WRITING

Loss

A poem by Natalie Horberg (August 2021)

 

Where will you be, 

the moment I forget you?

A sudden prickle on the back of your neck

might mean not mean nothing. 

Yet you nor I will ever know.

 

Dark Emerald Going High

A poem by Natalie Horberg (July 2021)

 

Ajar your door would would stay,

swinging above dusty wooden panels

painted hot in summer 

 

Down your roof would sag,

and up your walls would ivy grow so fervently,

dark emerald going high

 

Still your air would remain and

silently your water would drip and

slowly your frame would fall

further, further

until you’re gone

Love

A poem by Natalie Horberg (June 2021)

Love comes back

with its old silent glow

that makes our eyes tremble and swell

because here we are, again. 

Corners of the universe

together once more,

and by whose hand?

Were a single bulb of heavy petals

struck by lightning in the damp of night,

it would understand this eeriness

and beg the same question that we do now:

Who do I thank, who do I thank 

 

The Trip Back

A poem by Natalie Horberg (April 2021)

In the night

we pass by crackling fields, blank-eyed deer and

so much sky

Sometimes there is an old house with yellow windows

that glow like the smallest center of a candle’s flame,

but I can’t make out what’s inside, or who

You reach for powdered cookies

in a bowl warmed by my lap

and say something I cannot now recall

Then sugar melts on your lip, like snow

and the road beneath us curves toward home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Nautical Woman

By Natalie Horberg (January 2021)

     

     After the last ship docked, Eve gazed longingly at the water and waved goodbye to nobody in particular. Looking down and watching her white cane glisten in the moonlight, she felt as though something was pulling her back, telling her softly that it was not quite time to go. Yet, it seemed impossible to stay. She trudged back up the swaying boardwalk, past sailors silhouetted by darkness and gulls aimlessly circling the waves. She moved slowly and deliberately, knowing that this was the last time she’d ever see the ocean.

 

     “I’m dying,” she had always whispered to herself in times of trouble and confusion. Trembling behind the stage of the second grade spelling bee: “I’m dying.” Running after her mother’s hat, which floated in the wind so lightly: “I’m dying.” Falling into so many outstretched arms, begging for so much forgiveness, always in that pitiful hushed tone: “I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying.” Until the diagnosis, death had never been much more to her than a fact, a comforting companion who reassured her that suffering would not be not forever. In many ways, Eve revered death until it was real, right there before her.

 

     Dying was made far harder by her rather new, unfathomable infatuation with the ocean. Having spent most of her life in a small town prone to dust storms and dry eyes, water represented a rare kind of safety. If it wasn’t for Eve’s miraculous win at the local library’s raffle, she probably would have died without ever having been to the beach, let alone on a boat. Had she not won the cruise ship vacation, her life would have gone on to mean so little. It terrified Eve to think about this. Still, in the quietest of hours, she sometimes wondered if that lack of meaning would have allowed her to accept the cancer more readily. Perhaps, she thought, those with the worst lives died the easiest. 

 

     On the more lonesome nights when her chest grew hard and heavy, she despised the way the glossy cruise ticket had fluttered onto her lap. Her weak fists shook with memories of the friendly cabin directors and the infinite expanse of calm blue waters. She had gawked at them so honestly, with so much vulnerability and hope and desire. At times, Eve hated fate-chance-luck-God-the Universe, whatever or whoever it was that had cursed her with this sudden love for something so utterly big and unknowable. The fury calcified her heart until she could no longer bear it. In a bitter awakening, she understood that there was nothing nor nobody to blame for her life and death after all. But after anger faded, she found that there was only hollowness. 

 

     When the doctors gave her two months left, Eve spent the last of her savings booking a modest stay on the closest ship to town, which was naturally very far away. Packing her bags, she realized how little she would miss the place she had been raised to call home. “I’m dying” didn’t work anymore, so instead she pushed her suitcases to the floor and turned on all the sink faucets in the house. With quivering hands she twisted the bathtub nozzles all the way, then grabbed her cane and purse and left without closing the front door. While sleeping on the bus ride to the coastline, Eve dreamt of rain. 

 

     Although the stay on the ship was cut short, it felt like the final stretch of an entire lifetime. They sailed away from the beach in a slow steady line, past masses of garbage and yellow buoys. For lunch, all thirty-eight passengers ate mayonnaise sandwiches courtesy of the captain’s young son, which they unanimously pretended to enjoy. Mostly, they fished and sang songs written long ago, sometimes stopping to divulge the occasional bit of local gossip. To Eve it meant nothing. But she was happy, again, at last.

 

     On the second day, there were radio reports of a quickly approaching, dangerous storm. Eve cried and hugged the captain’s son, who patted her head and whispered it was gonna be okay. That night, someone gently knocked on her door. Eve assumed it was a stranger wanting to console her further. She stayed completely still, waiting for the person to leave. Something clattered in the darkness. Tears streamed down her face. “I’m really dying,” she choked out. Then the sun rose beside her, gradually illuminating water droplets on her window, casting an aquamarine glow on the floor of her room. There was a plate near the door, covered in tinfoil with a bow on top. Eve wiped her face with her shirt and shuffled over to unwrap it: a mayonnaise sandwich. 

 

     When the captain was finally forced to turn the ship back, Eve stood secretly at the bow, clutching onto the railing as misty gales whipped around her. Seafoam blew through the air, over the clouds and back onto the deck. Everything was covered in a thin sheen of salt, moving back and forth with a deep basal hum. She was a dying woman standing alone, afraid of the end. In many ways, she had been dying her whole life—slowly, bit by bit. But blinded by the simplicity of language, she had failed to see that she had also been living her whole life—slowly, bit by bit. It had been so foolish, she realized, to believe that she could bypass the woes of life by reminding herself of death’s release. Because then, what was it all for? With terrifying clarity, she realized just how much she had wasted. “Now that it’s almost over,” she said as the world shifted around her, “I don’t want it to be.”

     Eve squinted at her watch in the darkness. It would be an hour until the bus came to take her home. She made her way past the boats to the shore and kicked off her sandals. For a while, she drew lines in the sand and let the waves lap them up. Then she placed her jacket on the ground and lay facing the sky. She didn’t think about her house, if it was flooded and destroyed by now. She didn’t wonder about the times she had gone wrong and what she should’ve done to make them right. Maybe love was worth the heartache, and maybe her death could be worth her life. But how? A storm was brewing on the horizon. So little time was left. It was a starless night, a night unlike any other she had ever lived through, and as the churning tides grew higher with the moon she chose to do nothing, nothing at all.

 

A Return to the End

A poem by Natalie Horberg (January 2021)

On a warm golden day

there are soft hands

gripping soft hands

An incandescent glow

stretching back, so far

And people looking up

losing everything

falling, so far

into wide ripples of light

which will silently grow into nothing

over and over

again

How the Stranger Sang

A poem by Natalie Horberg (January 2021)

In his tired voice

was a meadow at dusk

soft and cool,

with the rose-tinted light

of the dreams we once shared

Apple Tree

A poem by Natalie Horberg (January 2021)

If by the time you read this

the apple tree is no longer

bearing fruit

I’d like you to cut it down

swiftly, with no remorse or

superstition

Down to a stump

Or the roots

So that when I come back it will

seem as though

it was never there in the first place

Then maybe after some time you

and I

will forget it ever was

Rebecca Drifting

A poem by Natalie Horberg (January 2021)

I think about the lilac silk

draped over wood

and broad shoulders

Or drifting sideways in the afternoon

past everyone I’ve ever known

Greeting nobody yet everything

Curling in the wind

around white spires

that glint in the morning sun

Desmond at Noon in August

A poem by Natalie Horberg (2020)

As a cloud lurched past the sun, 

wild grasses swayed softly

Withering birches bowed to warm winds, and

dead flowers 

fluttered upwards 

as if suddenly alive

 again

Propelled by the hot air, a murmuration of birds 

swelled on the horizon 

and I was reminded that it was time

 to check on Desmond.

Butter on Bagel

A poem by Natalie Horberg (2020)

Her soft pink shirt billowed silently

in the evening air.

The only flag I could ever pledge

my allegiance to, I thought solemnly.

It was ridiculous but true and when she

got home I told her this, 

pointing to the clothesline 

as she handed me my

butter on bagel. 

Foamy and Lost

A poem by Natalie Horberg (2020)

Since 6 a.m. nobody had bothered telling him

the proper route to school

We felt bad

but fell asleep anyway

Then a sudden cold gust-

we were parked

Grey and desolate and far from where we were

supposed to be: the beach

I thought the driver had abandoned us but no

There he was, sitting shyly in the powdery sand

On his phone and waiting for instructions

for how to get us back home

 

 

Far and Wee 

The following essay was written by Natalie Horberg in 2019 for her first solo art show at the Woodstock Artist Association and Museum, which shared the same name as this piece of writing: Far and Wee. 

Preface:

      This past summer, my dad’s office, along with those of his many coworkers, was in an old German school in a bright, charming neighborhood in central Berlin. The building was large, with wide staircases and long halls, pastel-colored rooms- once classrooms, long ago- dusty red floors and handsome, glimmering glass windows. Soft light cascaded down onto cluttered desks, with neon post-its decorating computer screens and stapled packets stacked up in piles. Each had location names, special dates, actors’ deals, and much more. It was a Netflix series they were all working on called The Queen’s Gambit, based on a book about a young female chess champion. I was given the opportunity to come to Berlin and spend two weeks of summer with my dad. Mondays through Fridays were spent at work, in the old school. My time was filled with various activities, most notably exploring and photographing the mysterious yet endearing remains of this quiet shell of this once busy, now abandoned school. 

… 

      It seemed as if there were the markings of children left behind on every surface; each stairwell especially contained various drawings, done in pencil, crayon, and paint, all only filling the bottom quarter of the warm yellow walls, which were beginning to crack and peel slowly away. Sometimes there were words, usually in German, spelled out in round, loopy letters. Other times, the faded ink of an OK, E, or M stamp could be spotted in random, obsessive clumps. Many times, there were the blue or brown prints left behind by pudgy, small hands that, in a rushed frenzy, had excitedly pressed against the soft, tall walls. But most of all there were hearts: large, generous ones that took up whole portions of walls and tiny, shy ones, grouped together by the edges of door frames and naively drawn ones and quickly scribbled ones and thoughtfully crayoned ones. Some hearts contained barely legible names inside with a plus mark sandwiched neatly between them. Some hearts were empty, like large gaping blobs- one had to back up to be able to tell they were hearts. Some hearts were smudged, some were faded, and some were dark and bold, giving the illusion of having been put there minutes before being noticed by the observant passerby. It is interesting that the most common marking found in the abandoned school was the heart. 

 

      Who was I, once? one could wonder. What did I yearn for? Was it love? To be loved, or to love? A quality that many children share is the immense freedom with which they love. But, not to be overlooked, is the simultaneous tenderness with which they care for what/who they love. Perhaps, as children grow up, there is a tendency to want to break the concept apart. When failing to search for tenable forms of what they once felt so wholly as youths, and when finding it nearly impossible to define, love becomes, in a way, stale and less natural. Is there not a sort of stigma associated with teenagers and adults who scribble hearts onto everything they own? As people grow up, does it not begin to represent a sort of unattractive desperation? The heart, one could say, morphs into an entirely different symbol when produced by a non-child. It becomes shallower or, often, more indicative of a specific kind of love rather than inexplicably having an infinite capacity for embodying the word itself, (perhaps that is why a sort of desperation is associated with non-children who generate hearts onto everything, because it is seen as an immature attempt to go back to a time when love meant something more pure and naive). When the heart is produced, but especially hand-drawn, by a child, it represents what love looks like through innocent eyes, eyes not hungry to define and truly understand and feel the weight of what love is and has the potential to be; it is drawn by one who does not feel shame for so openly demonstrating vulnerability through the ostensibly most confusing, intricate, and vast concept/emotion/experience known to humans. 

 

      Perhaps, then, it should have not been a surprise that the old, dusty school was filled with hearts. It is touching to know that after all these years, those children still remain a part of the spirit of that building. And, ignoring the growing collection of spiderwebs and cracking plaster, by gazing into the hundreds of tiny words, drawings, handprints, and hearts sprinkled generously over the vast number of dormant hallways, stairwells, and rooms, one could go back to a time when they were small and, too, did not censor the innate affection they felt for this world and the duty they gave themselves to protect, care for, and love it. 

… 

Epilogue:

     At a dinner I went to a few days after having written this essay, it was revealed to me by my dad’s coworker that almost all of the drawings on the walls of the school were put there fairly recently. Around the year 2015, after having an influx of refugees coming mainly from Syria, Germany reopened its abandoned schools to allow refugee children to have access to education. To my disbelief, all of the handprints and hearts and drawings were actually created by young refugees. I thought, could there now be no greater metaphor than this for the power of small children? 

      The school became, in my mind, only a greater reminder of the responsibility humans have to take care of one another. In addition, it gave me a deeper purpose for creating the work for this show, Far and Wee, because it made me realize that what many people miss in life is going to a space in which they can feel love and acceptance, and then leaving being inspired to spread love and acceptance. I came to tell myself that walking through the tiny world of Far and Wee should somehow capture the same feeling I had walking by the drawings on the walls of that old abandoned school.