The Sea Remembers

Reading a landscape, according to Roland Barthes, means first of all perceiving it with the body and the memory­ – with the memory of the body… so childhood is the best way to get to know a country. In the end there is really only one country: the country of childhood.

My journey to the northeast followed a wide arc into the unknown, to Bad Polzin, the place of my birth according to my passport, now in Poland with a name unfamiliar to my ear: Polczyn Zdrój. No memories of it clinging to my mind’s eye.

The child was just six months old when she lay in her baby carriage sharing space with a briefcase containing certificates, a few photos, bread, dried ham and tea for setting off with. Anything else? Nothing else. They were hard times. We kept looking ahead, mother said.

But where we come from must mean something, mustn’t it? Something that happened not quite by chance at least. Thinking of it bears the heavy burden of what is inaccessible and strange. Where were you born? The other children asked me at school. In the land where the Pollacks come from? You know, like Grabowski the coal dealer, who’s always talking about his neighbor, saying “Czerwinski say to I…” Dunno, said the child, stubbornly denying. Border guards. Travel ban. The Gap of not knowing.

It is said that there is a cell-memory, that cell water is laden with powers heavy with meaning, that there are traces of memory stored in it, measured and mapped, that go far back and are seeking the way back to physical experience. Even if something is detected through the veil of what has been lost or never possessed, perhaps that is more like an invention? How can we ever trust our memory? On the other hand, the sea does not invent anything but instead ceaselessly shifts the tongue of land that forms its rim. That is why I was going to the sea, to the Baltic, practically an inland sea between Scandinavia, Russia, the Baltic countries, Poland, Germany and Denmark, with no tide to speak of, reaching from Swinemünde (Swinoujscie) along the Stettiner Haff (Zalew Szczecinski) to Stettin (Szczecin) and beyond via Schivelbein (Swidwin) and Bad Polzin to Kolberg (Kolobrzeg).

Mother said you should not speak as you feel but as you remember.
But she did not abide by it herself. Everything will be as it should be anyway, she always said. The sun would bring it all to light. What was the child to make of that, intimidated by the mythical supreme power of the heavenly bodies?

Rosemarie Zens,
in: Rosemarie Zens, The Sea Remembers, Heidelberg 2014 (Excerpt)


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