Getting back there

In my first week in Sysmä, I sleep for seventy hours. I notice nature makes the exact right amount of noise. I notice: wind in the spruces, a family or crew or gang of seagulls nesting in the theatre’s roof, the smaller, chirpier birds, and this is the exactly right amount of noise for me not to be distracted by either silence or a specific sound. I take a walk on the small almost-island of Ohrasaari on my first day, upon arrival, a dense little bulk of forest on the outskirts of the department store, on the edge of the river, there’s still patches of snow on the paths inwards. They are glittery, confined and sprinkled with dry fir needles to look like Christmas-wrap. Where the sun touches it a couple of steps closer to the water, the ground is warm enough to lie down on it. I almost fall asleep, but don’t. I am more tired these days than I have been in a long while, but there’s time here.  

By the end of the day I notice a thing I will later call the phone-buzzing factory. I don’t know it’s a factory yet. After fifty of my seventy hours of sleep I notice the “looming cold” I’d been writing about in my notebook on my first night is a Covid-infection.

The sky was slowly darkening when we flew into Helsinki, I could still see the bigger patches of snow in the landscape, the coast, the infrequency of houses on the outskirts, last lights at almost eleven pm, I don’t think I have truly been alone in the past twelve months, I don’t think I truly remembered days this long. The flight attendant hands me blueberry juice in a paper cup. I nibble at its rim until it softens, as I always have been. I’ve been calling myself exhausted for some time now. When we hit the ground and get off the plane everything is blue. I understand no words safe for those addressed directly to me. I take a bus the next day, then another, one of my headphones is broken, so I listen to early 10s indie, note down how vegetation and architecture grow around oceans because the coastal region reminds me of the Baltic in Germany where my grandparents live, I might be wrong about all of this, the population decreases with each change of vehicles, I text my friend Hendrik from the second bus and he teaches me words via WhatsApp.  

During the last two years, I had grown a bit defiant towards things that I know do me good: walks, writing, unoccupied time, vegetables and movement, to name only a few. That’s different here because nobody watches or cares or wants me to deliver at anything else I might need my writing and walking and exercise for, as a tool for functioning. So I resume walks. I share Villa Sarkia with Tuuli and find out the meaning of her name by accident, in a German book about linguistic theory I brought from home. We take turns in having a good day for writing and a bad one. There is a sound like a buzzing smartphone, audible all over town at all times, numb and steady. On one of my walks I find out it comes from a factory. I had been reading Roberto Bolaño’s „The Savage Detectives“ before coming to Finland. All the characters are poets and on some to all levels malfunctioning and so touchingly sweet and lost and want to get rid of themselves and come to Villa Sarkia still very much stirred up by all their semi-fictional existences. I wonder who’s been here before. We have all been alone for a while, we have all been so strangely tired for a while, everyone around me has seemed so silently determined for a while, had disappeared somewhat into outcomes. I had forgotten how it hurts, sometimes, for everyone I know, I had forgotten how personal this becomes, how everyone I know takes walks, circles the phone-buzzing factory for hours and stares at paper and stares at their hands and nibbles their fingernails soft until they get up and leave, check for the town outside and make plans: I will go on a trip soon, I will check out the Petfood-and-Shoe-Shop next to the bookstore soon, I will check out the Finnish Accordion Museum soon, once I’ve finished this page, this poem,  done my dues, how there is never enough of all the time in the world even though you miss home and you bore and you have written a couple of really nice poems, actually, and seen four different brown hares or the same brown hare four different times, and you sleep only eight hours per night now and feel refreshed when you wake, but you have not walked the entirety of that hiking trail you discovered one of your first evenings and decided to get back to when it is not getting dark.

On my last day I skim the guestbook for entries in languages I understand, and get stuck. Today, one month after leaving, I dreamt of a version of those four weeks in which I didn’t write but only roamed the area, discovered its every inch. There was a weird hotel by a lake a huge group of writers and I went to. I couldn’t find my room because I couldn’t find the stairs that led to it. It has been spring for the entirety of my stay. I want to meet everyone from the guestbook, talk to the people who came here in winter. There’s plants growing on my balkony now, a motorcycle down on the street, I switched my phone to silent mode but keep it in view.

Josefine Berkholz, Mai 2022


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