You may say I’m a dreamer

25 November 2014 | Fiction, poetry

Prose poems from Tärnornas station – en drömbok (‘The Lucia Maids’ Station – a dream book’‚ Ellips, 2014). Introduction by Michel Ekman

I nurse a very small, perfectly formed child. It’s a girl. She smiles openly at me, even though she is so small. There is no doubt, neither about that nor anything else. The girl is the size of a nib pen, and just as exclusive. The nursing is going very well, it doesn’t hurt, and she can suckle without any problems. We are both at ease and yet awake, not introspective. The girl has intelligent eyes.

The milk keeps flowing.

Nothing runs dry.

Everything is obvious and neither of us is surprised. Just the fact that she is so small. Like a fountain pen. She is swathed in strips of bird cherry white bandages – like the ones mum had in her summer medicine cabinet – a cocoon, a chrysalis, but she’s not cramped, just secure. It smells good around us. I nurse my daughter who is perfect and the right size.

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One night I give birth to puppies, a whole litter.

One night in the fourth hour, during the dog watch on a boat, I give birth to puppies and don’t think that there’s anything at all amiss here, nothing that’s gone awry. Not an iota that I wouldn’t want to acknowledge my silky smooth offspring. I am, conventionally, bursting with pride and happiness.

They’re dachshunds.

I rejoice even more over the fact that I, despite having well-manneredly and conformistly spawned this most Finland-Swedish of breeds – upper middle class, Ullanlinna, almost on the border with Eira¹, it depends how you measure it, everything depends on how you measure it – I have nonetheless also demonstrated independence and a touch of rebelliousness. My dachshunds are not wire-haired, as they should be. They are long-haired.

I, with my motherly silky softness, sit in the middle of the silken litter. Shiny eyes dark as a pond.

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I do other things than have children. I’m not just a full-time mummy and pet owner. Sometimes I smuggle weapons to liberation armies. Heavy automatic weapons. That’s exciting too.

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Dreams reveal things, and it is not by any means just our own shameful secrets that come out into the light of day. Last night I found out that Astrid Lindgren² had nappies much too small for her children! Too short and stuffed too hard, hard as stone, sullenly crocheted white rolls. Knots.

What a scandal, she’s a national treasure, she’s children’s best friend!

The revelation rocks the foundations of all I hold holy and true.

It’s dangerous, and I don’t dare think about the consequences for society that this knowledge would have if it leaks out: hospitals closed, prizes and awards abolished, booksellers bankrupt, empty shelves in libraries already threatened with closure, an entirely literary genre dragged through the mud.

Of course I have to safeguard children’s literature, I’m not planning on telling anyone.

Sometimes you have to bear your share of social responsibility, keep quiet.

But shame on you Astrid!

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Ear against another cushion, no initials, we’ve never been here before. We have saved, slowly approached from the north. Then a sudden decision, a trip at a few days’ notice. In the Eternal City we are just visitors, but perhaps it’s big enough to be a living room for everyone.

Universal right of domicile.

Asylum granted to all who need it.

Tourists are people too, people with dreams. Dreams aren’t just banal.

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There’s an island in the Tiber, it’s called Isola Tiberina. There’s a bridge that takes you there. Bridges are good. Street musicians with sleeping dogs play on the bridge.

On the island there’s a church. There’s a maternity hospital there where the city dwellers gather around like waiting wandering doves, like approaching larks ready to soar high into the sky as soon as the first cry of a newborn is heard.

We walk around the island, the stairs down to the river banks and the generously wide quay is right next to the gate to the birthing suites. There is grass. The delicate grass has started to grow at the edges that surround the quay, young people cuddle in circles of daisies, daisies which my mother-in-law calls ‘tinies’.

We also throw ourselves down. More grown up but close.

I think of my girl. I think of my mother. I think of bridges, of ties, of bird cherry white bandages.

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The first night after Rome is full of song and music. I lie in my home-bound ship, swaying, rocking in my bunk. Leonard Cohen sits leaning against a tiled wall. In front of him he has an urban meadow with all kinds of flowers, roses too. I pass on the street outside, chicken-wire with clinging vines between us, I praise his plants. Leonard isn’t sociable any more, but like all gardeners he softens when the topic of his flowers comes up.

I ask him to sing something, just like that. Leonard says that he doesn’t want to sing, but he can play so I can sing.

I don’t know what he’s playing, he has so many strings on his lute, but I know that I can’t sing. I can’t even sing in the dream, I who can otherwise do everything, I who gives birth to children and puppies one after the other, I who nurse and understand physics, I can’t sing.

Leonard grows fascinated by my lack of ability, he changes into the ladies’ man he is, and now gives me all of his tender attention. He suggests that we swap, he’ll sing and I’ll play.

Take one of my songs, he says. Take two. But sing first, choose the simplest.

I sing Hi and ho, Deckhand Jansson, the morning wind’s already blowing, last night has rolled by, and Constantia is about to go.³

It goes well. It goes so well that I get into the Theatre School with it! It’s the one I squeeze in with in the scary but obligatory singing element. The jury like my death-defying pluck.

So does Leonard. I had almost forgotten that one, he says. I wrote pretty good stuff in my youth, thank you for reminding me! Let’s hear you play now.

I know all of Leonard’s songs, so I do so willingly. This one has, like all the others, three chords. I play Frog went a-courtin’, and he did ride, Uh-huh…and Leonard is completely smitten. You make me feel like a new man, he says.

And it’s far from Death of a Ladies’ Man.

And it’s far from my inability.

Pick a rose, says Leonard. Take two, the garden is large.

Translated by Claire Dickenson

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1. Ullanlinna is a district in Helsingfors (Helsinki) with the reputation of being slightly posh, Eira even more so
2. Swedish author of works including Pippi Longstocking, the Emil books and The Brothers Lionheart
3.  a sea-shanty by the Swedish poet Dan Andersson

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