying on the waves.
It must be nice, I say, this kind of freedom.
Going with the waves. A life without borders,
without nations. Staying wherever the wind carries you.
Yes, my mother says.
Behind us, my father cracks a bad joke
and my brother laughs at my sister’s retort.
One of the gulls sweeps past us
into the clear blue of the summer sky.
It hovers overhead, just out of reach.
Its eyes are black and its beak is yellow,
with a red tip. The white feathers are so bright
that it hurts to look at them.
The chimneys cough a cloud of billowed smoke.
Lazily, I drift towards the shore.