The canal was always there in my memory. Sometimes a lonely desolate place, sometimes the sunny light feeling of walking along by the water. You could walk for miles of changing landscape, along its edges and lost waterways, crossing countryside and the hidden parts of the town. From the windows of a train travelling across the valley to Manchester. From the window of my school bus, as it wound its way through the outskirts of the town. Where the chimneys remain, when the clouds hang across the Colne Valley, the canal looks back at me.
The landscape leaves its marks, draws its way through my veins, like the road running through tree-lined stretches, where trees tunnel over us. This is how I remember it, etched in, and layered with buildings. The dark river, which is high at this time of year, winds through Hebden Bridge. The town is lit by lights, winter blue. In my hand a shard of ice.
By the water’s edge, the monument to the immigrant, looking back at the city, looking out across the wide and muddy river. Situated at the point of arrival, the old port of New Orleans, marking the point of embarkation, the journey’s end and the start of crossings and travels, hopes and dreams. A two-sided statue, a decorated figure, like those carved on a ship’s prow looks out to the water; an immigrant family look towards the city. The crescent city lies at a bend in the Mississippi River. A city haunted by its migrants, by their comings and goings, the history of these streets and those who walked them.
The road to Skyllberg is the turning we take off the main road on the last day of our trip. Not just a location on the map, but a symbol, found somewhere between the past and present. Each recall of memory is like a draft worked over and over. Each time I want to recreate the moment when we turn the corner and find the lake hidden behind trees.
Now I follow the Rue de Rome towards the old port. Everywhere the buildings with shutters, white and pastel, as if the sun has drained and turned everything a faded white. The harbour lined with boats, their sails blue and white; in lines they point upwards, their forms definite and leaving shadow. The reflections in the water are gentle ripples which turn them back to trees, they are branches bending gently with the movement of water. There is a big wheel circling slowly and up into the blue. I take photographs into the sun to see how they are drenched by light, as though the sun has pulled all the colours out and left only reflected lights.
I have been dreaming I am in New York. Looking out across the harbour to where the bridge begins and ends. With a paperback of poems to carry as I walk, walk across thee. Waiting for the sun to set, I follow the steps upwards to the bridge where time spans like birds in flight.
From the window, glimpses, snapshots, fleeting: time passing like something remembered you can touch. Travel makes you a stranger everywhere continually seeking for and casting off the sense of home. From the window impossibly long trails of freight cars. I picture the track that runs behind us, spooling away endlessly, lost into distance. The forlorn sound of the train, the sound for which the word was made, stretching outwards for-lorn.
It is at this time of day that the city begins to reveal itself. When street lamps are lit, exposing walls and the narrow passageways between buildings. The lights illuminate brightly so that the wall seems cast in yellow stone, and the shadows of overlooked corners steal away to find new hiding places.
I am thinking of a photograph on a beach somewhere on that trip to Wales. Dark clouds and grey sea. There is synchronicity in the image; our faces are together, touching in the half light. When photographs were still like slips of chance on the paper. Thinking about being outside as night fell in the mountains, sharing a bottle of wine; jubilant in the almost total darkness, with no lights to guide us home.
Connected to our beginnings and ends, people wander through cemeteries to be close to those who are no longer here. Each city, each place, contains the imprints of all those who have walked its streets and all those yet to come, the ghosts of history who are with us even now. In some places we are more aware of them than others.