Keeping Quiet While Crossing Borders
I could give all to Time except—except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There
And what I would not part with I have kept.
……………………………….— Robert Frost, “I Could Give All to Time”
The border I knew best as a child was halfway over the swinging
bridge in Provo Canyon, between Wildwood and the Sundance road,
just opposite Dr. Weight’s place. Beneath it, white-cold waters from
the diminishing glacial edges of Mt. Timpanogos fell, jumbled along
the North Fork, then moved on to mark other boundaries further
downstream. Still do. I hopped across that bridge at least once most
days in summer. Never tried to stop and guess its measure. Never
thought about who put it there for us or what we were supposed to
learn midstream, midair. Rather, I lived each crossing in adventurous
leap toward some kind of nervy limbo, rising, as the unsteady bridge
pushed back, lofted me up, away, whenever another child jumped on
the tread I was walking on—like riding the ruffle in a sheet tossed
to fit a bed. I swear I stood on air then. Imagined I was taken across
borders to parts of the world unknown to me, some nowhere, seeking
things to remember far from that small canyon’s walls. Where was I
then? I was whole there, but felt an unseen line divide me, send my
strong half forward, out and away, curious, to the twisting browncobbled
lanes, the spice sense, the sliding afternoon shadows of
Gizenga Street in Old Stone Town, Zanzibar, or the shredding and
crushing, the angry ripping apart, the ten Chinese words for death
scribbled in the night air, tracer arcs spat from rifles in Tiananmen
Square, or the medieval chalk figures, the peace of green, in the
beech-covered hills at Wandlebury near Cambridge. My other half
was held, timid, nearer home, family, savouring the firecrackers we’d
buy after we’d visited the frog pond, or the mid-day sun softening,
then melting a drop at a time, the five-cent Popsicles we bought from
Mrs. Offret at her rustic country store on Highway 189, or the moist
warmth of our breath as we sat close together, three at a time, in the
caboose of the Little Red Wing Train at Wildwood, rueing the day we
would grow too big to ride there. I have always tried to live this way,
passed over borders resolutely, though looking back over my shoulder,
then forward again, nurturing each time two views from the same
place, trying to keep quiet about the memories I carried with me as I
crossed back to safety even if someone asked where I had been, what
I had brought, even if what I remembered was thought
to be contraband, forbidden.
Simon Peter Eggertsen was born in Kansas, raised in Utah, schooled in Virginia and England, has degrees in literature, language and law (BYU, Virginia, Cambridge). He recently retired from a career of teaching and work in international public health and now lives in Montreal. He came late to poetry. His verses have been published in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, Vallum (Canada), Atlanta Review, Ekphrasis, FreeFall (Canada), New Millennium Writings, The Antigonish Review (Canada), Weber: The Contemporary West, Dialogue and elsewhere.
A set of four of his poems won the Irreantum Prize for Poetry (2012). Others have either been shortlisted for the Fish Poetry Prize (Ireland, 2013, 2014, 2018), Poem of the Year (ARC, Canada, 2013), the FreeFall Poetry Prize (Canada, 2019) and the Bridport Prize (UK, 2019) or named as finalists for the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry (Nimrod, 2009), the Far Horizon Poetry Prize (Malahat, Canada, 2014), the Open Season Poetry Prize (Malahat, 2017), and the Great Blue Heron Poetry Prize (The Antigonish Review, Canada, 2018).
This poem was originally published in Vallum issue 10:2 Reflections.
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