Sounds of England

This also appears on The Miscellany News Far and Away blog here.

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins” 

-T.S. Eliot

These past few weeks have gone by in a blur as winter begins to slowly creep in and settle.  The semester is beginning its downward descent towards an end.  I can feel everything, even the weather, reaching towards a finish line I pray never comes.

I swear that nostalgia is a side effect of autumn because I have spent days wandering lost in thought since the air has become colder and my past is everywhere: on the pleated skirts of the school children as they walk home, on the untucked shirts of junior high boys, rattling the change in their pockets stopping for sweets on their way home.  And my friends have begun reminiscing about the time we’ve spent together. We talk fondly about our first weeks and how far we’ve come since then and what life will be like after each other.  We have fears. We wonder if we’ll stay in touch or if we’ll ever see each other again.  We wonder if after all this is over, we’ll just return to our lives back at home and forget about each other.  In a few short weeks, we’ve become so good at becoming each other’s homes, going back to our real homes, which should be the most familiar place, now seems like a huge step into the uncertain again.

I went to London a couple weeks ago for a breath of fresh air. Exeter has become too familiar to me; I’m settling in too comfortably now.  I’m at the point in my study abroad experience where I have the city mapped out by sound. I know where I am by what I hear, and Exeter is a serene song.  Its streets are set to a whimsical but quiet tune, with the beat of the street drummer on Sidwell Street gently setting the pace. But I’ve overplayed Exeter (almost as much as I’ve overplayed Sam Smith’s new album), so on a last-minute, impulsive whim I took a bus to London at 8 AM on a Wednesday looking for something new.

If Exeter sounds like a song, London sounds like a slam poem, and so being the poet I am, I grabbed my pen and paper and ran into her heart. She is short outbursts of feeling at every corner, endless sensation, a poem that you read in a book and then have to put down so you can think about it, mind explosions and turns of phrases that you don’t catch unless you’re really listening. The streets rhyme but in slant rhymes hidden in the middle rather than end rhymes, and I just ambled through them until I was numb.  London is a poem that’s intentionally a mess so you have space to lose yourself inside.

And I brought my own flavour to London, left a little bit of my poetry inside her.  Everyday was a new adventure as my messiness clashed with London’s messiness.  While there, I burned a cheese toastie which is arguably the easiest food to not mess up. I spilled coffee on my friend (sorry Tùng) and then bubble tea on myself.  But I’m surprising myself with my ability to laugh at myself, to shake off my failures, big or small, and move on.

My friend dropped me off in St. James’s Park on my last day in London, and from there I just walked until my head had no more space for London’s poetry. I had no plans and too much time to kill. (Read my last post and then make an educated guess about how well I planned this trip to London.) I returned to Exeter the following morning with much to think about, mind refreshed by the breath of fresh air.

I’d like to close with a poem inspired from an interaction I observed in London. It’s taken from my book “flesh” which is coming out at the end of this year.  I know I’ve said nothing about it, even though writing and editing this has been the focus of my study abroad experience, but as the semester starts to end, I think this poem really shows how much I’ve grown.  This semester has allowed me the breath of inspiration I’ve needed to make this happen, the space to rethink culture and language, and surprisingly, the ability to revive my Spanish speaking abilities. (My flatmate is from Spain.)  I can’t wait to share this project with you.

mira mira

mi amiga,
i love you so much
i want to be you.
god built you like manhattan,
reaching for the heavens
and curved just right
island girl beauty
mapped out in perfect grids
true beauty hidden in places
only locals would know
taste of multi-cultural flavor
spanish swirling off your tongue
like mexico was its mother,
my broken spanish too slow to keep up

“mira, sale el sol”

i look between gray buildings
and see only clouds.
you say are talking about me
but my beauty must be somewhere
my spanish can’t reach.

Kimberly NguyenComment