You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
In her poem, Theories of Time and Space, United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey describes her experience going home to Gulfport, Louisiana. Trethewey’s words make me think about what it means to go home. Having lived in the far corners of the United States, I now live close to where I was born. Close enough to be a part of my family. I run along the same river where calliope played from steamboats, and barges hummed at night during my childhood. There is peace at the river’s edge. My loft apartment is in the renovated historic building in which my grandfather worked as a young man. I often feel his presence. I have returned to the home I left many years ago.
The poem provides directions to Gulfport. Where to turn. What landmarks will appear along the way. How far things are. How long it will take. I appreciate that clarity. I never really had a map for my life that laid out a particular direction. I just always knew I wanted to go. I moved to the Pacific Northwest after a phone call to AAA and an oil change. I moved to Texas with little more than an acceptance letter to graduate school and a thirst for knowledge. I moved to Washington DC with the promise of a good job and the fire of my ambition. All my directions headed away from home.
This poem is about going home. It is about the importance of dead ends, and the comfort of shrimp boat rigging when skies are threatening. It is about the parts of us that remain throughout the journey, and the pictures of us that stay when we leave. It is about buried mangrove swamps and tomes of memories. Trethewey cautions not to carry too much of the past, and that seems helpful in a forward-thinking-forgiveness-inspiring-grateful kind of way. She understands the complexity of home.
This poem makes sense to me for several reasons. I have always been able to find directions that lead away from home, but this poem suggests how to return. It gives me coordinates for my questions. Treathewey celebrates the details of home as familiar and important through a lens that includes geography and place. She also marks the passage of time and experience as significant. I believe that to be true with my entire being. I suspect she says there’s no going home because we are changed by every breath we take. Even with a map that takes us back to the exact place of our birth, our eyes see differently.
Maybe I think too much about home? Maybe there are more important questions in life to consider? But the question of what is home seems elemental to my capacity to love myself and others. When I run on the river, I know a peace that I do not find anywhere else. Continuing to discover the source of that peace feels ultimately important. Peace and home seem connected to me. Defining and creating home are part of my journey. I will continue to think about home.