This weekend I was invited back to Stavanger by a new friend of mine. I have to admit to being a little reticent. We’d lived in Stavanger in 1996 and 97 and it had not been a happy time for a number of reasons. Rather than ‘pining for the fjords’ as the Norwegian blue parrot did so famously in Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch, we were pining for the wadis of Oman. Maybe.
Going back was difficult. Not because it brought back bad memories but because, this time I saw the place with new eyes and felt sad for not noticing and guilty for my betrayal. This poem is one step towards putting right that wrong. It was videoed spontaneously on my iphone against a dry stone wall on the property of Maggie Myklebust, author of the American-Norwegian memoir Fly Away Home.
Stavanger, I am sorry
I never felt your sun,
nor saw the way it licked the rooves
and white-washed walls
until they shone like stars.
I’m sorry that I never heard
the scalloped fjords
scuff their shores
while in silence they would sigh and stretch
until their fingertips touched land.
My bones ache with regret
that my veiled eyes
were blinded then by memories –
of brighter sun, a warmer shore, a bluer sky –
so strong, like clouds, they hid your technicolour beauty.
To me, back then,
younger and more foolish,
my jaw was clenched against sweet sentences,
eyes narrowed into bitter slits
that refused to see the light,
as a toddler’s tantrum lingers, though the ball’s now in his hands.
It’s fifteen years since I gladly waved goodbye
to a cold, damp year
that had left my soul screaming for sustenance
while a groaning table
had lain there all along.
I had never looked beyond the window
of my home-made prison.
Today, renewed and wiser,
I see the gift of blossom
that’s lingering in June,
of clematis thick with pastels
and white peonies with a thicker scent
than I have ever known
and so I must record these thoughts –
and drag my eyes from waving trees, plump lambs
that trot on tussocked hills strewn
with rocks painted in lichen’s rich Tuscan hues, the
buttercupped fields, the dips
and folds, the soaring fells that cluster
shoulder to shoulder round the fjords –
but I cannot bear to tear my eyes
from this, down to the page, lest
I miss a morsel of this Norwegian feast.
3 June 2013, on the 10.01 Stavanger-Egersund tog