In Stuttgart the busses and trains are full of poems. They paste them on the walls above the seats and I like to read them, partly because I love poetry, partly because I love German, and partly because I really need to keep practicing my German and reading poems in transit is an efficient way to do it amid the flurry of life with two small children.
We don’t have a car and sometimes I’m short on reading time, so I spend a lot of time on our neighborhood bus and I’ve treasured many of these poems. I always mean to google them when I get home and save them somewhere special, but I usually forget. The bus poems are one of the many things I will miss when we leave Germany this June. My husband has received a truly ideal job offer as a school principal in a region of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom. We are excited to move our young family there; the area has captured our imaginations and I’m sure our hearts will be quick to follow. However, we’re now steeped in the craziness of moving ourselves, two kids, and a dog back across the ocean. The many tasks are mind-numbing and hard to balance against our natural desire to make the most out of every moment here before we leave.
With this job offer, our time in Germany, but also our time of living in many different places, comes to a close. We will always love to travel, but living, settling, is different, and that will now happen in Vermont. A lot of people have good-naturedly said things like, “well, here you go again!” I don’t blame them, but we are entering into this move the way you enter into a marriage. It’s not a step to anywhere but itself. And while this is a good thing, it naturally makes me reflect on the many moves that precede it.
I’ve lived on four continents in my adult life, more than I ever thought I’d even see. It has been my good fortune but also my heartache. A character in one of John Cheever’s many strange and wonderful stories says, “When you’re in one place and long to be in another, it isn’t as simple as taking a boat. You don’t really long for another country. You long for something in yourself that you don’t have, or haven’t been able to find.” The statement rung partly true but also puzzled me until today, when I realized that in my case, the things in myself I always look for are, in fact, the pieces of myself which have surprisingly grown and taken hold in all the different places I’ve lived, and which will never leave me.
All this brings me to my all-time favorite bus poem, written by Rutger Kopland, which I saw again this week. I read it in German, of course, and only learned after finally remembering to google it that Kopland is from the Netherlands and it was originally written in Dutch.
Here, then, is my own translation of the translation:
by Rutger Kopland
Going away is something different
than slipping out of the house,
gently closing the door
behind that which you are,
and not coming back.
You remain someone
who is waited for.
Going away you can describe
as a type of staying. Nobody
waits, because you are still there.
Nobody says goodbye
because you are not going away.
If Kopland has it right, which I think he does, my nostalgia makes sense. Wherever I go, a small part of me lives elsewhere too, and probably always will.