Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Though I grew up in central Poland, in Łódź and Warsaw (primarily Warsaw), and central Poland is totally flat, I always loved mountains. My first experience of beauty happened as I was standing at the edge of a Carpathian meadow, looking at the radiant crescents of the hills.

Nevertheless, there was one aspects of living in a flat place that I did appreciate: away from the buildings, it was possible to see the horizon, that blurred, unreal gray line where the sky and the earth meet.

How Horizons Work

From red desert cliffs I tried
to touch the rim of the sky –
I wanted to see the earth
curve – but a far-off ridge
prevented the horizon.

The scenery is too rich.
Horizons require
a routine of plains,
the discipline of sameness.
My students can’t comprehend.
Their lives are vertical. 
One wrote: “As I stand
at the tip of the horizon. . .”

The poetry of ignorance . . .
Even standing on tips of things,
one sees much, but not far. 
Hills and houses insist
on separate angles.
Most days not even clouds
to tuck in the corners.

An American tourist
remarked about Warsaw:
“Beautiful, but completely flat.”
In school we took a field trip
to study the horizon.
we walked to the railroad tracks,
saw parallel lines that met
in a blur of gray,
which the teacher said wasn’t
infinity, but would do.

That’s where everything
waited, in the blue-gray
infinity that wasn’t there,
but would do – always the same
distance apart, like the future.
Now only from far away, at night,
the cities still continue,
with their maps of lights.

~ Oriana (c) 2010


Marjorie Rosenfeld, who grew up in the Midwest, writes this:

I think people are most comfortable with the topography they grew up with.  My paternal grandfather came from Brody, Galicia (now Brody, Ukraine).  When I was doing research for my Brody Web site and read the Brody portion of Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland in 1839 (which I now have at the Web site), I was struck by this:

Brody is situated in the midst of a sandy plain and is five miles distant from the Russian frontier.  So completely level is the country all around that the distant village of Potamkin is the only object beyond the town which arrests the eye.

I suddenly understood then why my grandfather had settled in Galesburg, Illinois, where I also spent the first 6 years of my life, spending the next 6 in Bloomington, Illinois, which is also flat, and then Chicago until I was 16.  Old Town, Alexandria, VA, where I was living before I moved here, is also very flat.  What was hardest for me to get used to about this area [San Diego County] was the topography.

When my family lived in Bloomington, we used to drive from Bloomington to Galesburg every Sunday to have dinner with my grandparents.  I was very susceptible to car sickness, and my father usually had to stop the car by the side of the road at least once between Bloomington and Peoria, where we broke our trip to have a cream soda with my Great Uncle Will (my grandmother's brother) and Aunt Carrie.  We finally discovered that there was a particular hard candy with a strong citrusy flavor I could suck to help the car sickness, especially if I sat in the front seat with the small side window that cars used to have turned in so that the air was blowing directly on me.  On the way back from Galesburg at night, though, my father let me lie down in the front seat and put my head on his lap while he drove.  I never got sick then.

Your poem [“How Horizons Work”] reminds me of one I wrote while living in the Washington, D.C. area for a friend who kept leaving her husband and going back.  She could never decide what to do, so it was an endless round of drama:
Getting Through

Because the train is crowded tonight, we sit backward. 
Someone said riding this way makes you sick. In fact,
I like it, facing where I was as destinations rush at me
behind my back.  You, Friend, would not love this ride,
who never will leave home and are afraid of walls,
welcome the way we break into sudden dazzling light
at Arlington Cemetery, or dip to the darkness of tunnels after.

You say your husband keeps you in but keeps you. 
Contemplating where I’ve been, the landscape whole
and opening up—wider all the time we go—I know tracks,
like lives, run parallel.  Still, at the end of the line, on any day
is a point whichever way you look where tracks meet. 

Supper tonight, alone or in company, means civil claret
and nourishment enough for one.  True, to be held back
and held is touching.  If you could choose some other trip,
what is the worst they could say of you: that you left, taking
no baggage with you, running free, new wine in an old cup?

~ Marjorie Rosenfeld


My favorite passage in this poem is

                                                            I know tracks,
like lives, run parallel.  Still, at the end of the line, on any day
is a point whichever way you look where tracks meet. 

-- I love the way poetry manages to convey the paradoxes of life, often simply by using an image. Is every image metaphoric? Yes and no. 

Marjorie has another fine poem about flatlands.  Below is an excerpt:

Nocturne in Texas Fields

We have lost our bearings
here, where no trees
define the limits of the land.
Only dim hills
hover along the edge
of ground and sky,
making their far shadows
on the sands of the fields,
blurring the borders of the mind.

And the mind,
leaps out. 
Let loose,
with too much space,
fancy riots. Reason,
stretched too wide,
runs thin. 
Divorced from the familiar,
out of place
in the immensity of landscape,
we are orphans on the earth's face.

    ~ Marjorie Rosenfeld 


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