Last night, my daughter was reading aloud The Jumblies by Edward Lear (n.d.) while my wife was brushing her hair.
They sailed away in a sieve, they did,
In a sieve they sailed so fast
When I was a child, I was convinced for years that I was adopted. I questioned my father over and over again beyond the point of his breaking patience, which was always thin like a skin of treacherous late-season ice). I had a dream that I was handed over in a blanket on a dark night. Somewhere nearby there were fires burning and men’s voices yelling. The air was crackling with danger, with no time for explanations.
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a ribbon, by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast
I have a distinct memory of visiting family friends at a place that I thought might be my lost homeland. In my memory, there was this lake with weathered cottages and deep, secret backyards. There was slanting moonshine, the gospel humming of a fridge and the smell of an electrical storm approaching. “Yes,” I thought, “I remember all of this. This is the place I came from.”
And every one said who saw them go,
“Oh! won’t they be soon upset, you know?”
Throughout the years though, I found myself in other places that seemed equally familiar. These places were scattered like clues across whole continents. There was this valley of hot summer days where church towers and country fairs would rise up out of the ground. At night, all the tilt-a-whirl planets would spin through the sky with a sound like the susurrus of frogs. There was dark, fragrant forest with mushroom-ringed trees and wood smoke on the air. On an island in a distant part of the world, there was a city of wrought-iron balconies on shining-white buildings and a sound of women’s laughter drifting in the air. Every corner I turned there, I thought, would reveal the building I was born in.
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long
During the darkest times, that could span years at a time, I knew in my heart that this was home. My memory glimpses were nothing more than an illusion. During those days, nothing seemed familiar or right. Like a wounded animal, I wandered around in strange lands searching for a place to hide. I filled up my time with idle pursuits.
Even in my darkest places, the clues would wash up like beach glass at my feet. The clues were like truffles or fragments of pottery, they were buried all around me in poems, stories, overheard conversations, snatches of music -like gypsy jazz violin coming from a tenement window, or a man singing opera in the park.
Last night, my daughter was reading aloud, while my wife was brushing her hair. Suddenly, it occurred to me that home is the place you discover over and over again — strange and different, every time.
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green and their hands are blue;
And they went to sea in a sieve.
Lear, Edward (n.d.). The Jumblies. Edward Lear Home Page [web site] Retrieved May 16, 2005, from http://www.nonsenselit.org/Lear/ns/jumblies.html