When I conceived of the idea behind the name of this blog, it felt a bit cheeky- an inside joke with myself of a life lived en route. At the time, I found myself a tea-wallah, jettisoning from one end of the country to the other all in the name of flavonoids and theanine.
During the pinnacle of those traveling years, I found myself in New York often, getting to experience the city as an adult not as a pre-teen on a family trip. The city pulsated with energy from the street providing its own soundtrack to the veritable throng of people packed onto sidewalks moving forward. In New York, something ignited inside of me- you can’t help but be thrust into the fire. Its energy feeds your own. Anything can happen there and that sense of possibility can catapult you into the unexpected if you let it.
Once, after wrapping up a gift trade show and packing away our exhibit and teas, I hustled over to a reading across town celebrating Galway Kinnell’s birthday, hosted by other famed poets like Gerald Stern. I squeezed my way into the back of the lecture hall and waited in line four people behind actress Michelle Williams as she gushed her appreciation for his work before it was my turn to wish him a happy birthday and get my book signed.
Another time, after attending a Q&A chat between Eater founder Ben Leventhal and Frank Bruni, I learned Anthony Bourdain was signing books. Without thinking about it too much, I wormed my way into that line, getting a book signed for Olga, a big Bourdain fan.
The city lives in transit and somehow in my mind’s eye when I think of it now as I’m back in the city by the Bay, New York City waits awake and diligent in the night for the coming morning and the people that will polka dot its streets and subway channels.
The energy that made my pulse quicken while in New York City ripples through Malena Mörling’s collection “Astoria“. She references cars, trains, bicycles and walking. She is writing as if in transit and as you read her poems, you find yourself in transit too. But it doesn’t stop there. Her language is spare and evocative. It is full of questions that linger in the air. The destination is often unknown. The journey is heightened by the incidentals. It is in transit. In “If there is another world,” she posits “If there is another world, / I think you take a cab there- / or ride your old bicycle / down Junction Blvd.”
After selecting a graduate studies program for poetry, I found myself surrounded by poets I admired and whose work I respected including Malena Mörling. While we never had a chance to work together beyond a workshop or two, her easy and observant manner made her someone whose company I enjoyed as we both shared a love of travel, art and international poetry.
Many of her poems in “Astoria” are set in an urban landscape and where some might write an easy gritty backdrop, instead she finds beauty in unexpected places. From “131st Street”:
“Or it is possible you’ll glimpse in passing / a warm and loving exchange / between two strangers / reflected / for a single moment / in an ornate bureau mirror / traveling on a flatbed truck / stopped at a red light here on 131st Street-”
Underneath the everyday rubric are the metaphysical insights like this one from “Wallpaper” where she connects world to self: “On one hand, / the wallpaper / of the world / and the wallpaper / of the mind / are separate / layers of / what is seen / and unseen.
One of the reasons I suggest reading “Astoria” as part of my curated reading list during National Poetry Month is her ability to transform the mundane into the magical by entertaining wonder and curiosity. And aren’t we all in need of a bit of wonder and curiosity? I think it’s not something that is actively encouraged or cultivated enough as adults.
“It’s amazing / we’re not / more amazed. / The world / is here / but then it’s gone / like a wave / traveling toward / other waves.”