Friday, December 7, 2012

AFTERWORD (to Sojourner)

AFTERWORD (to Sojourner)

This compilation of short stories, poems, prose experiments, and prose poems is, for me, a literary framing of a few of the many occasional texts culled from the notebooks that I have filled with writing over the years; it represents a kind of selective diary of narratives, observations, and tonal meditations upon this author’s fascination with place—both in terms of a physical landscape, an imagined geography, as well as a conceptual space either of belonging or otherness, a home or a strange place that one visits for whatever reasons: curiosity, escape, or for that measuring of the self that unfamiliar places seem to invite—even provoke.

As the title of the collection suggests, perhaps the best way to access the various narrators’ experiences recounted herein, to define their singular lack of a stable personality or literary method, is to think of each text as a sojourner, a voice who enters, inhabits briefly, and then, for one reason or another, abandons each place in favor of the next. A dear friend once remarked that, like a bird, I tend to settle into other people’s nests, hatch myself there, and then fly off toward some distant horizon. It remains for the reader to decide if it is I who have left my mark on these many places, mostly cities, by inscribing their names and some words about them into the notebooks that have fed this collection or vice versa.

Taken together, the disparate texts that make up Sojourner can be read as the fictionalized and poetic chronicle of my wandering years, which began in 1986 when, at the tender age of twenty-four, I left San Francisco for Europe planning never to return, and which have more or less continued up to the present day. I have lived these, my adult years, at first willfully, later accidentally, as a transitory sojourner, experiencing first several European capitals as a traveler, then Florence and New York City as an itinerant student, and finally some ten years in a little piss-trough of a town outside of Florence called San Francesco as a teacher, a husband, and a father.

During my decade in San Francesco I used to joke that my autobiography would be called From San Francisco to San Francesco, but my ex-wife had other plans. Which brings me to what putting these texts together has taught me is the overriding theme of my writing (and I suppose my life as well): solitude and companionship, otherness and familiarity, both between people as well as with places—a situation that constructs, in these texts, the themes of chance encounters, identity, self-destruction, escape and dreams, compromise, resurrection or transformation, desire, and, of course, traveling. We fly, “like a demon, from station to station,” as David Bowie sings.

I write this afterword from a rented room back in Florence, Italy, during my fifth sojourn in this city. I have a four-year lease, with an option for another four, which I might see out or which I might break any day in favor of a room in Naples, Oakland, Rome, New York City, or anywhere else they will have me. Just as the day I left San Francisco some twenty-six years ago, with three thousand dollars in travelers’ checks and a one-way ticket to Brussels in my pocket, the world remains my oyster.

I hear that, with a little Vernaccia, they slide down pretty smoothly.


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