Mishaps, perhaps

Issue 3/1976 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Jarkko Laine

Jarkko Laine. Photo: Kai Nordberg

Jarkko Laine (born 1947) writes both prose and verse. He is the author of several hilarious and highly imaginative novels and a pioneer of the generation of Finnish underground poets. One of the most productive of younger Finland’s poets, he draws on the language and forms of mass commercial entertainment, comics, and pop music to write about people of today.

He is currently the editorial secretary of the literary periodical Parnasso. The poem below is from his latest collection Viidenpennin Hamlet (‘Fivepenny Hamlet’, Otava 1976)



In Turku again
the taxi’s travelling East Street
whose wooden sides have gone,

the radio’s laryngeal with static, VHF, the driver’s
telling me the tale,
the ice hockey season’s on us already,
even though there’s rain, green in the park,

I’m staring at the lifted houses
stuffed with sleeping persons,
the landmarks are going out one by one, all of them,
you might as well be
in the middle of the sea in a rubber dinghy,
soon I shan’t recognize anything here but
the cathedral, the castle,
my own name in the telephone directory.

But I don’t want to mutate into anything myself,
and I’ve given up the organ tones,
the meanings of words are being changed –
everything a parody of itself,
every person a laugh
if he comes to mind somewhere.

I’ve often thought about writing of a life
that keeps on swallowing, swallowing everything up,
but I’ve always turned and glanced behind me
and the future’s lost its shine of freshness and clandestinity.
The same things come round
with new nametapes on them, each one unique,
which no one bothers to memorize.


The flat’s quiet in the night-time,
clink and bubble of coffee pot, water coming out of the tap,
me rolling a cigarette for myself
listening to the radio continuo –
it’s the voice of the dark, the steady yelling of space.

I’ve been thinking how it feels to be a dish
filled up, welling over and over
and never emptying
even though everything in it’s continually changing.


The coffee blackens and gets stronger, for
life’s never so poor
you wouldn’t hanker for more.


Night after night, water bright as water slides down the window panes
black: darkness is darkness,
you’d think from my reflection
the whole bloke was slithering into darkness,
book in hand, coffee cup steaming,
poetry of course, Swinburne actually,
how tum-ti-tum can you get,
‘For some must stand, and some must fall or flee,’
word after word, night after night,
‘Couldst thou not watch with me?’
A pistol on the table corner
an airgun of course, just a toy, like this anxiety
a ham Schmerz
but it gets to be a métier, it milks the smatch out of it all.
Fewer and fewer people
are saying less and less with a titbit of sense in it,
our age hasn’t got a name,
spirits are battling with each other, I know that of course,
lots of people are expecting Thermopyles, so that
we’ll all slump in a heap under the same scutum
and the brigands ‘ll be on top
or the law of the brigands,
our age hasn’t got a name,
but surely someone ought to know more than this:
That most people don’t know anything.

Belief gone, faith gone,
depressedly dreaming about
impracticabilities. Life.
No ball and chain could rub into you like that.


Life’s a snip, mate, if you learn the trick of it,
the bloke said, borrowed his brother-in-law’s
double-barrel, and muckied the kitchen wall with his brains.


Giving in finally gets to be second nature,
the heart can settle down anywhere,
everywhere can be called home,
nothing makes you jump
once you’ve found a funkhole from yourself.
Time merely is, you realize,
from year to year,
everything just happens, no one’s forced
to take a look outside himself,
it’s become a métier.
You won’t hear sea water shouting out: Who am I? Who’s my brother?

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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