Sofia, age 23, from Siberia:
processed in Ellis Island, 1921;
destination Gackle, North Dakota.
You have to wonder.
Gackle, North Dakota:
founded in 1904;
located at 46°37′38″N, 99°8′36″W:
not even the middle of nowhere.
Population (1920): 424.
Population (1950): 606.
Population (2016): 291:
not exactly Boomtown ND.
Things to do in Gackle ND:
ˮGackle is home
to the Gackle Public Libraryˮ –
that is about the extent of it.
They must be doing
an awful lot of reading
up there in Gackle, ND.
And you have to wonder:
Did she find her home there?
Was it worth the loss of loved ones,
the heartbreak of exile, the long journey
all the way from Siberia – to Gackle, ND.
in a hurry
as you can see:
straining forward –
but the entrance
on the opposite side.
You wake up in a leafy street at dusk – it might
be Cambridge, Massachusetts: wide sidewalks,
separated from the street by strips of lawn;
white porches, pastel clapboard mansions
with wooden pillars propping up solid suburbia.
A yellow house pours honey-coloured light
from every window. On a gentle tide of voices,
music, laughter, clinking glasses you wash up
against the Doric columns of the open entrance
and are swept inside. Past the grand staircase
with its sweeping banisters you drift through
rooms with crimson sofas, Tiffany lamps, tight
crowds of people lost in conversation, out
on a balcony where girls in flapper dresses
smoke black Sobranies, and in the library
men drinking rye talk baseball scores.
Notes floating from a grand piano draw you
to a ballroom where a boy in white tuxedo
and a girl in red glide dreamily across the floor,
oblivious to your silent passing. Lured by
a hallway’s chequer board of black and white
you sink into the dark recesses of the house.
The happy din of voices dies away; the grand
piano tinkles to a stop; the muffled sound
of car doors slamming, then the hectic play
of headlights on the walls; and you remain,
a shadow drifting noiselessly from room
to room, turning the lights out one by one.
Some people say an ancient race landed
a spaceship here a thousand years ago.
They sent out scouts; explored the land;
settled, and tilled the soil. Then famine came,
and war. All memory ends here.
The travellers are gone; their ship, forgotten.
Until tonight. Tonight I walk the length
of the great hull. Anchored by buttresses,
pinned down by rusty scaffolding, it lies
a prisoner under an alien sky, the spire
straining to make contact with the stars.
A late car passes in the rain. Lights flicker
on the walls. I hear the swish of tyres
on wet tarmac; the hum of mighty engines
waking up. The ship is stirring. Timber
creaks; a finial falls, a flying buttress
scatters Purbeck stone, the sheer sides
soar up, vanish into space –
I shut my eyes – and it is nothing –
just a tale – as insubstantial as the wind
that shakes the chestnut trees and chases
leaves across the black, deserted Close.
Set up the tripod
set a long exposure
of ancient hills
the moon’s trajectory
and if a farmer crossed
a cyclist passed
before the lens
as if they’d never been
Exposed to time man disappears
I had no say in this matter.
At no point was there any consultation.
I was not properly briefed,
nor were the risks pointed out to me.
No mention was made of responsibilities,
and no, I did not sign
on any kind of dotted line.
I was not given an itinerary,
and I never saw a bill of fare –
and if I had, I have a pretty good notion
it would’ve been the kind without prices.
And now, out of the blue, you have the gall
to ask me to pay for the trip?
I’ll admit: it had its moments,
and I’m not saying all of it was not worth it –
but I draw the line at coughing up
for a stone and inscription, too.