Nynke Salverda Passi is a poet, writer, and teacher born and raised in the Netherlands. Her work has been published in literary magazines such as CALYX, Gulf Coast, Red River Review, Illya’s Honey, Ink, and the Anthology of New England Writers. Her poetry has most recently been anthologized in Carrying the Branch: Poets in Search of Peace (Glass Lyre Press) and River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the 21st Century, edited by Diane Frank (Blue Light Press). Together with Rustin Larson and Christine Schrum, she edited the poetry anthology Leaves by Night, Flowers by Day. She received a Pushcart nomination for her story ‘The Kiss,’ and her essay ‘Oom Ealse and the Swan’ was one of the finalists in the category of creative nonfiction in the 2014 Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize of The Missouri Review.
Her work has also been featured on the websites of artists Toc Fetch and Ken Dubin. In 2014, she copied her poem “The Morphology of Compassion and Indifference” in graphite in oversized lettering on the back wall of the mezzanine at ICON gallery in Fairfield, Iowa, as part of the exposition “Bill’s Room,” featuring graphite drawings by artist Bill Teeple and Xerox art by artist Toni Dorr.
Nynke has 20 years of experience teaching college and graduate creative writing. She developed a successful BA program that she helped build into a BFA and is currently developing a low residency MFA in creative writing. With her mentorship, eleven of her former students landed in leading MA in Journalism or MFA in Creative Writing programs, including at the University of Iowa, the University of Minnesota, the University of Montana, the University of Northern Arizona, the Writers’ Foundry at St. Joseph’s College, Columbia College of Chicago, the University of Chicago, Kingston University London, and more.
Nynke holds a graduate degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University where she studied with Michelle Carter, Frances Mayes, Molly Giles, and William Dickey. She has also attended the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College, Vermont, and done mentorships or taken master classes with internationally known poets and writers such as Mark Spragg, Grace Paley, Sidney Wade, Donald Justice, Mark Jarman, Tom Jenks, and Rudy Wilson. For a number of years, she served as board member for the New England Writers’ Association and helped put on yearly N. E. W. conferences in Windsor, Vermont, or on the Dartmouth college campus featuring guests such as Helen Nearing, Rosanna Warren, Rosellen Brown, and John Kenneth Galbraith.
When I was five, my family and I visited
the cloister gardens of Valldemosa, Spain, briefly home
to Chopin and George Sand, the romantic names still
clinging to vine and moss on old stone,
Whales of Unknowability
My mother read me fairy tales before bed. I’d rest my head on the pillow of her lap and watch her upside-down-mouth as she talked until her lips lost context, blurring into pink paint blots on the pale canvas of her skin—foreign, fascinating. Her features distorted, disassembling like reflections in moving water. I studied the near-abstraction of her, intently tracing her disappearing form, allowing my mind to lose grip on her face as if it were a helium balloon sailing out of sight.
I did this as long as I dared. At some point my stomach filled with dread bordering on terror. When I could not bear it a second longer, I jolted up, grabbing at the last string of recognition, roping her in so I could know her again. Eyes wide, breath suspended, I’d lift my face level with hers, clumsy hands steadying my weight on her fleshy thigh. To my relief, her dispersed features would fall back into harmony like shards of colored glass in a kaleidoscope: The familiar, unruly hair pulled back into a bun, a few gray curls falling across her forehead. The cupid’s bow of her thin lips pulled taut, then slacking. Crooked teeth ruined by war-time malnutrition and too much sugar. Tiny nose, narrow face. Dark glasses with sixties upturned edges, tortoise shell brown with rhinestone settings. And behind them her eyes, pale green like the wings of a Luna moth.
My mother’s voice had the cadence of water; it trickled and seeped into my soul. I heard mostly the sound of the words as they advanced one by one like crests of waves. Repeatedly, I’d put my head in her lap upside down, then jerk up with a start. She was my mother, she was everything to me then—my world, my own self. If I could lose her and find her back at will, nothing bad could happen. And yet every time I lost her in abstraction and distortion, my heart skipped a beat like a skimming stone. I remember this as one of the most thrilling yet anxious experiences of my childhood. With each disassembling, she became less predictable, yet with each new recognition, she was more deeply known.
Now that I look back, I don’t know what it was about the way her mouth hung above me, a pink half-moon out of context, the textures of her features foreshortened in my eyes’ fun house mirrors. I don’t know why I jerked up and down. Her reading filled me with strange energy. I did not understand myself or my own fascinations, which were secret, inchoate. I was small, four, five, six, seven, a slight wisp of a girl with straw-like hair, which my uncle said was white like washing powder.
I was aware of concealed things beneath the surface of the tales, whales of unknowability gliding by beneath the currents of the words, never quite visible or tangible, yet real and present. This was the birth of my love of literature, my fascination with the complex, inexorable webs spun by the spiders of letters. It was the birth of my love of sound, the first time I started tasting the flavors of words on my tongue. And it was also my first conscious experiment with loss: letting go of something dear for the mere joy of finding it back.
I shot up and fell down over and over, letting the stories shape my mind, letting my mother’s shape distort, then come back into focus. I went into a trance, completely mesmerized, dizzy, loosening and loosening the ties of cognition, the distance between her, myself, and these stories. All boundaries blurred; I knew less and less where she ended or I began. Terror turned to ecstasy. A laugh heaved in my chest almost like a sob, then barreled out of my throat, uncontrollable yet oddly shrill, the tinny pitch of a cheap penny whistle.
This was the moment my mother would eye me sternly, with half-amused annoyance, before slapping shut the leaves of her book. “Enough for tonight,” she’d say, kissing me goodnight on one ear as my face darted between her lap and her lips. But I knew that the next night she’d be back to read more.
I was a child growing too big for my frame, my heart, my bones. The small body I inhabited wildly distended with frequent, fresh infusions of imagination. I was satiated yet insatiable, always drunk for more. When my mother was done with one fairy tale, I asked for another. Usually she obliged, no matter how fidgety I was, how often I mussed her skirt, almost banging my impetuous head into her chin or the frames of her glasses, which I’d already bent out of shape more than once. She was kind, determined to be a good mother; she wished for me to be cultured and love books. I basked in the warmth of being her child.
I demanded to hear the same tales over and over like broken records. With each reading, the story lines wore deeper circular grooves into my mind. I did not know yet that the lines would preserve and last, maps etched into my unconscious. I did not know that I would need these maps one day to navigate my own tales of death and loss, to find my way home.
—Excerpt, Gospel of the Voiceless Wind
I dreamed one night that I was a contestant on a TV quiz show. I stood behind a small glass lectern in blue space. Obama was the host. He asked me who my heroes were, and without flinching I shouted: "Flowers!" Because in that moment it seemed fearless, the way flowers give all of themselves exuberantly, dramatically, without holding back—only to fade a few days later, rumpled, dropping petals, perhaps the stench of rot drifting up from stems jammed into a little bit of water inside a narrow vase. It seemed the ultimate bravery—to offer your splendor to the world for the sheer pleasure of blooming. To dare to give all of your glory, then wither and be willing to die. When I woke up, I was satisfied with my answer. I remembered Obama’s head vigorously nodding and lights blinking on the stage we stood on, as if I’d hit the jackpot.
—Excerpt, Gospel of the Voiceless Wind