The Grand Hotel

Janet McAdams

from the Island of Lost Luggage

 

In those days everything was forbidden.
We traveled anyway, into the heart
of the abandoned countryside to a town
in the mountains, near the lake they now call
Lago Verde. Behind the altar of the dark cathedral,
Simon found the delicate bones of an animal,
crawled in, we imagined, out of the biting
winter wind. At the sound of our voices,
the skeleton collapsed into itself, the way
a house of cards falls when the table is jostled.
Bits of fur rose like fine mist from the animal
we could not identify, and drifted, casual
as the spurs of wild daffodils we blew away
as children, those summers near Anuncio. Sister,
do you remember?
In this first Autumn,
I am writing you in a whirl of leaves. Dark violet
and yellow, they fill me with emptiness.
And I am listening for swallows, who call
to each other just now at twilight.
 
That room with its impossibly high ceilings!
We talked then of how people once lived
and held each other in the musty bed, beneath two
names carved on the mahogany headboard.
I thought: I will never forget these names
and have. How little, Anna, we remember of what
we once knew. We are blessed to forget

unlike Luria’s poor patient “S,” the man
who remembered everything, and in no particular order.
He swam each day through a thick fog of trivia
and history: the yellow toothbrush his aunt
kept at the summerhouse, formulae for colloidal
suspensions, the weight in grams of the Faberge egg
lost when they took the Imperial Family to Tsarkoe Seloe.

What I remember is this: Simon brought almonds
and a tin of cocoa from his pack that cool evening.
We had the hard flat bread of travelers and plums
found in the tainted countryside. We ate them anyway.
They say that in March on that mountain, the butterflies
were so thick you could not walk without crushing them.
I keep this image as if it were memory.

 

 

In the Grand Hotel, we wandered through hallways,
past photographs askew on their wire hangers,
intricate rosettes carved on the overdoors, floors
of polished, hard green stone. We tried to imagine
the people who built this, then poisoned their fishes.
In that poisoned land, we slept and I tell you
I did no dreaming. Anna, will we remember our past
always? Will we ever walk the dream road
of our childhood, lined with wild rose, the scent
of cape jasmine, to waves iridescent with fishes,
fearful only of the wild cries of ravens?

 

 

 
   
 

 

 

Janet McAdams’s  Janet McAdams’ collection The Island of Lost Luggage won the  American Book Award in 2001. Her poems have appeard in TriQuarterly, Columbia, the Women’s Review of Books, the Crab Orchard Review, the North American Review, and other journals. She teaches at Kenyon College.

  

The Grand Hotel overlooked Lago Verde.
Its white and blue sign appeared unchanged,
as if doors might fly open and travelers emerge,
to walk the path around the lake. The bright sun
burned our skin, but it was cold in the stone
hotel. We broke two chairs and built a fire,
warming the room a little.