Cardamom buns baked on parchment,
percolated coffee in thin-lipped cups,
a porcelain pitcher of cream and
reflecting a south Chicago sun,
a crystal pyramid of sugar cubes
beside silver-plated tongs.
On our way to the guests, my mother
always said, Var snäll och tar den.
Be nice and take that one, and I knew
the bun she meant: the least lovely one.
I loved her no less, her gold plaited hair
and cerulean blue eyes, like a hand-painted
doll, made not for play but to please.
Here I am, 53, in an old-world konditori
and might as well be ten, aswirl
with cardamom and catching my breath
at a glinting plate of sugar cubes,
a hand-painted pitcher of cream.
“Hej!” greets a smiling man at the counter,
startling me out of my past. I smile back,
point to the loveliest bun I see, pour
self-serve coffee into an Ikea cup,
sit at a table with a real cloth, pretend
that all the dolls grew up and left
a still-beloved house, and I want
nothing but my mother, sitting with me.
OUT AMONG THE GRASS AND THISTLES
cows graze between the rune stones, raised
to honor noble deeds, making milk.
Even the white chickens, upon whom so much
also depends, embody importance,
dwarf my daily laying of vowels,
consonants, churnings of a scavenging
mind. As if feeding a hunger I cannot control,
I toil every waking hour and even half-asleep
to crack the mystery of gravel in a crop
grinding grain, grubs, insects, dust
into something noble and whole.
from the Greek, maieutikos: “to act as a midwife”—
the name that Socrates gave his method for bringing
forth implicit understanding
Seated near the cafe window
a woman stares at the sea and sways.
She stays this way for two hours.
The quivering of her hijab
Turning spent eyes on me, she asks,
how much costs it to leave the island?
I believe she’s mistaken me
for a local with a boat
or answers for everything,
until I see that she’s pregnant.
Instinct tells her I, too,
am an outsider, heavy with turmoil.
Is this what my grandmother meant
whenever she muttered: it’s hard to be human?
Sooner or later, we're all
buffeted to the margins—
pregnancy, marriage, war—
all the mergings and expulsions
that we are made in, die in, risk
unknown borders for.
I admit: I don’t know
what it costs to leave the island.
I lean toward her and ask
if she would like to walk with me
down to the budding harbor?
We stand and sway
under quivering calyxes
of May, braving crisis.
SABBATICAL IN A SWEDISH HANSEATIC CITY
Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment
it is being created.
The open, deep-welled windows
of our rented 17th-century house
home, like ears, to hourly bells
of a medieval cathedral,
while across the hand-hewn
cobbles, clapping luggage wheels
In the bed, the snores of my husband
sound like bombs being dropped.
The dreaded siren rises from
passages inside his head and
where once I ran for cover, now
I hold his hand, quiet the implosions.
If the siren starts again, I sit up.
This is when I lie awake all night
listen to the tolling hours
and also, marvel over
how far we’ve come, in spite or
because of imperfect unions.
Some nights, my husband purrs.
His gentle whir, called spinning here,
secures my sleep and colors the insides
of my eyelids orange and pink like
petals of roses that weave among
the houses along our street. This is when
I wake with the sun and the cooing
of a dozen doves. Who was it who
said: whoever tells the best story wins?
At the window, I see their stained-glass
breasts, like jewels that some peaceful
giant set into the World Heritage wall
that rings our middle-ages town.
Computer maintenance was not among
my criteria for a husband, father of my child.
Back then, who could have imagined
the life-or-death, love-and-hate
necessity of a screen?
Even now, I don’t know what that
means: computer maintenance.
Then again, he doesn’t know
what it means to write poems.
So imagine how I swooned
when I googled a thing he does:
a process of locating small parts
and rearranging them into a whole.
It made me go and fling my
arms around him, my maintenance
man, transforming file into life—
my poet by another name!