I am a happy person

Issue 1/1997 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from En lycklig mänska (‘A happy person’, Söderströms, 1996). Introduction by Rika Lesser

Why shouldn't Johann Sebastian Bach be good enough
      even in this my 59th summer.
I contemplate the apple tree in the middle of the field. 
The continuo branches out just above the earth into four
      trunks, which, in turn, divide
into arms more slender, where the fruits ripen.
The foliage patterns the sky, hands plait the voices
      into a basket.
Under the earth, where the roots rehearse, I wait for
      the succulent, faintly sour fruit.

*

(positive thinking)

Brussels is famous for its sunny weather and
      its waste disposal.
My potency and my teeth have never
      been better.
Every moment I have free I listen to Wagner and
      read Proust without stopping.
It is not tragic to be smothered and consumed
      by small animals.
As far as I'm concerned, the panic attacks are
      a stage that has passed.
Politics is about respect for those who think
      differently and about being honorable.
I never feel like smacking my wife.
Autumn is my time of year, a time of clarification, of self-control.
What I enjoy most is the solitude of an early morning
      in the churchyard.
I am a happy person.

*

The problem with our war was that they could
      not defend themselves.
Nonetheless, we carried out the war entirely
      according to plan.
We did it for our credibility and so that
      we could restock the depots.
Man is not a commodity in short supply.
Land mines were not a problem for us who
      conducted operations from the air.
 War is always a tragedy but even a tragedy
      can be beautiful.
The pictures you saw were slightly out of focus.
Any sharp boundary between the military and civilians
      is hard to draw.

*

I was inside when the department store collapsed.
I was aboard the passenger ferry when it vanished
      in the deep.
I lay on the operating table when rockets hit the hospital
      in the city under siege.
I was riding the subway when nerve gas seeped into
      the cars.
I had hidden myself in the cellar when soldiers set fire
      to our house.
I saw the tidal wave that would drown us as it approached.
I was one of the children put to death because a friend
      needed my heart.
 I remained in the sand after the desert storm.
 What you are I was, what I am you will become.

*

Our childhood photographs lie where we left them,
      in an attic in a cellar.
With their features half dissolved, those closest to us,
      our demons, oxidized to silver nitrite.
In the attic in the cellar, in the dark ice-cold goddamn
      cellar in the attic.
Brothers, cousins, sisters, moms, dads... oxidized,
      disarmed, destroyed.
Of mother's wondelful shining kitchen only the hearth remains.
The cat drowned in the well along with the rag doll,
      the kids' bicycles, the rats.
Maybe someone ought to remain, withstand the oxidization when
      the others flee, drown, dissolve.
Why do cars and houses with people in them explode every day
      everywhere.
One fine summer day the children found a dead soldier
      in the cellar in the attic.

Translated by Rika Lesser

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