These sonnets were composed on a three-week hiking and camping trip with my best friend along the Kungsleden in Swedish Lapland: a notoriously wet, but remarkably beautiful and desolate place.The Kungsleden is a 440km (270mi) hiking trail that starts from Abisko Station, a tourist town in the Arctic Circle with a dog sled lane at the airport and a hotel made of ice in the winter. The path, if hiked all the way through, takes you all the way down to Hemavan, a sleepy town in the center of the country, where all the buildings are painted the same barn-red color and whose biggest tourist attraction is a ski lift.There are everyman’s laws along the trail, which allow you to camp anywhere that is considered reasonably suitable.
We took full advantage of this and managed to pitch our tents every night of the entire hike. Otherwise, if you’re feeling like a proper bed, there are huts on most days where you can stay along the trail. Every morning I would fill my cup of porridge with fresh blueberries or, if we were lucky, a few cloud berries as well. It’s possible to buy some small odds and ends for eating in the occasional huts, and there are even a couple of small towns that will sell you supplies if you need it. Since we undertook this trip at the end of August and finished in the middle of September, we were just a bit too early to see the northern lights. Plus, the sun was still dangling at the horizon around 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. most mornings.
The sonnets themselves more or less represent the trajectory of the trip–as each poem covers a “leg”, as it were. There are 12 sonnets for our 19 days on the trail. They not only deal with the things that you will see and encounter along the way– reindeer migrations, lake crossings in a rowboat, and frost in the morning on your sleeping bags–but they also cover some of the classical feelings that one experiences in nature. The joy of solitude, as well as the helplessness of it. The simultaneous disdain and desire of rejoining civilization. All of the paradoxes that one encounters in a long hike. They start at the beginning, at Abisko Station, and end in Hemavan, just like the hike did. But, as is tradition with all crown sonnets, the last line of the last sonnet must echo the first line of the first sonnet. And thus, I invite you to let the circular nature of these poems reflect those paradoxes, namely, how as soon as one hike is over, we are ready for the next one to begin.
Crowns for the Kungsleden
Thinking back now to when it first began
a bell siren in my mind is ringing
effusively, that with some acumen
may be perceived, however clinically,
as what some may refer to as a case
of first day enthusiasm—A thing
which we culpably like to self-efface
on a day-to-day basis. What’s coming
ahead can seem almost impossible
to compare with that which you left behind.
Anything which shines with unthinkable
brilliance such as this must be refined
and guarded as gold, we say to ourselves;
for how long will we listen to the bells?
For how long will we listen to the bells
of Abisko station blowing across
all the storm-staked tents and the open fjells,
a sonic compass for those feeling lost
or what may as well be a primal shout
in placid silence to WAKE THE HELL UP
if you haven’t already. How about
some small insurrection to develop
this feeling like the whole world’s headed
in the same direction? How many times
must we say ‘hey’ with no predilected
goodbyes? There are certain times that I find
them insufferable and others when
they roll off of me like a gust of wind.
They roll off of me like a gust of wind,
all these decidedly American
micro-interactions, void of any
hidden meaning, meaning nothing less than
simple pleasantries, a ripple upon
my tent that comes and goes in an instant.
The short rain shower that is always gone
just before you really begin to quit
thinking in amelioratives, drinking
your ritual morning cup of coffee–
that primal feeling of heavy sinking
in fully that this is only day three
and you have got to stop yourself and say
it’s too early to be feeling this way.
It’s too early to be feeling this way
I think as I am cooking a warm bowl
of oatmeal in my vestibule. The lake
shimmers with morning sunlight and a whole
cup of fresh blueberries and powdered milk
is stirred in. The first bite is promptly when
the feeling starts to return, and the guilt
you felt melts away like frost rimes frozen
to your sleeping bag. The blood now coarses
through your canals and you think suddenly
it feels great to have to feel these forces
shake you awake, and moreso feel strangely
alright with doing it today again–
although you used to loathe repetition.
Although you used to loathe repetition
you find that out here it’s quite becoming.
A swimsuit bleached from the sweat and friction
and varied viscous liquids running
down your legs, a wicking shirt that peels off
like bark after every day, and socks
that smell like what your grandpa used to cough
up at night with the light off and door locked
in the bathroom sink are your uniform,
and you wear them just as religiously
as a habit. Nothing is quite as warm
as the first steps of the day, fresh laundry
or the feeling of stumbling upon
perfect campsites after a day so long.
Perfect campsites after a day so long
as this make you want to shed your old skin
and start a fire with an ommegang
while reciting what little modicum
of poetry you can remember. Jack
Kerouac only had his confusion
to share, and I, alone with my rucksack
haven’t got much more: foregone conclusions
that were reached in the rain or a moment
of lucidity in a sleeping bag
between twenty minutes of penitent
sleep before waking up shivering bad,
myriad Snickers wrappers, stale ramen
in a ziploc bag. The rest is remnants.
In a ziploc bag, the rest is remnants
if it doesn’t fit. You’re free to leave it
in a wooden box like a Christmas dress
and pray for the lightness to elicit
new outlooks on the present, or you can
carry two kilos of cold Kraft Singles
and have yourself a cheese feast by Germans
with whom you frequently intermingle
that are always happy to share their fair
rations of knäckebröd, mushroom butter,
cheese in a tube, muesli and do I dare
try the caviar paste? Place the other
apprehensions aside with everything
you know that you shouldn’t be carrying.
You know that you shouldn’t be carrying
half of what you’ve got, filled with fallacies
like who knows when books on sheep dairying,
mycology, and Sami words could be
absolutely indispensable. Name
your backpack Esmeralda ’cause it feels
wholly foreign on your shoulders and came
from Spain at some point, and now time’s appeals
at understanding the aches, the conscience
and the reason why anyone would come
here, there, or anywhere where the prescience
precludes the puerile act of having fun
say diversion is necessary for
climbing a mountain with no metaphor.
Climbing a mountain with no metaphor
is insane, a tireless exercise
in the poetry of the mundane. Floor
boards ache with age in cabins patronized
to escape arctic winds at the summit,
the brigading rain clouds come to award
imaginary prizes for pliant
participation. Everyone is bored
after an hour, but hours remain
of ceaseless rain. The water talks without
stopping, as Neruda would say. It pains
me to say that I suppose we’re about
to stay for the night, always asking why
it’s either we keep moving or stay dry.
It’s either we keep moving or stay dry.
And though it be early yet, we all hear
the beckon of the masonry stove, cries
of torrid rain on tin roofs. It appears
we are going nowhere and we have to
tell ourselves it’s okay for now; unload
all of our wet socks and bad attitudes,
our heads fogged like forgotten mountain roads.
We will soon find out if our collective
exhaustion is enough to put us in
our sleeping bags, the weather invective
outside. But inside we dwell on as if
we are protected, like morning will grant
the freedom both to and from the extant.
The freedom both to and from the extant
is both a strength and flaw that drives one
from a warm floor out into a piquant
mist, to slip wrinkled feet that were once sponged
in the stagnant water of a row boat
puddle back into socks soaked with frozen
mud and myred shoes that wait by floating
trash in a plastic bag. There are a dozen
different ways to say this is not how
I thought any of this would be. But still
as you wait to drift across the lake, bow
abreast of mountains that do as they will;
bending and receding, passing slowly by,
you never stop to gaze or question why.
You never stop to gaze or question why
after enough days have passed. What was once
extraordinary now feels more like
the same. And the routine and happenstance
that were appraised as precious have purloined
the disappearing thought of everything
being surreal. It’s strange to have joined
yourself now in thinking about thinking
thoughts of a day that would never arrive,
yet here it is, Hemavan, and you’re in-
credulous. There’s nothing left to reprise.
And you find it so strange here at the end,
how you only recall happiness when
thinking back now to when it first began.
Follow Taylor @ Website: thethousandyearcrawl.wordpress.com
Taylor Bell is a poet and author from Fort Worth, Texas and currently living in Melbourne, Australia. He only has three cards in his wallet: a backcountry hut pass, a State Library membership, and a replacement bank card. The rest all keep falling out. His writing has appeared in Sixfold Magazine, The Sagebrush Review, The Shorthorn, At Home Abroad, and other journals. He is the co-author of the self-published chapbook ‘Picnic Table Sleeping’ and a forthcoming chapbook ‘The Lost List of Good Intentions’