It was necessary to escape from the heat to the Ligurian sea
so I got back on the train, the Tuscan countryside
unscrolling before me, in time for a quick lunch in Pisa,
with the old joke of holding up the tower for a photo.
I walked down a side street just off the Piazza del Duomo
and ducked into a place where mostly locals were eating.
At the end of a very simple but tasty meal
I shyly told the waiter that this was my first time in Italy
and he smiled, and left for a while. Then he returned,
holding a little ceramic dish, with a charming sketch
of the restaurant on it, perfect for olives, and said,
‘Signora, this is for you to remember us by.’
I almost cried. Thoughtful gestures are so rare nowadays
and it now sits in my kitchen where I see it daily.
Driving down immaculate highways, plowed snow
high as a three story-house, towering mountains beyond,
I’m in the land of the Vikings, silversmiths, fine sweaters.
It’s a place where people are beautiful and healthy,
and everyone from 8 to 80 takes their skis
on public transport, making me feel
fat and lazy, in spite of, or perhaps because of,
too many shots of akevitt. Or…
it could have been the lutefisk…hard to say
as I tumble into my giant hotel bed
all made of eiderdown, from mattress to duvet,
and dream I am in a dogsled flying across the tundra.
In the far north are the lands of the reindeer
and the ancient Sami people, nomads who wander
at will across the Arctic Circle with their vast herds
–through the northern lights, summer fields,
and winter snows, through the granite mountains,
across flowering meadows – nibbling lichen, grasses and ferns.
In the distant sea, it’s easy to imagine a curved Viking ship,
like the huge 9th C one now preserved in an Oslo museum,
sailing just off the coast towards the southern lands,
ready to explore Europe and even North America,
long before Columbus or even some akevitt arrived.
If only they’d left us those soft beds, and then sailed away.
Twilight Falls At The Gong’s Sound
You kneel before the Buddha,
your smooth black braid
among the flower offerings.
A swish of luster and shine,
your golden dress clings,
around your fragile body.
Outside, the oxen pulls their heavy load,
the green rice fields
hide a thousand sparrows.
Passion and incense intertwine,
the air is filled with jasmine;
I wait for you beyond the temple,
as twilight falls at the gong’s sound.
One Afternoon in Kyoto
The intimate perspective
of those Japanese prints
takes me into the flower
and I become the flower
whose delicate pinkness
from its upright,
wilting in the heat.
Or, into a pond of lotus
whose lilting leaf edges
raise towards the sun
in a great green Hosanna.
The white lilies sit there,
waiting for dragonflies
as fish tickle their roots,
while by the tea house
a lovely maiden
does the tea ceremony,
ever so slowly.
Karen Petersen has published short stories, flash, and poetry both nationally and internationally in a variety of publications. In 2019, she was the first person in the history of the Pushcart Prize to receive five nominations in three categories: poetry, short story, and flash. In 2021 one of her poems was long-listed for the international Bridport Prize. She has also been nominated for the UK’s Forward Prize, and twice for the Best of the Net. Her poems have been translated into Persian and Spanish, and this year her chapbook, Trembling, won the national Wil Mills Prize, judged by Annie Finch.
Cover photo credit: HQN