Jessica Wood

Virtual Travel: A Poetry Collaboration

Nasim Rebecca Asl and I worked together in the handover between our residencies to create a virtual travel piece. Over the course of a week, we sent each other coordinates, live streams and even driving tours of locations across the globe to use as writing prompts for three poems. 
Lockdowns and the pandemic have taken travelling off the cards for the vast majority of us. It’s still very uncertain as to when international travel will operate ‘normally’ once more; we’ve all spent days and weeks cooped up staying at home. This project has been a chance to experience new places and imagine the world beyond the four walls we’ve been trapped in for far too long. 
We hope you enjoy traveling with us.

[This exercise utilised google maps, Drive and Listen, and Skyline Webcams. Each image is linked to its source for your enjoyment.]

Monday 23rd August:

Tokyo, Japan

An evening drive through Tokyo, with a soft voice
speaking over electronic piano keys
to drift you into ASMR induced sleep. 
The sky in shades of grey dusk blends
with the red of fluorescent lights
and the golden hour chases us 
all round the globe, shines here across buildings of glass.

Cocooned amongst their neat linear rows, I wonder 
how it feels to be here with purpose,
not sequestered by the limiting view of a car,
but to inhabit a whole life in this place, I wonder  
while crossing a bridge that appears like golden gates, 
into the warm light of dusk.

Havana, Cuba

It is hot in Havana but I am cold, 
a golden breeze that glides, floats
through the capital’s blue-sky streets
and shadowed alleys, careening past 
pedestrians who already know these roads. 
Buildings – blush, mint, marigold – sway 
and arch to the steady trill of the claves, 
bow to the lament of the flute. Their shutters
beat through peeling paint. Horns bleat
with laughter as vintage cars as old as revolution,
Volgas and Chryslers and Ford Fairlanes,
race past a regiment of silent
spectators. The heart of the city
slips down a side-street I cannot reach.

Wednesday 25th August:

Persepolis, Iran
29.9355° N, 52.8916° E

Upon landing in Persepolis,
I’m greeted with the grimaced 
face of a frozen tourist 
venturing across ancient land,

staring at hind legs of stone 
guards, human and animalesque, 
outlining the posthumous memory
of a door to an ancient gate 
lain bare to expose the flourishing 
hills behind, tinged brown from heat.

In sepia I see the the brown slant of pillars
pointing eternally skyward, no domed
roof to hold onto. Flanked by a wall
of sturdy soldiers, engraved in 
permanent precision 

and before it all a pair stairs vault
downwards into the shallow
domain of imposed glass with 
a sphere of plastic tubing,
ringed marks of their enclosure 
of that pulsating life force, water
moves beneath following the rhythm 
of land despite all of life that’s locked
in stone and dust.

Asku Prefecture, China
41.1688° N, 80.2606° E

I am an NPC in a cyberpunk vision, 
an extra in a dystopian film, 
dazzled by this city of the future. 
The flats behind me could be CGI, 
pixel, code. I can almost pretend 
the families inside are happy, not hiding, 
that they do not pray five times a day, 
do not brace themselves when a foot 
thuds outside their door, do not know 
what soon will come. Their milk and honey 
prop food, not rations. If only the director 
could yell cut, and their neighbours
could come flooding home to light lamps, 
cook family recipes, sing lullabies to innocent
children, to love and fight and live. 
This could be a city of the future.
The buildings are already traced with neon. t
Their noble outlines blocking the night 
and the prying eyes of satellites.

Friday 26th August:

Crete, Greece

I dove too late to see the colours 
to be shocked by the depth of blue 
and clarity of the ocean floor,
greeted with darkness, and fragments
of dust passing in front of my eyes.
In the absence of noise, I hear everything, 
the crackle of ocean like a fire burning
in the oceans belly, the buzz of fish
as they swim in jolting movements,
a low thrum underneath it all 
white noise cracking louder-
When I rise, to gasp and breath air,
I’m greeted with a string of lights 
pearls strung across the harbours 
edge, engulfing the jagged edge 
of cliff in their glare, 
reflecting the ripples of ocean 
like the gloomy orb in replacement 
of the moon, the air is quiet
cold and fresh as I drive to Thessaloniki, 
joined by the sounds of strings thrumbing 
with certainty, the warbling cry of singers 
calling forth, from the future some bright day 
when this time, I’ll return to hear the clear blue.

Guadalajara, Mexico

It looks like a dry heat, a air thin 
and keening for rain heat. Or maybe, 
more humid heat, torrid heat, skin drinking 
from the altar of the air kind of heat,
the kind of heat that frizzes hair 
into haloes. Outside the temple,
the courtyard fountain is a liturgical gurgle.
A tourist kneels, knees stained with dust,
scoops with cupped hands, sips, offers
water to her parched son
and his sun-bronzed flesh. Droplets
congregate on his lips. His mother
wipes his hallowed skin. She kisses
his head, folds him into her body.

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