About calendars and other documents

Issue 2/1982 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from Sudenkorento (‘The dragonfly’, 1970). Introduction by Aarne Kinnunen

I now have. Right here in front of me. To be interviewed. Insulin artist. Caleb Buttocks. I have heard. About his decision. To grasp his nearly. Nonexistent hair and. Lift. Himself and. At the same time. His horse. Out of the swamp into which. He. Claims. He has sunk so deep that. Only. His nose is showing. How is it now, toe dancer Caleb Buttocks. Are you. Perhaps. Or is It your intention. To explain. The self in the world or. The world. In the self. Or is It now that. Just when you. Finally have agreed to. Be interviewed by yourself. You have decided. To go. To the bar for a beer?

– Yes. Can you spare a ten?

– Yes.

– Thanks. See, what’s really happened is that. My hands have started shaking. But when I down two or three bottles of beer, that corpse-washing water as I’ve heard them call it, my hands stop shaking and I don’t make so many typing errors. If I put away six or seven they stop shaking even more and the typing mistakes turn really strange. They become like dreams: all of a sudden you notice you’ve struck it just right. Let’s say, ‘arty’ becomes ‘farty’. Or I mean to say, ‘it strikes me to the core’ I end up typing ‘score’. It’s like that. A friend of mine, an artist, once stuck a revolver in my hand. Imagine, a revolver! I’ve never shot anything with any kind of weapon except a puppy once with a miniature rifle. My God, how nicely it wagged its tail when I aimed at it, but what I’m talking about are handguns, those shiny black steelblue clumps people worship as heaven knows what symbols. It’s not as if I haven’t been hoping to all my life. And now, finally, after I’d waited over fifty years, it turned out that the revolver was a star Nagant, just the kind I’d always dreamed of. So if I ever got one of those, oh, then would sleep through the lulls between shots with that black steel clump ready under my pillow. Well, my friend the artist set out one vodka bottle with a white label and three brown beer bottles with gold labels on the edge of a potato pit – we had just emptied all of them together – stuck the fully loaded star Nagant into my hand, took me thirty yards away and said:

– Oh, Lord.

I mean, he didn’t actually say it but that’s what he meant.

Just before hat, he’d released the safety catch. And the and I’d carried the Nagant with its barrel carefully pointed toward the ground and taken care that I wouldn’t stumble.

I got into position: right foot forward and right or gun arm straight out, right eye open. But what could I do with that right eye of mine with Its sighting spot blind and me barely able to make out the edges of my field of vision and even those edges full of some damned optical mosquitoes. I switched eye and foot and arm, but since that didn’t feel good either I shifted the arm back where it had been. It’s a rather curled-up position, just try it some time but I decided to have a go at it anyway. I couldn’t see the beer bottles at all, just the same burnt-glass slope of the pit, but I could spot the vodka bottle. I looked for it with my left eye and the sighting notch and the front bead all on the same line and I said to myself Jesus Maria or some other relaxing eastern yoga-like thing and pressed the trigger. When I opened my eyes the label was gone.

Not really? We went to look. And my god, the bottle was smashed to pieces. And how movingly my friend the artist looked me in the eye from his crouched position and said:

– Hit it smack in the middle. You don’t get sIivers like this if you don’t hit it dead center

He’s a big heavy-set man with dark burning eyes, and some say he’s violent. At that moment I saw in those eyes such goodness, oh Lord, right in the middle: which I would be wrong to call superhuman because it was real. Excuse me. But.

Don’t mention it. The Nagant holds six rounds. There were two left after he’d shot the three beer bottles. I went and got an empty insulin ampule from my suitcase but he couldn’t manage to hit that. We spent the rest of the day talking about the secrets of the kind of relaxed concentration that has learned to forget the cerebrum, and about all sorts of basic and first-rate things, including those symbols I mentioned. Well, for example, the eternally famous heroes of the West. Of course, they had no women. Give or take some proprietor of a high chaparral with some busty postcard, and the others with only dreams beyond the mountains; even in saloons you seldom found a female serving whiskey, and as for cows or other mares, what would a healthy man do with those. Well, up with the revolvers and bang, bang, straight from the hip. In the same tradition you got rid of a couple of Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. So we drank some more beer and got all excited and said that if they’d only send women along with men to the firing lines to keep banging from the trenches or the shelters of casemates, who the devil would care about those shiny black symbols. And the next morning we didn’t go back on what we’d said even though we remembered a good bit of it and we had a headache and our women had gone to the drugstore to get some vitamin B.

But to continue the interview.

So. You are. Caleb Buttocks.

So I am.

I, all-round sitting artist Caleb Buttocks, being of sound mind and devout faith, trusting in at least one hundred and seventy-three readers, have decided to write an autobiography. I have considered this for thirty – no, wait, twenty-seven years, or in other words, ever since I said to my wife, the then Brown Dooroo, that if I ever wrote anything it sure wouldn’t be an autobiography. It wouldn’t have more than a single reader, the hundred and twenty-fourth; he too would get fed up with it when all he’d come across would be insulin and sugar, and anything else around there would be mostly the same stuff. I said it so firmly and absolutely that I was about ready to start on it the next day. I can’t remember why I didn’t get started might have been insulin shock. Now I’ve stuck with my decision – just a minute, my memory’s no good, twenty-seven years, as I guess I just figured out, and a few more shorter ones. That should be enough of a guarantee.

I didn’t mark down in a calendar the day when I said I wouldn’t. I would often start a diary and other kinds of collecting, as a schoolboy, plants and insects, oh, you had to if you wanted to do well, but later, newspaper clippings, for example. Hasn’t amounted to a thing. I cut out a few, tear out some others, then no more.

A long time ago, I even swapped my stamp collection for an armful of cowboy-and-Indian stories as soon as I got a few series filled, I mean I earned a beating because the album was a Christmas present from my parents and it came out that I’d traded it without telling anyone.

It was. Your intention. To talk. About calendars?


I think all biographies and particularly autobiographies, complete with dates, are just like a flowerbed and a gravestone, put under the perpetual care of the parish gardener for a certain fee. Clipped grass, begonias or geraniums, or perhaps gladioli, as directed by the landscape architect and the cemetery gardener. Who would crawl under a stone like that, of his own free will and before his time.

Well, some crawl and some don’t. I want to live. One autobiographer wrote that when he was a little boy there was a big fire near his house, right next door, a magnificent bonfire in the middle of the pitch-black night, everything as if served on a tray, everybody standing at the window watching with delight as bats with burning wings flew up into the sky. But then came the chronometer-men, who figured out that the fire had taken place long before this autobiographer was born. Father and mother had told the boy about it, or else it was the neighbors, or some exciting old man with a pipe late at night while the thunder was rumbling. So that’s how they put a gravestone on that fire. The status quo rests here. But it wouldn’t rest. It roared in the private windows of the biographer when, sixty years later, he got the idea of throwing paper into it.

Memories, you see, memories are a scab you have to let heal in peace. If you scratch it before it comes off by itself, you never know what it will turn into. To get started with human speech, I first had to learn to babble: scabdevilscabdevilscabdevil.

But aren’t you. Right now. Getting ready. To scratch. Devils?

Your remark is most pertinent. But perhaps I must. Who knows the coming night, didn’t someone say that. Not long ago I had a dream: wind angels, so it was declared, before the morning is at hand, wind angels have come for each one of us. So it was urgent. What the devil was the rush? A rush to atone for errors, at least in that reality which, from the point of view of the realities that can be sensed, is nothing, but merely represents them. Christ. You know him well. You can’t fail to know him. Saviour. Mediator. Redeemer. For our sake, isn’t that right? Well, what? One of man’s most far-reaching attempts at determining that element in representational reality which in reality is impossible to determine. This attempt was made two thousand years ago. Did it help? Now it’s even more urgent.

(I am a nonentity who is being driven from within.)

But I am not a nonentity. My basic life-long trouble is that in my living-room floor there’s a trapdoor I can’t manage to keep shut no matter what trick I try. Once I nailed it shut with six-inch nails. They didn’t do the job either. The frame supporting the trapdoor was too rotten. To cover it, I nailed down a one-inch-thick plywood panel which of course I painted to match the rest of the floor so it wouldn’t stand out. The next day. Right. The next day I tripped on the edge of the plywood panel and sprained my ankle. After I had walked around on crutches for a year and begun to feel in good shape again, I bought enough of the same plywood to cover the whole floor, sawed it to fit the corners and the walls and nailed it down. On top of that, felt padding and linoleum, and new mouldings along the walls. Whether it was the lack of air or some troublesome lack of space under the floor, a week later the trapdoor bulged open again. There was a loud screech in the middle of the night and when I got up to have a look, the trapdoor was a hand’s-width open and a swarm of carpenter ants was scurrying around. I swept the ants back in, and since I knew that my urine was always high in sugar early in the morning, I set a trap. I peed in the basin, poured in whatever I happened to have on hand, most often arsenic they use for situations like this, mixed it up carefully and poured it onto the edges of the trapdoor. Please keep in mind that in those years, except for the ants, I lived by myself. In the morning I filled up the cracks around the trapdoor with concrete, and just to be on the safe side, I mixed it more than half with cement. Then I sat on the trapdoor until I thought the cement had hardened. I passed the time drinking beer and of course smoking incessantly. I thought of my deceased friend, the writer, who’d once leaned over and looked me in the eye and said, “Isn’t it awful to have to sit as if you were on a mine all the time.” He was marked down in the statistical columns of traffic accident victims soon after he got out of the nuthouse. What happened after I finally got up off the trapdoor is best not mentioned. The trapdoor is now laughing in the middle of the floor like the ugliest typewriter you ever saw, and I sit here preparing specimens for my new collection, this time of carpenter ants. See Dreams and their Interpretations, TRAPDOOR 1) In a wall: your application has been rejected, 2) In a floor: when you walk on the street don’t drop your eyeglasses. ANT: your unremitting zeal will bring you good luck in the end. CHAIR: Don’t worry, your buttocks will grow numb in due time.


You are trying. Apparently. To say.

So I am. Just that. I hear they have found an impressive amount of cellulose in the Gulf Stream. Where does it come from? Studies have shown that it comes from the luxury hotels in and around Miami, and that originally it had been toilet paper. But where is the paper now?

It’s no more. And it’s unlikely that the assholes can be individualized any more either. This is exactly what I am trying to say. That memories, you see: there sure is some cellulose.


And what. About your plans. Can you. Tell something about. It?

I listen. Many circles of sound, I wonder how many, and I of course in the center or I the center. What else: if I weren’t, the whole world would collapse.

So I listen. I try to discern, to differentiate, to make distinct times out of simultaneous ones, impossible without a compass and paper, good, thus with a compass in the manner of the ideologists; all ideologists think that when you take a compass and draw a circle on a piece of paper, it sure is a circle and the whole truth right there. But just take a look at that circle line under a microscope: a messy line of graphite boulders. Or the center point: a crater. How do you then figure out the radius? That’s what they’ll ask you in any case. They’ll ask you so damned often that you can’t take a step without somebody coming up and asking. And if at that point you won’t give in and resort to the relief available to man and every other living organism, to pretend to be something one isn’t, you’ll be a goner. You’ll end up crawling, lost among the boulders for the rest of your life. If you don’t think in better to jump headfirst into the crater right then and there. I’d think it better, oh, well, I don’t really know.

So, the outermost circle. Humming, stirring, I know there are cars about, the sound is hollow and constant though it comes in waves. Almost better if I opened the window. Then the sounds would be closer and easier to recognize. But you can’t do it that way, and isn’t the whole idea of sounds nowadays that they eat their way through and gnaw at your brains until you give in? To what? Well, for example. A couple of times a day, usually in the evening when it’s dark, a jet goes overhead. If it flies very low and comes all of a sudden when I am thinking about ants and cellulose, I get frightened. And before I have the chance to calm down, I feel, with my heart pounding, that it’s coming now, and of course you know what It I mean. The worst of it is that you can travel five times around the world before you find someone who wouldn’t know. But do you also know, and now comes a quote from our great master, Luther: “What is it? It is that the head has grown more than the toes. And so we walk around here with heads down and toes up in the air like mushroom-shaped trolls and that comes of that: congestion of the brain. Fine. Racing with stop-watch in hand, against the clock, legs in the air, head on the ground, fierce last hara-kiri spurt on the home stretch. Sprinting, hurdling, running the ghostmile, running the potato-sack race, I, Caleb Buttocks, buttocks-running with four toes in the surgeon’s trash bin, the other six on the stool under the table waiting for further measures. And never mind, my chair is good, the latest design, flexible back rest, bearings under the seat, wheels for toes, I mean toes of the chair, and there are four of them, I’m still ahead as far as ther number goes. Fine.


But about giving in. You asked to what. So, to put it more precisely: to one’s intestinal activities. Just look at ducks. Those pet arbitrators of the question of left-over coffee cake common to all us city dwellers. Watch them from a bridge as you lean on the railing. There they are, swimming beneath you, beautiful as cameo brooches, all made up in dappled blue and green and grey and brownish-red with white spots, they quack and you think oh my God I forgot to bring breadcrusts along. Then go up to a high embankment, again lean on the railing and look at cars bustling back and forth on the black-grey asphalt blue green red creamy yellow, beautiful as cameos. And It occurs to you that of course they’ve got intestines just like the park-fed ducks. And the intestines are contained inside the greenish and bluish-gray and, liver-red body and see to it that the coffee cake is properly digested. That’s quite an impressive thought. And so you jump into a taxi because the long walk suddenly leaves you breathless and you try not to think that sitting in that cameo of whatever color, you too are the guts of a park-fed duck. That’s also pretty impressive. Then you come home thinking all sorts of things typical of depressive states, such as that you’ve got to live, too; you check carefully through Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, go out again, catch a fat duck in the yard outside your house, wring its neck, pull out the gut, stretch it far enough to make the radius of a big compass and go, go, go to an open square or a playing field and draw a circle. Then you travel far away to the depths of the wilderness, shoot a wild duck by the shore of a forest pond, return and draw a new circle on the same square, using the same center point, the wild ducks gut, as the radius this time around. To your sorrow you notice that it turns out just as you had feared the point of the compass traces the same groove you had cut the time before. And you conclude: life is too illogical for It to be worth even trying to speak the truth even if it isn’t a true circle It still serves the purpose, let it be like that from now on. You have given in haven’t you. Or did you perhaps turn Marxist?


The next, inner circle: Banging. Ages ago I learned what that is. If I were a child, very small, I would say: bang. If I were a little bigger I would say: Mother, what’s that banging? And Mother would say: the lady next door is beating rugs on the balcony. If I were even bigger I would say: Mother, why does she beat the rugs? Mother: she beats them so they’ll get clean. And if I were still bigger: Mother why is she always beating them? And Mother: Why do you have to keep asking the same question. I told you, they’ve got to be clean. And if I had it in mind to say something more, there’d be no point in my getting any bigger because I know that kind of two-sided mutual beating just makes you feel bad.

The next circle: Children screaming in the yard, then all of a sudden from farther away through the inner circles the squeal of brakes and soon the wail of an ambulance or police car or fire engine; someone once explained to me what the difference is and how you know one from another but I’ve forgotten. Anyway, the same kinds of cries for help. Or is there any difference between a child running in front of a car and a fire burning somewhere?

Just a minute, something just came to mind. About that screaming of kids. This. A familiar gadget to you and as you can see, to me, too.

I taped this reel in the winter, a flute concerto, the radio happened to be on and the news came right after, let’s let it roll, just a minute, here, this takes place on the station at the border.

– Wonderful weather.

– Sort of cool.

– Good driving conditions.

– Twenty years ago we’d have been talking about skiing conditions.

– I heard there was a lot of fog in the morning.

– So thick we could hardly leave.

– Went OK though?

– Took it easy early on.

– Good luck for the rest of the trip.

– We’ll see.

– What are the negotiations all about?

– Colonel, Sir, you’ve got the same sense of humor as ever. Matters of interest to both countries.

– Good luck!

– Thanks a lot.

And as you heard, a child crying in the background. Not that it’s so remarkable in itself. But what in the world is an infant doing at a customs shed in the middle of ceremonies for state visitors crossing the border? Very early, child crying, still with mucus in its throat.

It’s only in something like this that I can hear Dooroo anymore. I don’t know what circle of sound I should place her in, either somewhere very far out of hearing or in the deepest, innermost spot which is silent like a grave.

I think she is one of those rays they talk about in botany: penetrates all the annual rings. Her own voice: I have a snatch of it on another reel. I once listened to it with my Blue Flowerfairywife. I’ll never listen to it again. It made me feel bad. Because it wasn’t her voice, I couldn’t recognize it at any point. She was already very sick by then.

The next circle of sound, further inward. swallow very near. A good sound by itself but it once left bad traces as it got mixed up in other things and I haven’t been able to extricate it from them ever since. The window was open and it was flung inside. Or as the poet says: Over my window flew the bird, through my heart its wing. It was careless on both sides but couldn’t be avoided. I collected the noise-maker in the palms of my hands and let it out. It flew off willingly. So willingly that I slammed the window shut and lied as it went away: let it fly, let it screech as long as it doesn’t screech so that it cracks the pane. This happened before I got to know Blue, who is now my wife. I told her about it. And I don’t know how I ended up telling her about it in such a way that from then on she’s been afraid of swallows. Right away she asked: How did it fly in like that? I bet you kept your window wide open. And just as quickly I got to explaining, well they do fly around on their migrations. Who knows, this one might have come from Thailand.

Siri-siri-sirikit, she chirped like a swallow in a bad mood, or do you know anything about Thailand besides that there’s a Sirikit there? The following summer, and this happened at our island cottage as the waves were lapping, trusting is their continued southerly flow, she gathered up a whole pile of old magazines from the attic, and, with scissors in hand and a bundle of sun rays and other shoreline vegetation around her, sat down on the beach to cut out pictures. I, however, was sitting in the woods on an old stump with a saw and an axe and two beer bottles beside me, and a lighted cigarette in hand, in front of me a dried-up pine tree which I was looking at with a mind to cut it down, we were fast running out of firewood. As I was looking, I heard laughter ringing from the beach, so bell-like that I sat there waiting for it to turn up right next to me to tell why. It didn’t appear, and I ended up swearing long and hard when the tree fell down in the wrong direction and got stuck in the branches of other trees and I felt that in some strange way it had gotten stuck because of that laughter and I had ended up with this big job. It took hours of fussing around and drinking beer before the tree was down. And well, then I went to the place everyone calls whatever they choose to call it outhouse or cooperative credit society or master’s-hut and so forth, and that’s where the singing laughter was, amidst the other pictures stuck on the wall boards with a thumbtack. ‘ Siri-siri-sirikit, I heard the swallow twitter although there weren’t any swallows around, that sure is a pretty girl, teeth like a bowl of rice, I wonder if they eat rice with chopsticks in Thailand, too? Greetings, I said to my wife when I got back; she: From whom; I: It just might rain; she, suspiciously: How so? Now the sky is absolutely clear. I: Well, I saw a swallow that had flown so far down that its beak was full of rice porridge. Don’t laugh. I am going to go lop off the branches of that dried-up tree.


A circle even further inward. A record player. Dear radio listeners. Remember that on the other side of your wall there may be a neighbor who needs quiet because of work, rest, or Illness. Therefore, please do not play your radio too loud. But it’s a record player and there are no other directives for drawing attention to the loud volume of a record player than banging your fist on the wall. And I don’t feel like doing that. There hasn’t been any banging from their side either, although I do keep banging at this ant-collecting machine even in the middle of the night. Now a flushing sound, right in the wall, one second, two, it’s getting quieter and drifting further away, the echo circles around in the wall structure and now, a howl, stop. And as you can hear, silence of the record player again. They have the same thing wrong in their toilet pipes as I do, at the blessed end, they give off this big howl. Calling the super would take care of it. (I love you like a foreign land rock and bridge.) Well, now they’ve lifted the tone arm of the record player right in the middle. How annoying.

Further circles, these already inside: Light series of crackling sounds as if someone were sending a wire. I like them a lot. From over there they come through two doors and there’s even the hallway in between. They are typewriter telegraphy and start off from my wife’s fingers. Hers are much faster than mine; I stop every now and then and do nothing but listen and this smoking makes for pauses, too. She went there just a minute ago. She twisted and turned, talked a lot and took some sidesteps; the whole manoeuver was a little bit as if there had still been sand in between the cleats of the spiked shoes and on the starting block just before the crack of the pistol. And this mutual telegraphing. Maryuska. Whenver I think of what color she is I remember the bottom of a well that I loved to peer into as a little boy. A deep well, as deep as the sky was high, and I thought: I wonder how deep. The later in the evening I looked at It, the deeper and blacker was the square of skyblue around my faceless head. Sometimes I dropped in a small stone. It was amazing when my head would disintegrate into swinging shreds and after a long time would I hear the plop. If l now called her, I would end up smoking a whole cigarette before there would be the quick answer: Well what? In the morning she went to the market to buy flowers, she has this endless passion for flowers. When she comes in with bouquets in her hands there are so many that she can’t even get her key out of her bag but shoves her elbow against the doorbell until It gives a little ring and I can hear It and come open the door. For the next couple of hours she’s all wrapped up with the flowers. She combines colors, takes long stems and short, cuts the stems that are too long shorter and those that are too short longer, changes five or six vases five or six times and doesn’t remember a word of what she usually spouts so easily about the woman’s role. She brings one of the five or six vases to the table in front of me and I admit it is beautiful, damned beautiful, globeflowers or heaven knows what anemones in a fat-bellied clay pot, but look here, this mess takes some room, I can’t get anything in order if I have to consider something that’s already organized. She understands very well and doesn’t mind at all and so that pot of yellow flowers is here on the table and she’s letting off a series of crackling sounds from her own desk on which I have never seen a vase; there’s simply no room.

We are getting to the innermost circles of sound: This right here under my fingers: I have to keep cotton balls in my ears; otherwise, these snapping clicks hurt as if my eardrums were the ribbon and my brains were the roller. In field manoeuvers nearly thirty years ago, a certain sensitive idiot, let’s call him the Heitti Kid, from the name Heith shot over my shoulder with the muzzle of his rifle smack at my right ear. How could I guess that he would blast away right there; he didn’t know he would, either. Well the eardrum split, and the barracks being what they were, diptheria set in right in the crevice. In twenty-four hours, in the other ear too. Hellish pain and fever, injections of prontocil in the field hospital with the result that my pee came out looking like beet juice. Finally the verdict that it was diphtheria and on to the hospital for contagious diseases and treatments with serum. The last two months full of detective stories; felt bad only for the Heitti Kid. I knew he’d done nothing but blame himself the whole time. Even when I got back to the company and no matter how much I explained that it wasn’t your fault but the fault of all this craziness. I wonder where the Heitti Kid is lying now or if he’s lying anywhere any more; in any case, he’s completely deaf to my calling him an idiot. Finally a circle of sound that I can’t go beyond except in dreams. There’s just about everything there. It warbles in my belly, rustles in my pants pocket when I take out my tissue and put it back in between the snorting of my nostrils, as if coming straight from my brain; it snuffles as I breathe, the tobacco cough crackling in my throat, pains shooting from temple to toes, they’re as good as sounds, and the heart, thump, thump whenever you take the trouble to listen to it. And you’ve got to take the trouble. It’s just one of these damned ants that you’ve got to worry about. If I didn’t take the trouble every minute, I’d collapse at least once a day right here on the typewriter and my Well-bottom-blue Maryuska would have to bring me around with sugar-water. Thank goodness, Banting & Best, the inventors of insulin made their invention right from the start in such a way that as soon as there’s too much of it, it begins to pound in your ears. You have to be firmly focused on your center point before you fail to hear the pounding and of course you sometimes do miss it. Then the continuation of my self completely depends on what kind of attitude the Spirit of the Globeflowers and Anemones will take. She reacts incredibly. It’s as if a warm magic hand reached into a nightmare and dispelled the dream so that I don’t have to scream after all. And so my self continues along in its old familiar shape. That’s what’s so strange about that hand. That it doesn’t change me into anything different when I undergo chemical changes. Apparently it wants me back just as I am, with all my ants. When these per … atchoo, when these laws of personality are so insurmountable that ATCHOO, if sneezing means that every time you feel like sneezing you have to sneeze twenty times in a row, there’s no way of cutting it down to fifteen. ATCHOO!

Excuse me. For. Breaking off.

Never mind. Make yourself at home.


Translated by Aili and Austin Flint

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