The oldest language

Issue 2/2003 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Istun vastapäätä (‘I’m sitting across from’, WSOY, 2002). Introduction by Anselm Hollo

After the last lines spoken, snowflakes fall into the river.
You flow on out. Stop.
People keep going, as do the credits,
into the dark, out of sight.
You don’t remember the name of this street
but its back hunches up into a bridge across the fog.
From when on have we been terrified? The heart
wants to say something about that, to whomever
happens to cross its path, one’s own heart,
the beat that keeps on repeating itself.
An unpleasant warmth
on the seat that has just been abandoned.

In front of me on the bus, thin backs of heads
concealing a civilization: so much
stifled tenderness, it makes me wonder why wars
are not more destructive.

You can’t read a person the way you read Arabic.
You must see the face in order to know what is hidden
behind a newspaper at half past seven in the morning

I am silent, in the oldest language I’m learning,
one I don’t know.

You spread out your arms
a cruciform shadow
disappears in a cruciform shadow
a steel-blue day
a shadow into all of us shadows disappear

The bus passes 800 tons of fenced-in rust
Into my life
you’re condemned
to death

Far away in the city
there is a city
that does not exist, there may be some
in some catalogue

Suitcases bob up and down on their racks.
People in their down-filled coats
        worry about
sleeping past their station
and that there won’t be
any more stations after that.
The window muddies the views,
the observer’s eyes.
I don’t nurture unnecessary despair. I tell the waiter
      that sunlight is free and the dining car’s light
          cheap.
We charge into a tunnel. Darkness
comes so entirely suddenly
that we’re afraid it might last an eternity;
that engine, cars, and passengers
will be switched in the tunnel without anyone noticing
          and a different train will emerge.

The chair has put on a jacket
to check if the waste basket still contains
the page crumpled into a ball,
the fruit skins, the box of cough drops,
the end all that remains of stories.

I am, here, in the room
in a passing train
at the bar of another city
the waiter nods
does not understand what I am talking about
but wants to show that he does.

I want to go everywhere, why
be anywhere, even on the road?
I take off my shoes. I can’t take off my feet’

I’m writing you a letter even though you’re alive.
The train window reflects the same expression
as my passport photograph, serious,
a smile almost destroys it.
When you have read my letter

you live in the future tense, which does not exist
in this language.

The point of my pen writes this day which continues
into tomorrow, like a nail in a railroad tie.

And ends in a point from which space begins to unfold.

Trees are easier.
The face in the window flashes
past them.
Trees are free
     on their roots.
In the smoking car’s window
I lean my forehead against the rough landscape,
when you arrive you can’t be
the same as when you leave.
        Nor can you be the same when you leave as before leaving.

One of my pasts tells me that no one this young
should be allowed to be certain about anything.
The dim spot in memory is death.

I travel into this country, free in the horizontal,
don’t introduce myself to the trees before
the chain saw strikes them.

I’m sitting across from the morning train to Tampere.
In the sky, a moon upside down, 49,
stars burned out.
Holes in the world’s thin shell.
Kierkegaard on my knees
sleep won’t come.

The world stays awake
miserable
motion stands still
only for a moment’s
leap
and clanging of cars.

But I am here. I don’t
laugh don’t complain.
And the train moves.
Through the world that changes
by moving through

and back.

Translated by Anselm Hollo