City of Bridges
And groping arms and thick strong legs; city of salmon-pink and dusty-orange buildings; and boats and bicycles and busses; subway cars that climb out of the ground in Gamla Stan, Old Town, to a tangle of crooked, cobbled side streets and the monkfish mouths of muted alleys.
Stockholm. City of the brackish Baltic Sea, where bare-breasted women sidestroke the gentle currents of the quiet canals and old men fish for herring near the castle. The city that took me in at twenty-two and refuged me for ten years more: invandrare, in wanderer, legal alien, where I grew a second tongue that struggled with certain sounds that resembled the shh in hush now baby don’t you cry, but wasn’t. Where I grew up, grew teeth; grew a pair; grew snakes from my head—harmless; grew a new heart for every old heart I’d lost under solitary lampposts on the south side of town, near the shops that sold vintage guitars and that cluttered used bookstore, where I found James Baldwin, ex-patriot, queer, who had discovered what it means to be an American, in Paris, in Sweden, in a dog-eared paperback, in English.
City of red busses running on time, from Slussen to Hasseludden, to Benny’s house, to every room a view of the sea; where we slept in on Saturdays and woke to white boats ferrying summer tourists and the morning paper and strong coffee, new potatoes in summer, lilacs in spring, and fish stew laced with saffron, heavy on the cream. Then Benny died of that virus and his house caught fire from a bird nest in the wires. An accident, the fire crew said, no one to blame; smoke damage only, the structure remained sound.
My city: stalwart, patient, knowing I have been faithful in my absence, knowing I will return one day, after dogwood but before lilac, to seek out the place where I first heard the blackbird sing with a woman who could never be true but whom I loved nonetheless. There, I will take stock of my life outside its city walls, these years of return, the hero’s call come to a comfortable close after all that fuss over umlauts and broken hearts, when all that really mattered were the canals and cobbled streets, the bridges I could never cross over. They were beautiful; they were all beautiful—like the decorative compass roses on outdated maps.