On a train north, the landscape as bitter and biting as hops. Winter’s spice is in its edge, its intoxication in its long, dark ferment.
Snow falls, silent outside the window. It covers the ground like absence layering over memory, at once beautiful, and cold, and obscuring.
The heat of sleep evaporates in the late morning while the coffee steams, then cools. Morning light passes by the window without looking in.
I left Seattle rising up through the gray dough of the clouds. The plane shuddered and trembled as we broke through to sunshine.
Four hours later, it was already 7 pm and dark over Newark. Highways and houses showed as streams and points of electric light. We landed after a series of snaking left- and right-banks over the airport. The brakes threw us forward in our seats; the air on the ground tongued my skin, unusually warm and damp.
Waiting for the train into Manhattan, I ran into a student I knew. He was also coming back from winter break. We chatted on the platform. The train arrived hissing and we boarded, clumsy with our luggage. The train was full, and we sat with our bags wedged under our legs all the way to Penn Station.
I took a C train out to Brooklyn. Unlike most subway trains, which empty with each stop further out from the center, the cars maintained a steady population. I sat for a bit, then stood to check the map. I got off at Nostrand Avenue and walked toward the apartment with the light for me in it.
I woke up this morning in Bedford-Stuyvesant and listened to Liszt while writing email and drinking coffee. The morning went by slowly in easy conversations and silences. After S left for her presentation, I gathered up my things and headed back to Manhattan, this time for Grand Central and New Haven. The day had a bare sparkle to it, a patch of melt in the winter.
Returning, I found my room quiet and undisturbed. I left my bag unpacked, just for now; I placed a small polished stick given as a gift on the bookshelf and hung my rosary on its hook next to my keys; I filled up the water pitcher and made dinner from scraps—this is homecoming—homecoming achieved by serial processes, chains of small actions that began before the first departure and don’t end until the next preparation begins, so that leaving and arriving overlap, folding distance and time into each other.
Tomorrow will begin as if I hadn’t only just arrived, with the comforting imposition of a schedule and the unaffected blandishments of the ordinary. Shopping for groceries. Meetings. Laundry, and cleaning the kitchen. Day after day, until another year has filled out in a great returning arc, and other leave-taking and home-coming have been achieved in the same incremental way.