Issue 2/1993 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Virtaava seinä (‘Flowing wall’, 1984). First performed by Toimii!, Stockholm, 1984. Introduction by Lauri Otonkoski

Ahead lies a journey
but those who are embarking on it
are fascinated as much
by the finer-than-fine bright wall,
wall flowing like the wind separating what
is not
from what is right now
beginning to be born
from their own movements:

these restless spirits
were born in the same valley
each prepared only by their own story
each with an instrument that is more good will
than any curved or straight wood or metal,
and in this world,
its Western Yard, it is
a little dark
and it is not yet time to decide
whether it is now morning or evening.
Someone is calling, or wakening, some instrument
that is pure suggestion, a cry of departure
or a quiet enticement: ready?
It is accepted, it is answered,
it is like the voice of Reason in the cool air,
and when they all tum to start their journey
before them is rising ground, a whole hill,
a slope and a mountain the size of Europe

the shape of which can be discerned
because light is dawning over its shoulder,

it lies ahead and this movement
is towards it, it breathes –

and on this slope is a path
though it is not always discernible,
someone has been here, someone
has already moved on from here
though we do not know what foot,
what boot at any given time
wore the moss from the stone,
what effort placed the stepping-stone
in the awkward places –

we ascend, in unrhythm,
from the sloping ground to the hillside,
time-bearers, minor chromatic seconds,
hours that are too late for the clock,
centuries that crawling, heads bleeding,
return from their wars,
ascend the home hill, an illusion of peace as their trophy –

but repose there is not, there is no
repose; drifting apart, rushing
together the journey continues sideways
along the slope, steeply up
the slope and we hear one another’s footsteps,
panting, we hear the yelps
of joy when a foothold is found,
the huge curse of the stumbler,
the grinding of teeth and of the whole of fate, almost,
because even alone this is
a shared venture, a shared language
and the ring of a shield –

what was it that rang, flashed,
what beaten metal, instrument
or soldier’s apparel?
Doubtless the moon,
because the moon comes slanting over the mountain’s shoulder,
an old and and frightened visage,
who is it? night’s old familiar face,
we must go beyond it,
it no longer shines, the scrap-heap does not shine,
but there is light
and precisely for that reason
we can discern the outline of the mountain’s shoulder,
an archetypal pine’s entangled mane,
and one by one the instruments remember:

– we can get there, I went
there as a child
– we can get there because I
fell from there,
–we can’t get there,
but who cares, the main thing
is to go
– I remember hearing there
a sound like this
– the town is visible from there, that
at any rate I do remember
– all I do now is remember…

when all speak with one voice
the confusion is at its height
but just as it is at its height, the path below
widens and begins to bear our weight,
the crest of the hill is always closer than one thinks
and one by one
the climbers crane their necks to see:

it is evening, it was evening, after all,
the sun setting and a festive
golden city, like Alexandria,
festive drunken groups with their instruments,
everything just a little too impossible
ever to reach, flowing
mirth that is flowing, overflowing pain
and every instrument, player
seeks the most beautiful, the best note he knows
and stays on it a little while –

and there, ahead, close by
the finer-than-fine flowing wall, like the wind
that separates what
a moment ago was not there
from what has just
ceased to exist
and thus all are soon
a measure closer
to where the journey ended.


from Bagatelleja, opus 16 (‘Bagatelles, opus 16’, 1991). First performed by Avanti in Porvoo, 1989

Towards the sea leads a gradually sloping street
in an expensive quarter of the town, covered
in crisp blue-grey ornamental gravel,
not very coarse-grained, quavers,
semiquavers, in the languid, all-approving
tempo of the melancholy mind,
and all the same through the thin shoe-sole
they hurried, goaded the ball of the foot,
take with them the foot
and the head, the eternal hearer
smeller, seer;

we know what the sea is, for it is ––––––– and the opposite shore,
and we know what the force is, for it is
the force of gravity, always as merciless
as June 1989, when after an early spring
the leaves in the trees were already rattling like dark metal,
the leaves already like dark metal
as if it were the end of July

The Square of Heavenly Peace
an image worthy of remembrance –

We know what the sea is and the journey towards it
is the continual flight along this street sloping down to the sea
along which we stroll with pleasure, beneath us
the blue-green blue-grey ornamental gravel,
above us a sky half-overcast, in our fingers
simple imperceptible gravity’s
lovely descending tone-sequences,
sleepy high intervallic leaps
back to where
we once were and then
in a glissando back here and into the nightmare –

where there is an impact and a menace,
express trains collide, aeroplanes crash,
crowds rush and leaves of metal,
the dark split casings of grenades –––––

So we know what the sea is and the speed of particles, but the sea
we do not know, we know only a slight menace, the everyday
yawn-inducing sense of danger, wellbeing’s
treacherous shadow that stoops,
vomits and eructs just when you least expect it
and leaves a fragrant puddle
on the beautiful crunchy ornamental gravel –

Metal leaves, cobalt sky,
collapsed dominions, gorgeously coloured
newly-won television wars, intolerably
closely watched, and what then?
It is evening, an evening that promises what kind of morning?


The piano sheds light, the flute continues and plays
as if there were a billion years of time, Pan
never dies, will never see the sea,
the violin is of the same melancholy view
but the clarinet carps its disagreement, answers back
and the cello’s restless legato soothes, is full of care
but soothes: such
is the story of human goodness, its possibility,
at its best only like the smile of those who suffer,
the gratitude of the disappointed –

The street that slopes slowly down to the sea, its gaudy gravel,
the quickly-flowering syringa of an early spring,
the assiduously howling sirens of the past century,
time and space and the gurgling suction of entropy
and the notes that belong to us all without exception, twelve and a bit,
the whole divine inheritance:
the descending notes’

         ––––––––––––––––shimmering surfaces

when gravity has fulfilled its law, set free
all its voices, all its matter, its waves,
and all light has taken its place without colours
in the convex repose of the planet.


Translated by Hildi Hawkins and David McDuff


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