Bonfires in the garden

6 March 2014 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Inga stjärnor i natt, sir (‘No stars tonight, Sir’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012). Introduction by Jukka Koskelainen

With us on the cruise was
an old, old man.
We wondered what
he was doing there.
He sat at a table by himself.
Silent. Drinking water.
Never turned up at the cabaret
or the ballroom.
Once he asked the receptionist,
rumour had it, if it was possible
to go out into the fresh air,
there beneath the stars.
‘No stars tonight, sir!’
said the man in the hatch.
The old man wasn’t seen again
until we reached land.
Wonder what happened to him.
Not that it’s any of our business.

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Write about what really happens.
Write if you dare.
About things that simply happen,
things that happen all the time.
If you dare.
But to what end?
Poetry, by definition, has fled,
fled from things that
happen all the time.

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If all goes well,
if I don’t slip in the street,
if I don’t trip on the carpet
or on my own socks,
don’t contract
a rapidly degenerative disease,
can I once again
encounter the spring,
see the anemones raise their eyes,
see the hills, golden with cowslips
casting their bonnets to the wind
to greet the summer
and the future.
But if things don’t go well,
I simply want to amble
invisible along the hillside.

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I think of death
as a bonfire in a garden in spring.
The past is translated
to a fine, blue smoke
wafting in a clear sky.

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‘Dear Passengers!
We have arrived.
Time to say farewell.
Everyone must disembark.
Captain Nemo and his crew
trust you have had
the wonderful cruise
that you’d hoped you
deserved, especially as
it will be your only one.’

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The journey was long and it brought
both lulls and storms.
The sun occasionally showed his face.
Time, that I mostly spent asleep.

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Set amid the crop fields,
sliced by the passing train,
you can see peculiar little islands,
sparsely covered with ash or aspen.
There are old, exhumed graveyards,
secured now for plough and harrow.
Straw smoke rises up in autumn,
to the memory of our fathers,
sometimes.

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If you depict a sea voyage,
you can’t incorporate
the view from a train.
One might expect poets
to know better than this.
Porridge is one thing, gruel another,
bread a third.
‘Ate bread with his porridge!’
replied the man sitting in the stocks
next to the church one Sunday,
as someone asked the question
why.

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Gloaming hangs soft
over the fields at Storkyro
and the meadows of Limingo,
gently, as if tucking in a sick child.

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It is April
and the dusk promises
soon it will be summer.
All we need to do is sleep a little first.

Translated by David Hackston

Finnish translation: Ei tähtiä tänä yönä, sir. Translated by Pentti Saaritsa. Siltala, 2013

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