Contemplating the cosmos

30 September 2006 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Valkoiseksi maalattu musta laatikko (‘A black box painted white’, WSOY, 2006). Introduction by Pertti Lassila

Good morning, murmuring universe,
dim tortuous thingamybob
with your moving and unmoving parts,
which every day need
new instructions for use
even though the previous ones
were not all that clear, because the article itself
is perpetually modifying its rules of behaviour.
There are threats that our details are being checked,
exhortations to be good, to wait,
wait and believe,
to stay outside at night
in abstract space
till the next numerical series.

The trees are still flowing over
with ardently ordered and expected leaflets
and nothing printed on them but
the galley proofs of stalks
and various green inks.
It will do: not one single code
more, easy or tricky.
They always cut you.
One swish of wind
and it’s as if a painless knife were twisting
in a great wound.

The god of fortuitousness
and his mode of manifestation:
all things visible beneath his law.
Streets, mountains, and seas –
their sudden false steps,
subsiding cities, brand-new suburbs.
And perhaps too we needed
the world’s most gigantic griffin,
a three-decker dream of a better world
thundering through the sky
like a huge exhalation.
Now you can cram in, on the cheap,
the maximum number
of lusters for the incredibly far.

A day like a submerged box
containing official information, a lost
black box painted white,
the summer sky as a lid, and clouds of care
vanished to the horizon –

though a dark streak’s distinguishable;
the collective unconscious, the Sampo’s casing
raised whispering from the sea:
an omniscient Vipunen¹, a black box
buzzing with strange languages and cries.

As far as we know no Finn is
among the victims, and also the minister says
that normally the box is white,

until once more there’s lightning
in the summer sky, and thunder reports
its ancient news item.

One has to give up,
not only for a lot of materiality,
but many beloved abstractions too:
the ribs and caulking of a painfully put together
world picture.
Philosophy’s sole floor, mathematics,
and its sole roof aspire to the same thing:
permanence in the permanent.
Can’t go on with this allegory,
it’s splitting my stupid skull,
and the creak and murmur of the stars is coming to meet me:
in space every roof
and floor move.
A never-ending dance
and the laughter of an ancient crone.

Supposing we approach the gods
through memory
and some gentle animal
through forgetfulness.
Supposing we were to do one more journey
with that gentle animal
and forget everything
there is to forget.

It’s all the same anyway:
the judgement remains the same.

Just now a patch of daylight
is peeping between the clouds
onto a mysterious green carpet; don’t
run for your camera, look at it
as long as it’s there,
this strange evanescent masterpiece,

now it’s yours, now you’ll always
remember it properly;
now it’s changing.

There’s no great difference between
finding a lot of time
to listen to Bruckner making
a good concert hall expand
and finding a fragment of time just right for
cutting your toenails on a stairstep.
It’s always just as exhilarating, magical –
finding a time that feels precisely
the right length.

How were the shadows born
drawing on the power of light;
and why did they then desert
to the enemy camp?
Why did they lengthen into the long hirelings of night,
vanish totally?
Or is it already morning?

¹ In the Kalevala, Antero Vipunen is a subterranean giant and shaman; one of the epic’s heroes, Väinämöinen, visits his barrow grave to improve his skills of magic.

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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