Passages, Multimedia, 2014

Ed Bok Lee, January 25, 2014

God in the fields mid-blossom.
Overhead screeches a metal giant with fins.

On the checkpoint screen, I watch a dark, bearded man’s carry-on
illumined like an infant in ultrasound. But it’s only
purple-striped socks, a hair dryer, six linoleum samples.

Mid-morning, daylight savings has a few confused.
Others smile into the little black pools of their phones.
Palms and silk flowers along the moving concourse erect, artificial.

Mid-flight, I dream of a pagan dance
framed by molten harvest moon like overripe
fruit that will satiate the farthest, most personal
hunger in every human.

Evil rides a bicycle home, combing its hair.
Moans on a cloudy, pink-lit operating table.
Future antelopes plant plums with a wooden clothes hanger.

We won’t ever arrive at the lighthouse.
Of course, we do scrape ashore, past midnight.
Someone I don’t know flashes gang signs by the village’s only well.

Near dead, the scent of a sawmill
awakens my blind grandfather and four-year old father
mid-forest, mid-blizzard.

For a long time, nothing else.

Metatranslation of the unpublished poem, Sommarmorgon by Mathilda Benson (ca. 1910s)

Passages is a :60 single-channel video commissioned by the American Swedish Institute (ASI) as a response to Ed Bok Lee‘s metatranslation Passages. Lee’s Metatranslations Project, wherein he “translated” found texts in the ASI’s collection with no knowledge of the Swedish language, is the result of a writer’s residency sponsored by Coffee House Press and hosted by the ASI:

I’m specifically looking for the oldest, most buried, private, unpublished, unseen, unread texts from the 1800s archived at the American Swedish Institute—buried inside donated diaries and letters from the library or its bowels, the 1904 boiler room sub-basement storage collection, otherwise known as “The Pit”—long “lost” texts and poems that private folk could not help but write in their private diaries, or letters back to the homeland, because otherwise they would have gotten ulcers or exploded or maybe been just really frustrated or sad. While working on these metatranslations, I’ll be thinking of my own immigrant parents’ letters home, or my own diary entries or poems or letters while living abroad—in an effort to ground the whole thing in something both confabulatory and “real”.

So much of my (Allison) immigrant experience is about the existing in space between two cultures, two ‘homes’, maintaining roots in two (but really four) lands. The act that links me to these places – flying – is a great metaphor for the whole thing.

I was six months old on my first flight ‘home’ to Jamaica to visit my great grandmother, and I was the only one of her great grandchildren that she met. I selected footage I made on my last trip ‘home’ to visit my father in Grenada. Like the Swedish laypeople’s poems Ed found on grocery lists and in scrapbooks, I made these ‘movies’ while flying, not as a part of any particular project, but because… the water reflects the sun just so or something…