Human Geography I

I wake up to the glow of LEDs and the strident murmer of Radio Four - get up naked in the gloom - a plane to catch - my clothes piled on the landing, outside the room where my wife still sleeps - through the lifting fog I brush teeth and down pills - past dreaming kids, to the kitchen and kettle - a hurried tea and toast - out the door to the blue light of a city half awake - street where the taxi waits.

I am familiar with airports - feel at home there - know their codes and customs - I've learnt to read the signs - black on yellow - the two colours with maximum contrast - easy to see and follow. I stand in lines - know my place - unbuckle my belt - put my shoes in plastic trays - reveal my identity - know the difference between business and pleasure. I travel light with my MacBook Air
- check in online - know all the best seats - maximum pitch - extra legroom - exit rows.

I'm comfortable in airports - stripped of all decision-making powers - wile away the hours reading the business section or reviews of books I ought to read - watching planes through plate glass windows think of boyhood's Observer's Book of Aircraft
- my ability to recognize a plane undiminished.

Sometimes I think I'd like to stop - start relationships with sediments - dry stone walls. Write about ravens or rivers of ice cracking in glaciers. But nature's not my thing. I want to hear it sing - catch the ringing of eternity as a thrush breaks snails on stones. But I know I won't - these remain just facts and things.

My plane is boarding - number's called. I heft my bag - get in line - show my passport one last time. Weightless - make my way down the ramp into the plane and find my seat.


Consider a woman walking down some stairs. Its raining outside - the city tarmac glistens - it is cold for March - her head is full of poems, mountains she has climbed, meals she has cooked and shared, and a lover she has lost. Many years together with cats and dogs, recipe books and music they liked to listen to - walks they walked in forests, across islands, in snow, through desert sand by cactus plants - and the meals they shared - oh what meals, what perfect pumpkin soups, what farmhouse cheese, what singular oranges - and what salmon - especially salmon - from almost white to nearly red - fresh - smoked - salt as sea - sweet as toffee - somewhere - back home - cookbooks bear the stains of chocolate, wine, tomatoes - the fingerprints of a life together.

A man sits at the bottom of the stairs drinking beer and smoking. He doesn't usually smoke but cigarettes remind him of a woman he once knew. A woman who could shake the rain out of the air. Together they had travelled the world. Once, after making love in a caravan in Spain, they had shared a shower - impatient for his body she had led him back to bed still wet, and made love to him again. This moment filled his life - he wanted it back. Or - better yet - he wanted something better.

Imagine lines around the world - his lines - her lines - records of their lives that trace their every move. Their lines have crossed before in Amsterdam by the Rijksmuseum - in Bombay and San Francisco  - in New York City somewhere on the lower east side. They have both been in cars as they followed the Mississippi north. They have passed through Schiphol, JFK, ORD and LAX. They have been ticketed, photographed, fingerprinted, identified - welcomed through to airside. They have walked. Their feet have stepped over the shadows of chewing gum on city streets - stopped as they watched skateboarders flipping tricks - stumbled over kurbs and cracks in pavements. Their feet have done hard miles in ill-fitting shoes, blistered, swollen in heat, stepping to the beat of urban songs - fast and urgent on Fifth Avenue, cacophonous in Seoul, languid in Lisbon. As they walk they take little bits of places with them - like walkers who refuse to follow paths and, -instead - cuts lines across the grass. They have pressed themselves upon the earth and the earth is different now - something more and something less.

Human Geography III

My love moves through the house alone. She empties the cat litter - lines the compost bin with Saturday's Guardian - folds the children's clothes. She puts lists on the fridge and post-it notes inside which read “always wrap the cheese!”  She moves the knife left too close to the counter's edge. She writes a note to school and makes a call to arrange a birthday party. There are always envelopes in the bureau - I have not bought envelopes since I can't remember when. She does the work of love, of maintenance.

I am elsewhere. I am not there.

She is the Queen of Entropy. She notices decay. The places where the paint has chipped - the window frames need another coat - the gaps between the floorboards where cork has crumbled letting cold air in - the picture hung askew - the curtain where it ripped. She broods over the dust on the baseboards, disappointed by the stains the dishwasher leaves, surprised that the laundry bin is full again.

I am abroad. I am traveling.

Between tasks she thinks of other places. Honeymoon rickshaws amongst the water buffalo - a fast flowing stream near Uncle Ken's Mount Mitchell - a bookshop in Dupont Circle - her dormroom at Duke. She feels the sand on a beach on Cardigan Bay from where she watched the dolphins. She smells the country - far away from London. She hears the sadness of sheep and the rapid-fire mew of the Kite.

I leave. I fly out. I take taxis.

Does she picture me in restaurants in Buenos Aires, Taipei, Chicago - conjure interesting, kind people for me to talk to - see me in green hotel rooms - trace my lines of flight around the globe - place me in basements drinking beer? Does she sit me on the right hand side of the aircraft so I spy our house on the descent into Heathrow?

Human Geography IV

Let's walk from Acton Main Line down Horn Lane dried out, jet-lagged, through morning air not yet tinged with disappointment - smell diesel and jet fuels from lorries and planes ascending west. Let's race the 266 to the next stop. Let's walk. Listen to the planes - the bass note rumble - the high whine of throttle-up. Listen to the low thrum of lorries - the idle of cars in jams. Listen to the mother staying calm, or trying to, as she shepherds kids to school. Inhale cement work dust. Pass the Africans outside Acton Cabs
- the Polish delis with their unintelligible sausages - the cactus pears and passion fruit spilling out over the pavement. Sam's fried chicken and the pawn shop.

The world goes the other way as I come home. The end of something amongst all these beginnings. My desire lines collapse behind me as I come to the front door. The leaves need sweeping - there's litter in the ivy - cigarette butts, fast food boxes, crisp packets - salt and vinegar. Pages from the Metro.

Coming home is complicated. It's true that I look forward, when away, to the day of my return. The familiar welcome of my own bed, our bed. Spices in the kitchen patient for combination - catching up with news - the kids miraculous achievements - the rooms that smell exactly as they should.

Opening the door - chaos - that crack that needs filling - the shoes spilling out across the hall -

Telling stories of travels - things tasted - conversations related approximately - gifts disgorged - at attempt to undersell perhaps - fighting jetlag - back into the swing of things - shopping - kids to school - make like I never left.

     © Tim Cresswell 2012