Awake

Awake at 4am,
the radiator whistling like
a Colorado windstorm.
I used to sleep through louder noises.

How tempting to seize the day,
having been given so many hours of consciousness
before the city stirs.
But the hours before sunrise are best left alone.

The streets are too wide without traffic;
the shuttered shops are reminders that
you are companionless in these moments.
Digital clocks advance noiselessly.

Instead, time is heard through the clatter of buses,
increasing perceptively as more lights alight.
I imagine bleary eyes fixed on coffee cups.
This is sunrise in the city.

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On trying to write a poem

It has been a long time since I have sat down to write, and as I stare at the blank page before me with only a few hurriedly typed, potentially inspirational notes topping the page, I try to remember how to write a poem. The beginning is always hard, when I feel that the entire poem should already be formed in my head, ready to emerge in complete form beginning with that first word. I hem and haw and decide that maybe I won’t write a poem, or maybe I have chosen the wrong topic about which to write my poem. I thought I wanted to write about winter, but perhaps I’ve been deluded by the persistent reminder of December, because it is not even 9 30 in the evening but the sun went down five hours ago, and the radiator is banging so loudly that one wonders if it might be better to just put on a third sweater instead. As soon as the radiators begin their insistent banging, the house heats up with great abandon, until someone runs back to the thermostat, and, like steering a large ship, tries to direct the air temperature on an acceptably straight course. Children never appreciate the joys of programmable thermostats when they have them. Winter, instead, was about snow and snow days and that feeling when you have just woken up and think that just maybe it snowed a whole lot the night before, and, ever so slowly, you lean out of bed and toward your window, hoping to see a tell-tale white shimmer instead of the typical dark gray shingles looking back at you. Too many times I have been fooled by roofs of very light gray, which, when one is hoping for snow, can seem to be the right color white for just a moment. There has only been one snow this winter, the kind that barely sticks to the ground and is gone by morning, but still causes flights to be canceled. If only that was as exciting as watching the long list of school cancelations scroll by on the television, and, just occasionally, rejoicing as a snowy day became a snow day.


Possessions

I thought I packed my bags for New Zealand with great care. Acquaintances who had lived in Wellington told me it would rain all the time, so I dutifully packed my galoshes, two pairs of cowboy boots, my happy lamp, and optimistically brought a single pair of sandals. Glancing at the temperature climatology the night before I left, I noted that the temperature never seemed to rise above 68F and unpacked all my skirts and shorts, and all my dresses except one. In their place, I put in three fleeces and a rain coat. I topped a bag off with my favorite cookbook, sure that I would be able to cook like a vegetarian Julia Child after my first year of living on my own.

The truth is that it is sunny more than it rains, and I’ve never needed my galoshes. My happy lamp requires American voltage, a detail I failed to ponder before jetting across the Pacific. I have acquired five dresses, four skirts, and two pairs of shorts, and have burned through three pairs of ballet flats. My yoga mat that I bought here has been of more use to me than my three fleeces, and I cannot remember what I was thinking when I packed my yak-traks. I still cook the same way I did when I left, although I’ve learned how to make some very unhealthy Kiwi desserts.

Now I find myself pondering how to get these things back to Boulder with me, and then how to get them to Cambridge by August. How tempting to leave it all here, and return with only a backpack. But then I remember that my trust hiking boots never give me blisters, and I love the ‘clack’ of my cowboy boots on the pavement, and my happy lamp will keep me going through the Cambridge winter. The comforter and sleeping bag that I bought here keep me warm, and my rain jacket keeps me dry.

And so I know that I will step off the plane in Los Angeles with the same giant green suitcase that came with me on the first leg of my trip, and a magenta backpack that replaced its fraying predecessor. I’ll feel that I have too much to carry, but I won’t know what to leave.


Sketches of Aro Valley

I.
He sits on a folding chair that is too small,
and watches, motionless, as businessmen and techies walk past;
their attire broadcasts their affiliation.
He wears a gray knit sweater, loose around his thin frame,
and glasses that are perfect for peering over as he surveys his kingdom
full of “one of everything”; items that are “unique and affordable.”
He observes a curvaceous woman as she struggles to maneuver
between carefully yet precariously piled books, themselves supporting
enormous film posters concealing piles of abandoned appliances.
He says they all still work, and always guarantees a full refund if your purchase
is not to your liking.
This seems a generous offer from a junk shop. But I don’t think
he sees the same shop as I do, filled with random pieces.
He has constructed an empire of objects.

II.
Like a parade of ants bearing too much of a load,
the young students cradle 12 packs of cheap beer
in their skinny arms, propelled forward by skinny legs in skinny jeans.
The uphill journey is long.

III.
The sun only warms one side of the street,
so I find myself there
like a cat moving lazily through the day.
Black coffee in white ceramic
resting on roughly hewn wood.
The smell of freshly baked bread.
There is warmth in the winter sun.


First Landing

Today is the one-month mark until I leave New Zealand. Along the lines of the project Andrea and I started during our last month at Harvard of writing poetry together every day, I wanted to reflect on my time here through writing. Here is the first of (hopefully) many posts about scenes of New Zealand.

Although the flight across the Pacific, from Los Angeles to Auckland, is over 12 hours long, the requisite jetlag is essentially non-existant. The journey always begins after dark on the eastern side of the ocean, and ends as dawn breaks on the small island that is New Zealand. If you are lucky enough to sleep through the flight, you will wake up after a night’s sleep to find a friendly Air New Zealand flight attendant serving you breakfast and to realize that you have lost a day of your life when the plane flew smoothly across the international date line. I, for one, have never been so lucky to fall asleep on planes, so instead found myself watching the latest Pixar creation and a chick-flick that I had seen once before. My fragile emotional state, induced not by leaving home but by an almost-cancelled flight and a visa debacle, prevented me from subjecting myself to anything but fluff in my film choices. After exhausting those options, I watched the small image of our plane slowly passing above the ocean bathymetry, no land in sight, and the date changed from July 4 to July 6 in less than a blink. A kind man directed me toward a short tourist video about Wellington, my new home about which I knew almost nothing, which strangely featured a blond American girl spending money with abandon at stores and restaurants that I, to this day, associate with those first digital glimpses of this town. Her long hair and stylish clothes were wind-blown.

The exit from a long international flight can best be described as a stumble, and in this state I entered New Zealand. The biosecurity signs loomed from above, so I nervously checked my bags again and again to ensure that I had not brought an offending piece of hand fruit into the country without knowing it. I was surprised to find that both hiking boots and running shoes were also a risk; in order to have them cleaned, I had to extract them from my carefully packed suitcase under the watchful eyes of an older gentleman, part of the intimidating biosecurity team. Of course the boots were on the bottom. Under every pair of underwear I brought. On the plus side, my boots left the airport cleaner than they ever will be again.

For being the biggest city in New Zealand, the Auckland airport is surprisingly small. After a short walk through the early morning air between the domestic and the international terminal, I found my saving grace in the first coffee shop I saw. I ordered an americano, and the greasiest breakfast option I saw behind the counter. The woman smiled, and asked me if I meant a long black. So began a very pleasurable education in New Zealand coffee terms, where an espresso is a short black, an americano a long black, and a better version of the latte is found in the flat white. I took a picture of my first meal in New Zealand. It was delicious.

I’ve been to many airports here since my first experience in Auckland: Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown, Nelson, Auckland again. They all seem familiar now, in their smallness and their ease. I have not thought back on my first landing in Auckland before now, and it’s strange to think how much was unknown then. At least my coffee education began early, so I could order like I knew what I was doing from the beginning.