Change the words
Poems from Bul bul (‘Bulbul’, WSOY, 2007). Introduction by Karri Kokko
Which street was it? A question in a poem doesn’t demand an answer, it’s
itself, like that accurate filter, a blood-soaked liver –
The city was a giant, budging my brains, the fireworks’
ash trailed down to earth, the clowns screeched, a book’s face
was waiting like a child’s face,
and they began swarming out, releasing themselves from signposts,
neon signs, from the pages of a closed book (smelling of a dried
ranunculus), from graves, from a woman’s abhorrent womb –
I’d spent years in language labs,
and now, for a reason, blood-red and delicious as a spring branch,
they began swarming out;
a woman who’d kidnapped a child, a father that was leading
his daughter by the hand and preventing six thousand stars
falling on him,
a skull surgeon and infatuated rats –
Language takes me to a precipitous brink and takes on a sudden
scent, like skin burning
an old mystic arrives,
at first a greengrocer, now he’s incantating
the world into a unity, into a Rose!
I go into his enormous face,
he’s supporting the entire world’s door with one of his mighty
light’s seeping from under the door like virgins’ milk
(some say there’s no light)
I choose darkness as my theme, and that trickling
light from under the door
(this wineglass was blown in the underworld)
And as for you – change the words in these poems, to make them
resemble you, so that everything will remain hidden like an eel
in river mud, smelling you with its supernatural hunting hound’s
sense of smell, almost deaf, like beethoven
Change some words and wade into the water
Have a good journey
Sein zum Tod
There’s an endless story in which a father and his daughter are on the run.
The attic where they’ve been hiding is full of books,
hanged fur-coats, broken wine-bottles, trunks groaning
under thick dust.
(read this story silently, the father breaks in to say
so they won’t hear, they may be everywhere,)
In the morning hot pudding had been put outside the door (‘remember to read silently!’) Childhood’s pudding made of cooked apples, raisins and apricots, it was orthodoxically seasoned with cinnamon saffron and cloves. The whole dark deserted house was saturated with fragrance. What house? Nobody knows. Evening allowed space to close in, 6,000 stars fired through the slits in the attic roof. The father had been awake for four days, he kept awake by reading cinNamon and clove! saFr
PUSHKIN’S GRANDFATHER WAS ABYSSINIAN AND PETER THE GREAT’S
FAVOURITE SLAVE, the father read aloud, the girl no longer had the energy to get up
APES DON’T LEARN HOW TO SPEAK, father reads (read more Dad!)
BEES ONLY SPEAK TO THEIR FULL-GROWN MATES, NOT TO
Everyone else in the family was dead (read more Dad). The girl
had even licked the pudding bowl,
and sleep came, sleep’s deep-throated gentleness. mother.
(The child hadn’t seen her mother and grandmother hanged.)
JACKDAWS INDICATE THEIR SUBMISSION BY BARING THE MOST VULNERABLE PARTS OF THE BODY, THE GREY SPOT AT THE BACK OF THEIR NECK, TO A RIVAL’S BEAK,
WE WONT’ BOW DOWN, the father suddenly shouts, the girl starts, doesn’t
wake, the father often shouts, loudly,
WE WON’T SHOW THE GREY SPOT ON OUR NECK.
His left shoulder’s shattered.
That’s why this particular poem demands: change immediately!
the word-order and sentence-order in this story, so these two won’t be
only the Poem and the old songs will defend them any more, pure
The girl tosses awake,
thistles and the scorpion have their place (Anna Haifez,
born 1X42), what has she on her hand? seven fingers,
the father too has seven fingers, like the whole tribe
that worships god in a different way (whom nobody has
which also doesn’t want to cheapen their god
So who put it, who dared put the pudding outside their door?
The pudding is the climax of the story. It will be told for millennia.
And she took some apple pudding in her fingers and ate. The whole house
smelled like God’s shirt. Every generation will add their own
sentence. Anna’s cheeks glowed like orange lilies.
A true story never knows (how it ends),
A TRUE STORY DOESN’T WANT TO END, make any choice.
Father closes the book. The child climbs onto his lap. they sit
in the sun’s electric chair. And she took some pudding in her fingers and
IN THEIR SPEECH THE BEES CONCENTRATE ON
ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF FLOWERING MEADOWS
Doctor Tulp’s anatomy lesson
Why does he look at me as if I were an object? This is just a small
test, I say humbly, about consciousness nobody can say
Anything. The electric traffic of our fatty brains is
unnaturally busy, the motherly feelings of brains are enormous.
Like those of female elephants, who take care of each others’ young.
My studies concern, among other things, the states of sleeping and waking, and
my research group has been subsidised with extreme, not to say extravagant
This is a notable surgery demonstration,
and he has the nerve to look at me as if I were an object!
I open his skull to study first his medulla oblongata,
which controls waking and sleeping. The whole medical
faculty follows this particular man with respect, the one who
has been asleep in the chronic ward, at the taxpayer’s expense,
for seven years. During the operation I’m
in the habit of playing my favourite song ‘America before the war’.
I like its threatening quality, like the whirring of the laser. The brain smells
of blood, if you ask me. My hand doesn’t shake. I’m a legend. Two
bottles of cola are open on the table next to me. Nothing
excites me more than coca-cola on ice, and before the great
The whole faculty follows on the giant monitor when I open up
the Assyriologist’s head. He stumbled on a plastic
hosepipe while the plumbing in his house was being renovated.
Earlier, before deep unconsciousness set in, his dreams
had been studied, IQ as high as 157. I’ll say no more about that,
I keep turning his medulla oblongata with my tweezers, crack
a couple of jokes about it, and the students burst out laughing.
I go on to the dorsal area where hunger desire thirst
dwell like sweet plums, the nucleus of darkness, like
doves in a dovecote. A couple of little jokes, and the students
again burst out laughing: the Rat too is a slave of its desires. If,
dear listeners, the brain of a male rat is being electrically stimulated,
the splendid chap will, if threatened by pain, again and again choose
electrical sexual pleasure rather than a female!
The nucleus is squeezed between my tweezers, the researcher’s feelings
shake me, the thin Assyriologist’s eyes are open.
And precisely at that moment I realise they’re laughing. I had
his thin hair shaved, sawed his skull,
and the observation hill of his brain is mine, his desire
trembles in my tweezers, and the man laughs with his ice-grey
eyes, making the whole over-lit auditorium hold its
The man jerks up into a sitting position, grabs a (camel-slaughtering) knife,
stabs it firmly into me.
America before the war!
The students stand up,
from the man’s skull nuclei fly like missiles, they’re
defending that man who’s sitting and laughing,
heartily: this will be the fight of the century, the opened
fatty brain shines like a chanterelle, like
a book on the occult sciences
(the students keep bursting out laughing again and again)
No one has seen a nightingale’s shadow. It’s a night bird, it doesn’t
sing particularly beautifully. It drives US CRAZY,
DISTRACTED, WITH ITS POWER. IT DOESN’T SING PARTICULARLY BEAUTIFULLY.
PEOPLE STAND IN THEIR YARDS LISTENING TO IT, Silently, in the city’s
windows – It sings in the major, skilfully, without
any particular empathy. It would like to drive us
further off with its singing? Where to? We stand in the yards,
on the streets silently and it sings pyramid-sized
It’s not present when Max Planck’s son is executed.
It doesn’t sit on a statue’s head in winter. It’s disappeared.
Now it’s in Freud’s dream. Its secret size is alarmingly
its shadow no one has seen,
it’s Rachmaninov’s sacred vocalisation,
are small and
brown as a sun-baked path
Translated by Herbert Lomas
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