One small step for man

New Norwegian Poetry (2018)

NO ONE IS WATCHING and you’re standing in the middle of your living room floor, cautiously imitating a few dance moves from Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” the music is barely audible through the door down the hall, fading at the stairs, totally nonexistent on the floors below, and the courtyard, where the apartment building, along with tens of others, constitutes one of the most densely populated areas of this suburb, with five different transfers, three schools, north of the city that after the last municipal merger stretches all the way from the fjord to the countryside, green hills and the mountains at the end of the county, farmland that looks like patchwork from above, seamlessly gliding towards the countries to the east; Scandinavia, Northern Europe, continents surrounded by ocean, a foggy atmosphere, the northern hemisphere curving noticeably in the horizon and the planet is one of eight circling the sun, the solar system just one of immeasurably many that make up the Milky Way, the spiral galaxy, which, viewed against a background of dark nothing, almost resembles sparklers on a long-exposure photography from New Year’s Eve, you’re twirling them in wide circles; along with several other galaxies it joins the masses, making a super horde with hundreds of other hordes of galaxies, these in turn organized in ever greater web-like structures, a mash like the mash of nerves in a brain, neurons and synapses that make you able, at this moment, to stand right here, imagining all this. The limits of the observable universe – and somewhere in all this, there’s you. You stand in the middle of the floor, no one is watching.

HOURS, DAYS, AND THEN WEEKS I spend alternating between planning and doing the actual work. I am sixteen and laying on the floor in my parents’ basement, totally engulfed in the old LEGO sets I’ve found in the cupboard and decided to assemble; each building and each vehicle in the huge collection, battery driven trains, an AT-AT, a pirate ship, medieval castles. This is the last piece of engineering, where it all finds its rightful place, I’m the curator of the exhibition of my own childhood, and all Easter my room is a construction area, off-limits to everyone. I’m working diligently, long hours, and it’s not until I’m almost done that I feel some sort of unease spreading, a mild panic in the gut. Yet I keep going, emptying the boxes one by one, but enthusiasm is replaced by a work ethic now, Lutheran, until one late night I’m sitting with the last brick between my fingers, unable to place it, succumbed by a determination that something awful will happen the instant the masterpiece is finished. Instead, I put the brick back in the box and start the tedious task of reassembly, each project picked apart and separated into different boxes with their instructions, several days like this, until the boxes are all back in the closet, organized by theme, immaculate order; then there’s the click of the switch turning the light off and the door closing behind me, the relief, everything in its right place.

MILITARY PARADES IN PYONGYANG, unconfirmed reports of nuclear warheads, low flying Russian jetfighters across the Baltic sea, counter terrorist operations in French and Belgian suburbs, and yet it’s all so calm right here, by the kitchen table, so deafening, bordering on uncanny, where I sit. The moon is still visible outside, a cat crosses the road, making today’s first footprints in the snow, and it is all framed by a stillness that’s possibly enhanced by the notion of what’s to come: the sound of footsteps on the floor above, the surge of the pipes, then the voices overlapping during breakfast, porridge on faces, choked up, chairs scraping across the linoleum, while you shout that you’re already late, that the temperature requires both scarfs and mittens, which will result in renewed protests, loud ones and the lunches left on the kitchen counter, before you’re all in the car, buckled up, and calm once more descends where I still sit, left to my own devices again, the newspaper only half read: The strained situation in the Middle East, new peace talks that won’t lead to anything, perpetual negotiations of cease fire, secret meetings.

TIRED, JET-LAGGED, standing by the carousel at arrivals. And finally, with a bump, it starts moving, the suitcases and backpacks circulating like pastries on a buffet where the expiration dates are dangerously approaching; sunken, smelly, until mine shows up, a wheeled one from Samsonite, Pacific blue hard shell, with two crumpled up shirts, a tie and documents that were finally signed, a bottle of aftershave and a few cheap souvenirs for the kids, but before I manage to pick it up, I speechlessly witness a stranger a few feet to my left reach for it. A few seconds of initial confusion follows, until it becomes clear to me that he is not the one making the mistake after all, it is me who was thinking I was someone else this whole time, living another man’s life arriving at a long-awaited, crucial turning point in mine. I remain standing until there’s only one bag left on the trail – last bag on belt – I lift it up, feel its weight in my hand as I walk to the exit, ready to throw out an arm for the nearest taxi, get in the back seat and tell the driver to take me to the address written on the tag, where my own real family is presumably waiting for me, whoever they might be.

WITH THE SPEED OF LIGHT or sound, two concepts hard to fathom, but in my teens, I was able to visualize them, in moments where my thoughts drifted away from homework; I imagined them like two parallel lines running through darkness, like contrails in the night sky, the light always first and the sound hopelessly lagging behind, without ever being able to catch up unless fundamental laws of physics were compromised. This may have triggered some sort of sympathy for sound, since no one ever spoke of sound-years, did they? – the sound almost a bit more human this way, and that’s my reasoning where I’m at right now, idle and seemingly without any meaningful function, while the doctor is gliding the instrument across her shiny abdomen. I'm thinking of something I read once, about ultrasound being the only type of sound that we can see with, and in this sense, it actually does reach further than the light, all the way into the future, where you’re still stuck, floating weightlessly like an astronaut in space, captured on a grainy snapshot from a galaxy far, far away. The outline of your foot that has yet to take its first step on Earth, still not dictated by the laws of nature, but unborn and immaculate; interstellar, descendant.