The second time we met, you took me to herd reindeer
in the borderlands between Norway and Finland.
A Sámi tradition, you said, and everything around us
had the quiet space of moons. Winter held the north
in an ethereal dark blue, stars breathing
through spirals in the sky. Beyond us, light
glowed from the sorting ring, reindeer
orbiting, hooves on packed snow like thunder.
The closest I’ve been to death
is what you showed me, sacred autopsy
on the deer laid in front of you.
Blade in hand, you showed me beauty and heat
in each part of the body. You said there’s nothing
like the heart—around us, darkness
bent in crests of waves.
Before I left, we went to a pasture to see the rest of the herd.
A stranger to this edge of the earth, I followed you
until shadows swallowed us whole. I had never been
so cold, swimming through the ink jar
Arctic, land spilling into sky.
I slipped on the slick ice and you steadied me.
The field seemed empty, but we heard the uneven pulse
of their breathing—a stampede circling
clockwise, the glint of a hundred eyes,
the face of something invisible
looking back at us.
Over dinner, my history professor from years ago
tells me about the grass in Auschwitz,
how one day it will grow and grow
and no one will stop it. He has returned
from his annual visit, and cherry blossom foam
is spilling on the streets.
I feel the wine in my cheeks, watch shadows creep
over the patio as the day grows
dark. We’re eating goose liver, Hungarian style,
and the past feels like a boat
that’s drifting too far out to sea.
Later, walking down Andrassy, he shows me
rows of empty buildings gutted
during the war, and we make up stories,
rebuilding a house
called memory. All around us
is the pressing hand of change.
We pause to stare at the decay,
and it’s the kind of heartbreak that haunts me
in my sleep. All night I dream
of ways in which the world is lost—
an unspoken thought, a letter dropped,
all the words that we forgot.
Places We Slept
In a poetry translator’s attic on a floor of mattresses, Dutch literature stacked to the ceiling. At night, windstorms shook the house, but we stayed warm under borrowed quilts.
A squatter’s building turned commune, bike frames stacked in corners, unfinished murals painted on the walls. Floorboards that creaked and creaked. Four stories down, punk bands shouted us to sleep.
A couch below a window in an artist’s apartment, so each afternoon we slept through illuminated the stillness of the room, the empty canvases leaning against the wall.
On the plastic seats of the S-Bahn, dressed in black clothes and cigarette smoke as we moved west through Berlin. The sun was rising, but in that city the days had no beginning or end.
In the car after visiting the art museum by the sea, pushed into sleep by the hum of the motor, the sunset at 3:30 in the afternoon. I dreamed of Kusama’s infinity rooms, the mirrors and light we walked through pulling me in.
In an apartment with a fireplace and books about the moon. We danced to sad music in the living room until the record spun static—the fire never lasted, but our wine supply did.
On the train as the landscape flashed by, and when I closed my eyes it felt like we were underwater. The world framed in the window was dark but it would soon be morning, and we were far from what we called home.