No Matter Where We Go, Henrik Norbrandt

Just a reminder that during November, I’ll be reviewing short stories instead of novels. This adjustment will hopefully allow me to complete both the manuscript due December 1st and 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month. 

I have so little time to spare today that I’m going to share a poem instead of a review. I read it for the first time in college out of The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry for a class I hated. That book, however, has stayed with me through eight moves, and this poem has inspired stories, art, and poetry of my own almost every year since I first read it. Reading it, for me, is like visiting an old friend who still lives in the house where he grew up – all familiar smells, and that broken-in chair, and memories clinging to the edges of absolutely everything.

No Matter Where We Go
No matter where we go, we always arrive too late
to experience what we left to find.
And in whatever cities we stay
it is the houses where it is too late to return
the gardens where it’s too late to spend a moonlit night
and the women whom it’s too late to love
that disturb us with their intangible presence.
And whatever streets we think we know
take us past the gardens we are searching for
whose heavy fragrance spreads throughout the neighbourhood.
And whatever houses we return to
we arrive too late at night to be recognized.
And in whatever rivers we look for our reflections
we see ourselves only when we have turned our backs.

(translated from the Danish by the poet and Alexander Taylor)

9 thoughts on “No Matter Where We Go, Henrik Norbrandt

    1. Thanks – it’s such a lovely poem. I can’t believe how long it’s stuck with me, practically word for word.

      Are you from New Orleans, by any chance? I’ve never been and am planning a (non Mardi Gras related) trip sometime this year. I would love to know if there’s anything a local, or even a knowledgable visitor, would recommend seeing or doing while there.

      1. You might get 2 comments from me or not? Meanwhile, I’ve been absent and want to tell you about why your poem, as all truth and beauty will, shifted my recall of New Orleans to a higher plane. I came up in the Bayous, what people call “dirt poor”. My first trip to New Orleans was when I was 14 and the family had to all sit the “death watch” over my 26 year old Uncle. I made a friend on the ward, a 12 year old African American boy, amazed and without judgement at his own condition; dying of a shotgun gut shot inflicted by a white man who “felt like it.” Charity Hospitals in the 70’s were grateful to not have to segregate their patients as it left more $ for treatment. After I came of age and began a career that spanned the Nation, I visited New Orleans as a tourist only once, and it was wonderful! I ate at the Inn of the Two Sisters, I listened to Jazz and Dixie and Blue Grass in every club and bar I could find! I suggest the same for anyone who likes the best food in the United States and the one true American Music!

        Now, where your poem comes in, through it you allowed me to become cognizant of what I lost, and to be ignorant to loss is to ignore the gift to begin with. Thank you.

          1. Thank you, Maria, you have aided my healing, which after 38 years, still requires acknowledgement and kindness each time it is revisited upon another parent.

            1. When we offer kindess, it sometimes seems like such a small thing. It’s amazing how significant it can be. I’m so grateful to be part of your greater web of healing.

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