Issue 3/1979 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Introduction by Thomas Warburton


What about going up into the birch tree together
so high till it bends with our weight
and we’re thrown, two seeds on one dandelion chute
down into the lake and its quaking looking glass
There we wash around together without
a stitch on our feelings
We let ourselves sink down to the lakefloor and set up
house there for a time
Among the fakirs the watercolourists and the alcoholics
we can hear the water sprite fluting, all out of tune
like a gipsy band gone down with the ship.


In Helsinki the houses haven’t any special beauty
You won’t find any special umbrageousness in the parks
The air’s not smoggier than in other great cities
The human beings aren’t better off than somewhere else
Helsinki’s a city without a face, with
a smiling facelessness seaward
The whole city’s mostly back of the head and neck, or back
Just now and then you might think you can see a smile starting
in the wrinkles of its neck, a laugh in its back
Then desperately you go scooting round and round
trying for a sighting of its eyes, its mouth
And then the city hunches and huddles into itself, draws the mist
closer round its shoulders
You can love Helsinki
for its piddlingness, for its lack
of a distinct face, its insensibility
to those who fall down in the streets
and go on lying there.

From Bli, tillsammans (1970)


There was this man, and he thought, despairing:
Nothing now but to hang myself
in the nearest sea.
He scrambled down the rope and entered the sea
and his own paradise.
And there was this other man, who thought, despairing:
Nothing now but to drown myself
in the nearest tree.
He sank to the top of the tree and went into bliss
and drank himself out of thirst on dew and rain.
And there was still this other, who thought, despairing:
Nothing now but to take a pistol and put
a sleeping pill through my head.
He turned into the eternal nocturnal companion
and good moon of all the sleepless.

From Rumskamrater (1974)


After this journey through the Loveless
Quarter I've my report: it's like
our own, trains go, they're building
hospitals prisons old-people's-homes motorways fall-out shelters etc
Children sometimes wake up in the night at the sudden
silence of the adults
People get through the day in eight hour blocks, go and come
People get born and killed according to the normal statistic
Quite a lot of them are already drugged in their cradles but a lot
of the worst is tucked out of sight, perhaps it doesn't exist
If you feel the lack of something its richness and glow in the
                                                            colours, small
nuances of flavour, a friction of warmth
in people's eyes as they go through each other, also some
excitement and fumbling at the feel of another's touch
(we've the same problem here)
Ecstasy striking at heaven is simply unknown
Hot hate doesn't exist
Tears are merely a chemical secreted through irritation
There's not much interest in failed suicide
Just one day at a time, people say if someone asks.
From Trädens sånger (1979)

5 (Finland, winter 1978-79)

Now the huge ovens are opened up for tourists like museums
On the drawing room screen we watch jerky images
                    of bulldozers snouting among corpses
Bloodhounds snooze with closed eyes
                    as if they were sleeping
'In the event of nuclear conflict' we listen
                    novocained to the mumbling from the east
Our exports to the Soviet Union have trebled fast
We know all about exporting industrial workers to
Sweden, they can freely choose between rotting
at home and not belonging over there
'Hunger as a factor in production'
They've no voice in the matter
they've no longer a language ...
Everything we don't need we produce in abundance
including emptiness
The minority areas of Finland are depopulated
In Sideby a mink-farmer's bitten by one of his minks
                    totally unreliable beasts he says
Kekkonen doesn't seem to have aged a lot
                    in his twenty-two years as President
In the park down the road last week a boy of eighteen
                    killed a boy of fifteen
Where are your children just now, do you know
                    a psychologist asks on TV
We try to avoid the eyes of the rejected
                    but in any case they're almost out of sight
The middle classes go into the voting booths
                    under the slogan 'belief in the future'
'The lie as a factor in production '
'Terrorism as a factor in production'
Nevertheless we have never had it so good say those of us
                    for whom things are still not so bad.


Love’s not possible, it’s
unrestrainable, your swift smiling takes the air
like a wind, a flower wind in the grass,
nothing’s itself, everything’s as usual
new, politics is what we do with each other, or
leave undone, inside the tree there’s a warmth
ramifying, it’s what we forget, the whole time, it’s what
forgets us as long as we remember, the whole time now.


We know so little about the birds
for they’re constantly shunning us
A dead bird is something you scarcely dare hold in the cup of your hand before
you sling it in the nearest ditch
Everywhere everywhere after that you think
you can see the dead bird again, among
your friends, among your friends in the clouds, in the clouds
you think you can see again
the dead bird you held
in the cup of your hand just
like a living chick.

From Trädens sånger (1979)

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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