Could you drop me a line?

Issue 1/2003 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Kirjoittamaton (’Unwritten’, WSOY, 2002). Introduction by Jukka Koskelainen

[Chekhov visits a French prostitute]

The room brightly lit like a library that stays open at night.
From the threshold onward, a scent of freshly cut damp grass
and resin. In the curtain swim black goldfish, gasping for air
and the carpet glows, all too red, a red carpet to hell.
The girl sits on the edge of the bed, her face
as expectant as a stuffed nightingale, stares inscrutably
at the guest, until the ice age his presence has brought
begins to melt a little around the edges. Drop by drop,
dripping. He takes his coat off, his shirt
but keeps the pince-nez on his nose. ‘Because without it,
I won’t be able to see you at all.’ The candle
smokes, hisses, even, if you listen to it up close.
On the wall next to the bed the guest’s shadow melts
into the girl’s. Then two horns appear on top of her head
and her shadow bursts into shaky laughter. Then she stops,
takes his mocking fingers into both her hands, kisses them
lightly and says, ‘Let’s do it quickly, and then you’ll just hold me quietly,
so I can tell you about my greatest dream.’
‘What is it,’ he asks, his hair entangled in hers. Now
there’s another scent in the room, the acrid odor of rails
made more intense by a hot summer’s day, and the girl
whispers: “That my two sisters and I could leave here
and go back to Paris. Home to Paris. Oh, Paris!”

[The Three Sisters, ten years later]

Olga stops for a moment longer on the windy cemetery hill
where an autumn storm seems to have amused itself
by ripping branches off the trees. Masha’s and Kulygin’s
grave has just been covered. Five days ago they were found
in their bed, their water glasses empty; dead of poison.
Everybody had been sure it was Masha who spiked
the bedside carafe with poison. She couldn’t stand it
anymore! But some others believed it had been Kulygin
who could not stand the thought that he would not be promoted
from the municipal office to the town council, ever.
Olga stands there. It starts to rain. A squirrel bounces
along the path, stops to stare, looks remarkably stupid.
The other mourners call Olga’s name from where the horses
are waiting, but she does not leave, yet. She shakes her head
and racks her brains over how to tell this to Irina
who now is in her eighth year in a hospital
for the mentally deranged, in Moscow. Olga knits her brows, thinks.
Within her temples, an invisible woodpecker, perhaps
escaped, once again, from perdition, starts pecking.
The squirrel dashes off, all of a sudden. It does not see
how Olga is not weeping at all.

[In memoriam Brodsky]

What’s it like there, now? Are your wings itchy?
Have they already carved a hundred busts of you,
light as clouds? Whom have you met already?
Stepped out to have a smoke with?
Who are they reading there? Who’s in right now?
Has Vergil managed to rise from Limbo?
Could you remember me to him? I guess
you miss Venice? Can I send you a package?
Could you drop me a line to tell me
what you are missing, what you would like?
Could you use some wool socks? Did they perhaps
put you in the wintry section? Or somewhere
else, after all? Is it really true you can listen
to Bach there, all the time?
How many good jokes can you hear there in a day?
Do people’s hands pass through each other
when they shake hands?
And how will I recognise you there, one day?

[Wittgenstein in Norway]

Silent when he looked at the fjord
as it was wrapped in fog
like a pretty Oriental tale in a voice.
Silent when he saw a flock of birds fly overhead
like snowballs thrown at a tormented child.
Silent when he heard a car rattle by
on the gravel road like a grim reaper in disguise.
Silent when he ate.
Silent when he drank.
Silent when he slept and dreamed like
a visionary poet, from another time.
Silent when he woke up staring at a spider
descending from the ceiling, as if it was apparition.
Silent stepping out of his cottage and banging
his head against the lintel, as if this was a reminder
of something he was not aware of.
Silent walking to the mail box.
Silent when there was no letter.
Silent walking back.
Silent when he looked at the fjord
as it was wrapped in fog
like a pretty Oriental tale in a voice, long ago.

[Darwin’s lottery]

A hand by a pot of meat morphing into a fork.
A foot that grows a suitable heel for an evening party.
Lips that drop into a bar drink as a fleshy straw.
Fingernails changing color and length every week.
Food that warms up itself.
A cousin / great-uncle who changes his character according to wish.
A vacation that arrives in your mailbox.
Dishes that bounce into dishwasher of their own accord and slam the door
shut behind them.
Lawn that mows itself in the garden.
Hair that grows into the desired shape.
Books that write and read each other.
Novels that quickly translate themselves into every language.
Weapons that develop a war suited to their design.
Lighting that invents endless darkness.
Wit that generates continuous grief around itself.
Time that can be stored for better use.
Life that does not need anyone to live it.

Translated by Anselm Hollo