Asking for more

14 April 2010 | Fiction, poetry

The heroines in Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen’s new collection, Iloisen lehmän runot (‘Happy cow poems’, 2009), are timeless creatures, mythical and archaic, and yet our contemporaries, living their lives alongside us (see Ruminations)

Let the cows out on Monday
and they’ll enter the forest, wander far
aim for the waterfalls, the hole in the rock and down the precipice.
The dead come back along our the road to our yard:
Rebecca, Isolde, Rosamunda.
Allison, Eulalia, Euphrosyne.
Not as ghosts but as old friends.
Whom will they, the wingless ones, protect here?
A lean lass, a lean lass.

it’s our job to keep an eye on  which cow jumps on which
                so we know that one's on heat
                                               but I always forget which one
in the evenings my cows queue up in pairs
          Minea’s milked dry
                         Anastasia falls into a ditch
Medeia collapses
                             Penelope swells, Angelica’s pestered with flies
and Thetis with a straitjacket
                  Aphrodite’s udders turn mincemeat
                                                          Diana’s jump falls short
              All heroines are not saveable
but the wrathy Wonder Woman rushes off to town with reddled lips,
                                                               milk-yard gate on her back,
And when you see her at Stockmann’s department store
                                                   she’s no longer saying hello

Anne’s christened Princess but reigning’s a hard job.
In summer Princess A flees to the forest with three bulls,
a crazy July, nobody can catch them, they’ve got spies and a house in a tree.
In the autumn a neighbour says: your cow’s head’s stuck in the barn door,
she’s run in there, can’t shift forward or backward.
It’s a change of place for Princess A.
In her later years she works in a development co-operation
and fights against land mines. Princess A is learning how to wave
on the red carpet her gaze lights up goes out, disappears, lights up again
a wild-strawberry scent, sensitive to light, inescapable and threatened.

When the others rush through the thickets
the golden-brown cow follows me through the small trees,
doesn’t leave the path. Holly Golightly’s from an ancient breed, thin and light,
sometimes I fear she’ll go with the thunder, be forgotten in the rain,
take the storm on top of her fragile shoulder blades out of sheer sibling-love.
When she disappears into the swamp, her call rises out of the fog, from the cotton grass
the hopeful song of a cow, her trust in me never fails for a moment.
Holly follows humming, comes round every bend with me towards home.
that’s what she wants, that’s what she’s made for, I don’t know why I’m crying.

I do know I can’t go away from these.
At least not silently.
When I cycle up the hill
they run to the fence.
At night when I return and whisper tender words
I’m answered from the darkness.
Why, yesterday they kept hoovering the pasture with loose ankles
smoked a pipe the whole day
Pamela, Priscilla, Pinetree.
Everyone has to have someone who remembers.

Queenie’s back was white as driven snow,
stars glowed on her brow and shoulders.
I fall on my knees with longing.
What raises me up is Queenie’s command,
merciless and therefore full of comfort.
When Queenie’s giving milk we talk about the thirst for life,
what we can’t control:

JOY! JOY! JOY! What you can’t command you can ask for
JOY! JOY! JOY! What you can’t hide
you must ask for more of, in order to carry on

Queenie’s voice echoes in the empty cowshed
the call of the driven-through-the-ages bellwether,
I’ll even walk through the walls
if what leads me is good.

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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