All the great voyagers return
Homeward as on an arc of thought;
Home like a ruby beacon burns
As they crest wind, scale wave, soar air;
All the great voyagers return,
Though we who wait have never done
Fearing the piteous accidents,
The coral reef sharp as the bones
It has betrayed, fate’s cormorant
Unleashed, whose diving’s never done.
Even the voyager of mind
May fail beneath behemoth’s weight;
Oh, the world’s bawdy carcass blinds
All but the boldest, rots the sails
And swamps the voyaging of the mind.
But all the great voyagers return
Home like the hunter, like the hare
To its burrow; below, earth’s axle turns
To speed their coming, the following fair
Winds bless their voyage, blow their safe return.
We are back. Our home, the polite stranger we had no time to befriend last summer, was still standing upon our return. It has taken much time and effort but it is starting to look familiar when I turn in the driveway, walk in the door. I missed the apricots, but after my daughter is asleep I’ve been scalding bushels of tomatoes, slipping them from their skins still warm like bloody hearts, and easing them into jars for the freezer. I appear to be fated to carry this summer with me as long and far as I can.
Last summer the back garden was a jungle of goldenrod, volunteer garlic and wild mint, which you have to pull and pull, the roots emerging unwillingly from the ground, connected to plants yards away. It perfumed the air as I disentangled it from the daylilies and tossed it on the waste pile.
In the lowest part of the yard, under the elderly peach tree, we will plant grass seed and hope for the best. On the evenings when I haven’t been indoors dealing with the season’s bounty I rake the old mulch laid by some previous gardener. Three inches under the topsoil the tines scrape against innumerable aged bricks. I feel under the dirt with my gloved fingers, trying to locate an edge to pry. But the bricks disintegrate at the slightest pressure, and I come up with a handful of shards, like the disconnected fragments of a night’s worth of dreams. On the weekend, everything will be covered over with a truckload of topsoil, and whatever clay I’ve missed will lie undisturbed.
Surrounded as I am by familiar objects, shops, geographies, the past year seems like something I hallucinated. Because I’m so grateful to sever myself from the stresses of life abroad, it’s easy to forget what it was really like, what kind of a person linguistic isolation and young parenthood revealed me to be. How important is it to remember? Of what consequence is all that which I would prefer to leave buried? For now I have my photographs, and my gratitude. But there will be a time when they will not be enough, and I will have to dig, and look carefully, sharply, at what comes to the surface.