Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Picnic, a Prelude

by Pia Tafdrup

If my grandmother had been an architect,
which as a young bricklayer’s apprentice she           
aspired to be,                                           
until my grandfather got other plans
for her future
within the four walls of the home,
  Copenhagen would have 
been a different city today
and "architect" more
than a capsized word in her mouth.
  If my mother had been employed
as a receptionist at the desk
of Hotel Trouville in Hornbæk
guests from all over the world would have
received the best service,
   which did not happen,
because my father found a better solution
                                 a brand new baby
which would be cared for
within the four wings of the farm.
- "Is home not good enough for you, then?” 
   Letters from my mother reached me
in a straight bird-line –
No matter how many wing-beats, I was gone.
Like that
I felt at home
wherever I arrived.
White envelopes with her
unmistakable, circular handwriting
  scrutinized and deciphered in many countries
letters about my brother, my father and sister
and all her cats
"Your father has sown the field to the east
and I have been to the hairdresser’s."
I slit the letters open
                   and out poured out the sun.
–  “Take me with you,”
they said between the lines
to me who was involved in seeing
  how others lived,
seeing icebergs in Greenland, sniffing around
in Hanoi’s little shops, sending my tentacles out       
in Bogotá, confronting myself
with Australia's wildlife
but quite often encountering
beggars, robbers, swindlers and those
who were worse, men who asked:
– “Do you want to get married?”
I said no, because I was married,
at least on paper.
– “What are you doing here, then?             
Go home and look after your children!”
How could people in other cultures
understand my desire to travel?
What was I doing in the West Bank?
Or why was it important
to cross Chicago's no-man's land?
   Who ever had a grandmother
who taught one to travel
even though one was running a fever?
  A picnic was cancelled because I was ill
instead, with my sister and me
she wandered up and down
the moss-green carpet in the passage, told us      
of all the gnarled trees in the woods,
of the mushrooms we were going to pick
until at last we
flopped down with the filled basket
                             and held a picnic on the grass.         

translated from Danish by David McDuff

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