The Mermaid Café
From Cafe Sjöjungfrun (‘The Mermaid Cafe’, Söderströms, 1999). Introduction by Peter Mickwitz
Yesterday we had the first evening of autumn
even though it is still July. The cool
moist darkness lights that seemed
softer, the Esplanade’s octagonal cone
lit up red, yellow and green above
the underground tunnel from restaurant
to hotel. In the row of lime trees
worn garlands began to show, more
than a third of their light bulbs gone, broken
lines of burning dots gently
swaying. Farther away
sun-bleached awnings, some oily
neon, it, too, segmented,
and people moving
at a calmer pace, already anonymous,
close to unreal reflected in glass panes,
entryways, street lamps shaped like big hooks.
Traffic noise becomes more explicit
as if in an echo chamber or does it
grow more dense as if we walked about
with yellowing wads of cotton in our ears
or a window or a door was closed
and voices a moment ago
distinct, or at least partly,
are transformed into a numb buzz,
all that remains of the message
are ups and downs, a caesura when the conversation, at regular intervals,
reaches a rhythmic point of rest.
It is easy to imagine other things
that belong or somehow fit
into the whole, someone lets down
a blind, Venetian or smooth,
there may be someone up there in one
of the mansard apartments over there. The view
is cut off: alternating bands of forest and water,
open sea to the west, to the north and south
the suburbs’ filtered glow, and here,
closer to the core with its edgy surfaces
a powerful searchlight casting its cone
over façades in a programmed pattern and
on to the sky which is brighter than one thinks
down here in the dusk, in the middle of the heart
of a phantom writing that erodes to pieces
with the speed of time, leaves behind
a vacuum that waits to be filled
by something as inescapable
as our quiet conversation, here
and now, small demarcations
and corrections, openings
and dead ends, pauses
while we suck on mild cigarettes
and let the evening sink in without
feeling compelled to invent
anything to say. Soon enough
words arrive, and when they do
we know they are ours and precisely the words
we have always been waiting for.
Request for further instructions
Time does things one cannot know anything about.
The moment grows into seconds minutes hours days years.
That seems reasonable. But what, then, is the gap between those?
I have started to observe my neighbors, but they never show their faces.
All one has time to see is a hand a shadow an expanse of back.
A fleeting motion. Then they huddle for hours deep inside the apartment.
There are patterns. It’s just difficult to see them.
Yesterday, I think, the mailman saw me standing in front of the mirror
wearing my special outfit. I counted to a hundred
and then did my rounds. Three quick peeks into every-cupboard.
I never stepped even close to any carpet.
The leathery-old man who pushes a walker
passed by my window twice today,
once coming, once going.
I have collected dead bees in a jar, just as you asked me to,
and the mixture in the sink now has a gluey consistency.
This is why I am writing to you, to ask for further instructions.
Translated by Anselm Hollo
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