began to grow feathers


idea cracked the seed’s shell skull’s cell

burrowed through the muck surrounding my self-measured casket clawed blindly toward light slowly

I can’t stand this bled

into I can’t stay here trickled

through I should leave swelled into

I want to leave rose into a tidal wave of I’m going

riding the undertow

My parents let me apply to be a foreign exchange student

confident that I’d be rejected but wanting me to dream

because dreaming was a tradition at my house, we dreamed

about vacations and adventures, we dreamed about being other people in different worlds dreaming was our lifeboat in rough waters the letter from the exchange program arrived at the end of my junior year

they accepted me!

I would spend a year and a bit (thirteen months: delicious, bewitching number) living on a pig farm in Denmark fluttering my untested wings

I teetered on the edge of the nest my mother spelled out the bad news slowly each word a hammer

because, you see, there was no money they never thought I would make it so far but they didn’t want to discourage my dream dreaming never hurt, right?

Two days of tearful negotiation, isolation rage rattled my mind’s cage in search of a solution forty-eight hours of me standing my ground relentless, unswayed, I planted my flag firmly in a hand-forged reality, if I took all of the money I’d earned and saved for college

and my grandmother chipped in the difference of a few hundred dollars

it would work

they talked to each other through the night my parents did, no longer a question of cash they weighed the cost of sending sixteen-year-old


overseas to a family they’d never met they weighed that against the dark tide always trying to pull us under we didn’t have many books in my house we had maps of the Adirondack Mountains and the state of Vermont

because that was the size of our world in the morning, my mother took the battered metal globe off my shelf and handed it to me.

“Where the hell is Denmark?” she asked.

“Show me where you’re going to live.”

the things I carried to Denmark

one suitcase of clothes a small journal, undersea colors enough birth control pills for thirteen months

(thanks, Mom)

I packed my heart beating rabbit-fast, my eyes

closed and waiting

the small stuffed fish as blue as the friend who gave it to me frozen chip on my shoulder as big as Lake Ontario backbone a flagpole

nerves thrumming like a scrum of hummingbirds aloft the cost of saying goodbye hidden next to my scars deep in the forest at the bottom of my gut I packed my freckled skin, rolled and tucked between my shinbones I’d take it out the first night I arrived, stretch it carefully, that map of me,

let it rest in the moonlight on the floor of my bedroom a baker’s dozen of months so I could roam skinless in the hidden liminal sliver of fortune granted by the gambling gods who rolled their dice in my name.

Around my neck I wore the Saint Christopher’s medal given by the boy I loved to keep me safe

it worked.

hvordan det begyndt / how it started

I left my family behind at the Syracuse airport flew to NYC, then Hamburg, in Germany ate a weird pizza with corn on it, boarded a train for Denmark, didn’t sleep for nearly two nights and two days, didn’t want to miss anything

we were thirty-nine half-growns from all over the world

gathered in a village near the childhood home of the writer Hans Christian Andersen Danish is a tricky language, so we had a month of instruction to learn how to swallow Danish vowels

and muffle its marshmallowed consonants how to say “thank you” / tak “I don’t understand” / jeg forst?r ikke “my name is Laurie” / jeg hedder Laurie “the bread tastes delicious—may I have another piece?” / br?det smager l?ggert—m? jeg bede om et styk til?

friendships were formed fast and hard like at summer camp, but with better food and lots more freedom

we walked to the village to buy stamps and chocolate

sang through the late sunshine on the endless summer nights one day we rowed a Viking ship onto the sea till the land dropped out of sight we rested our oars, hoisted the sail compared blisters and dozed as the breeze rocked us

back and forth, back and forth in our cradle I unscrewed the top of my head and rinsed out my brainpan

with salt water from the North Sea and so began my next life

longitude meets latitude

Mor/Mom, Far/Dad, and Nanna, my Danish sister picked me up at the language school, we greeted each other with formal hellos, like an epic blind date

rode the ferry from one island to another and drove to the farm

where I had a small room tucked under the eaves with a window that faced the sunset the farm’s rhythm wound our clocks and flipped the pages of the calendar

I arrived late summer as the new barn was being finished

we held a topping-off party to thank the godspirits in the wood

and celebrate with the carpenters, Mor made a kransekage

Laurie Halse Anderso's Books