Gauntlets

Impasse

Amanda Jernigan

Sei allem Abschied voran: half

a line from Rilke’s Die Sonette
an Orpheus as my motto,

I rehearsed my elegiac art
(“be in advance of all parting”)

and won, I thought, with each song deeper,
until I stood before the keeper

in whom I’ve come to recognize myself.

***

(borrowed from here)

This year abroad marks the first time that I’ve sojourned somewhere: moved not with the intention of staying permanently, but with a definite date of departure. I have a home to return to, not an apartment in a converted house I’ve never seen in person. I will not have to remember to change my address anywhere important when we leave. We have a small shipping budget. Lord willing, I will not have to throw away things I should keep. And when I return, I will not be moving anywhere anytime soon.

This year has challenged me in unexpected ways, to the point that I often find myself casting my consciousness ahead like a fishing line to the time when I am home. Familiarities I wanted fiercely to escape await my return like a child’s dream of Christmas presents. They are all mundane: coffeeshops, bookstores with English books in them, clothes and shoes I packed away last summer and do not really miss, except in their remoteness.

But the grass is always greener, et cetera. It’s with certainty that I imagine myself discontented with our house’s dire lack of air conditioning two weeks into our return in August, and longing for the high ceilings and perpetually frigid stair of our German flat. Not to mention the pastries, the mountain, the river. I am trying to be in advance of my parting from Heidelberg in the healthiest way, balancing my anticipation of homecoming with everything good that is graspable here, lest my line wheel back to hook me, leaving a lingering, interior Schmiss. Last week I passed a man on the street with such a rent in his cheek and I almost stopped to ask him for a photo, but I was afraid of being mistaken for the tourist that I am.

I like this small Greek column of Jernigan’s. (I’m really looking forward to reading her collection, Groundwork. She and I share an alma mater, which delights me.) It is as good a prop as any for these next three months, even as I turn it over and over, puzzling it out. I read a warning in this poem that I’m trying to heed by walking the old city, smelling the flowers, pausing in front of the statuary. There is so much here that is beautiful. I need not part with it yet.

Poetry Wednesday

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3 responses to “Gauntlets

  1. I love that Rilke poem, which I suppose isn’t saying much since I love most Rilke poems. But it’s nice to see it here in another poem, words hidden in words, like the secret in Julia’s posted Poetry Wednesday poem. And I hope that you manage to stay ahead of all parting, if that is even possible.

  2. eggandspoonrace

    Kate, you have a way of consistently expanding my literary horizons. I like the poem and how great that the poet shares your alma mater. All of this resonates with me as we are also preparing to say goodbye to people and a place, although while in some ways I’m ahead, in other ways I’m way behind and even in denial. But I agree with you conclusion: there is no need to be anywhere but the present.

  3. Amber: I really need to read more Rilke, because everything I’ve read I’ve liked. I am fantasizing about a literary pilgrimage to Switzerland before we leave and Rilke’s grave might be one stop.

    Julia: I hope your preparations for moving are going well. I wouldn’t wish all the packing and organizing on anyone. I feel like I need to write a manifesto, or list of resolutions, for settling into an (essentially) permanent home to keep myself appreciating it after the adrenalin surge necessary for relocation subsides.

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