Issue 2/1982 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Sirkka Turkka is among the most important poets who started their work in the 1970s. So far she has published five collections of poetry and one work in prose. ‘I speak of death when I mean to speak of life,’ writes Sirkka Turkka in one of the poems in her collection Mies joka rakasti vaimoaan liikaa (‘The man who loved his wife too much’, 1979). The theme of death is close at hand, too, in the previously unpublished poems printed below. Introduction by Arto Kytöhonka

Before death itself comes
it paints the pine boles red
around this house
It erects a moon in the sky, a luminous moon,
set on edge like an old dish
with the light enamel peeling off.
Onto this house, over which
night is now pleating.
And the house, in the veering waters, in the clinging waters,
is slowly preparing itself, quite by itself, for death.
Long before death arrives,
the lunar mountains rise and set
over this tiny house, which was a home,
crouching now, its breathing almost inaudible.
A hinge turns in the night, the moon’s going,
and here it comes again.
I hammer a cross on the door and the wall,
on the snow, on the pinebole,
I light a wax cross
for the stranger to come.
Night, and wave after wave comes driving,
Night the ebb and flow of the snow.
Night; and the pillow-case, sweet-scented, and the sheets
distend into sails launched into expectation,
navigating from the torso to the earth,
to the booming, frozen earth.
No stopping on that road, no looking back, no
shouting at the frontier.
Let the heart unroll like a little red carpet
right up to the gate, let it glow
like carnations against the snow’s skin.
And little bush, get ready too,
licking my window with your black flames.
Get ready, be prepared.
For death is tender when it
finally comes.
It presses on your breast.
Without a word it gives you the meaning of your cradle song,
which it brings you now behind your stooping ghost
of years and decades.
Into your childish hand it slips a present,
one you look at fixedly now with dimming eyes.
It gives you the song you thought you’d forgotten.
Its shoulders and breast are sheeted with flowers.
It’s hollow, to swallow a person completely.
It grabs you by the sides.
It lifts you up:
it tries to understand you.
And then it has.
It nails open your eyes,
nails open your mouth, from which
the clamouring of life is clambering out.
And you look at, no longer me,
but through me
behind me
at your own death.
And at the white flowers
that have been bursting out
all around the little house.

Undeviating God, are you
cold now.
Alone. In the dark.
Life has the look of a face or a man
a horizon studded with
the villas of pain.
Wave hits wave on the edge of longing,
dusk Is a blood brother, a companion now,
to break difficult bread with
a skill you have to learn.
Summer was short, the autumn light grudging
autumn yearning for the summer
that never came.
A hollow pumpkin sailing
With Its own little cargo of rainwater for itself:
that was the summer we had.
Or a hare, a sad little bunny, with an inescapable
stone as big as the world in its heart,
an out-of-breath forest Hermes
with a bullet at its tail.
In the evenings, when the world is resting
I cover over with soil
a little tired stone:
are you cold now.

Just moon left. Nothing but moon.
The fracturing chronometrical steel ball
has been lowered to the bottom of the sea.
The South Wind took her,
the South Wind of the songs.
In the palm of death now rests
her brittle skull, her paper-thin
sad seal-head.
I’m left here still shadowed by the war.
Shadowed by the world, shadowed by the rainclouds.
All the summer the old lady waited for summer
When she left. When she left
I built from the bedclothes
on her bed
an old church.

I’ve given in my notice.
I’ve made a contract.
With brain and heart, with my whole heart,
biffing like a fist, for a fist it is,
I’m in love with you, men of the mountains.
Gnarled, gusty men, standing like doors.
Under the wings of the great horned owl,
autumn sails in on its mists.
In the fields the slugs and snails
lie like orphans for the crows,
the lynx tenses its shoulders, here
the pines are beginning already to be eternal.
Come along, limping liar,
and I’ll throw your bandages into the trees.
For the mouth freighted with lies
suddenly opens for death.
Men in coarse shirts, and their thin wives,
mild and stubborn as mountain goats,
as The Prayer of Jammes:
men with eyes like water,
with eyes like Alaska:
men the forests fall in,
and not the other way round,
because their power has grown in
sorrow, which never stops:
for them there’ll always be a home within
this autumn, in this heart.
The herd of words is in the byre,
and bedded down for the winter.
In the night the bread goes round and
crumbles in our hands,
and the liquor sings in the glass.
We drink, and go on drinking, and one by one
a forest of sleep receives us, windlessly, starlessly
and in our hand a flower and a bird will rest
till the following spring.

Translated by Herbert Lomas


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