a tower of marzipan cake adorned with Danish flags and icing

you could hear the wheat growing that afternoon from where we sat in the garden, lazy bees buzzing the strawberry bowl, smells of fresh coffee, cold beer, salt sweat of the workingmen

and all the while, the fuglekonge/goldcrests chasing the lowering clouds

reminding us that autumn drew near We ate our meals together at the kitchen table, my place was on the bench across from Mor and next to my sister

to my left, the door to the vegetable garden and the fruit trees

our younger brothers taught me the words for food ymer, sm?r, h?rdkogte ?g, ost and that it was OK to mess up as long as I tried Far sat at the desk every night after dinner to record the day’s weather and his tasks in a journal

One Saturday morning, our aunt and uncle joined us after breakfast

for an important family meeting. I listened deep, scrambling through my dictionary when confused, the problem was dire: rats in the barn were eating everything in sight.

I was so excited because I had learned enough to be in on the action, to contribute!

I looked up a few words, cleared my throat and explained that in America, when rats got into the grain, we poisoned them,

but you had to be careful to get rid of the bodies so they didn’t rot

Dead silence

followed by everyone politely pretending that I had ceased to exist

Months later,

when I could actually understand and speak I brought up that awkward moment and asked where I had gone wrong.

Turns out there were no rats in the barn, they’d been planning

our grandmother’s birthday party and were shocked to hear that in America we used poison

on such occasions,

we laughed so hard we near peed our pants Our house stood at the end of the lane near a bog brimming with eels Mor opened the windows every day for fresh air our house expanded magical

so everyone could fit

the cupboards stacked with second chances sugar bowl filled with encouragement our house recentered my universe, I rode my bike to the bakery, library, soccer field, school and back, always back to our house at the end of the lane

longitude, eleventh meridian east, built of brick latitude, fifty-fifth parallel north, family-lit

om efter?ret / in the autumn

Monday through Friday, I pedaled to school a bit more than two miles away, it felt like ten for the first couple weeks but got easier and faster quick enough imagine a mash-up of high school’s senior year and the first year of college, but without a prom, alcohol poisoning, or sports teams, and not nearly as much drama.

That’s where I went to school: at a studenterkursus where we called our teachers by their first names and

could knit in class if we wanted, the theory being that if we could pay attention as we knit, we might as well be productive I studied Danish literature, English literature, geography, calculus, history, psychology, and the hardest of all: French I’d already studied French for four years, it was easy

back home, but at overs?tte fra dansk til fransk /

shifting into French from Danish overheated my brain and melted my circuits we had a mid-morning break each day when the school provided coffee, tea, and pastries

(in Denmark Danish pastry is called Viennese bread / weinerbr?d

because the world is lovely-strange) it was a relief to just study and grow friendships without the distractions

and social hierarchies I was used to in the States once I got used to the routine and the language and once they got used to me the shiny-bright of being the new kid, the American sideshow

faded; that’s when I felt homesick.

One night I stood outside with my sister talking to her about the bone-ache for my American family

she pointed to the moon and said it was shining on them, too

and that helped; she is made of compassion, my sister

when the harvest was done, the older of our two brothers was confirmed in the Lutheran church, an important rite of passage Danes take their celebrations seriously; an enormous tent

was erected outside our house, the Norwegian relatives arrived plus half the town, course after course of food was served, then: the speeches. When you celebrate a confirmation, wedding, birthday, or anniversary in Denmark,

there are lots of speeches given, equal parts teasing, mocking, complimenting, and appreciating. It’s a big deal.

I gave a speech for my brother— apparently I didn’t threaten to poison him like a barn rat, so that was good.

The final course was served at three a.m.

and the party lasted until dawn.

om vinteren / in the winter

as fields slept under winter’s snow deep in the earth a slow rumble of strong, unseen hands pushed stones to the surface

rearranging the landscape

I spoke to my American family in July and again at Christmas

overseas telephone calls were stupid-expensive, we wrote letters

on onionskin paper, so thin you could see through it and cheaper to mail winter Fridays were my long days the dawn so late that I rode to school in the dark and by the time I unchained my bike in the afternoon for the trip home the sun had again fallen into the sea as Christmas approached we slaughtered and processed

the ducks that Mor raised every year to pay for presents

I was a semi-vegetarian when I left the USA I got over it in a hurry living on the farm Scandinavians understand winter, they respect the long dark

Laurie Halse Anderso's Books