Issue 2/1987 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Vattenhjulet (‘The water-wheel’, 1986). Introduction by Thomas Warburton

Together with time

One day the door to my room closed
and fate said to me: be still.
It was then that I discovered time.
It had lain hidden beneath a lid
of events and hasty decisions.
It was then that I raised the lid.
So strange! There time lay
completely unused, completely itself
smooth and fresh, as if resting.
I looked at time with reverence.
I saw myself new, I sank into
a miraculous eventlessness
together with time
listened to myself living:
a barely perceptible murmur.

The water-wheel

The old horse plods heavily with blinkered eyes 
the wheel turns slowly and inexorably
creating time, a thing that is not visible
that is really nothing
			with the right to kill.

The flounder

She has arranged things well for her day-to-day-life 
flattened she arouses no attention
her white blind side she turns face down
her upper side cunningly many-coloured
no one can distinguish her from pebbles and gravel
or darting water-shadows.
			She herself 
can see everything. She hoists both eyes
turns them around, small periscopes on shafts 
while she lurks, buried.

Mostly she moves about on life’s seabed
scrubbing and scraping herself along
among the insignificant things.
Suddenly she goes flying off,
the soft hem of fins around her billowing
as she rises in full flight
towards the Pelagian world.
Here she was once an egg
among a hundred thousand brothers and sisters
to shimmering expanses near the sun
she bears the fruit of her seabed life.

The stickleback

Red in the nape, with tensed fins
he darts to and fro on guard
in the riverbank splashes his pride
the nest he himself has built
from algae and pondweed
no females here
she was only just allowed to lay the eggs
it is he who has custody
who whirls the water
so that the eggs keep fresh
red and angry he darts to and fro
no trespassers here
and no women.

The Spruce

I met it one evening. From the dark snow
the giant spruce rose, blocking my way
with something that was more than icy silence
it was a black, an almost audible threat.
And there was no one who could translate
from the spruce’s harsh language into our own.
I was an intruder, and to the spruce a nobody.
It stood contemptuously, rooted in its ice-age
an older form of life.


The timber is stacked
the snow melts along the fractures like tears 
trunks that fell in their best years
and the immense rough spruce 
where the forest was darkest
		full of lily of the valley
I wade among broken branches
the trees were made for a long life split sap
	sticks to my boots.

The park

Dry leaves fly up and leap along the ground
and shadows start to live above naked trunks
it is not the gale that gives the shadows life
but the air which has acquired a brilliance
like the eyes of a pregnant woman.

The horizons

The cows grazed assiduously with swishing tails
their backs spread their horizons along the meadow
the meadow and the wood’s edge rested quiet lines
and the sleep in me became clover.


Tomtits and midges gone
all the busy performance
wings and chirrupping gone
now is the time of the silent traffic
upwards sideways down
sail strange messages
here the future prepares itself
some has fallen on good ground
some will choke in dense brushwood
and some will blow away without trace
like the days of man.

Onion autumn

It was the Sunday of the onions 
the soil was soft and grey
here and there a yellow leaf spun 
the soil opened most willingly
soft and loose, a warm nest
	for what one hardly dares believe
	that yet once more, towards May and blackbirds 
and old Geijer went carrying the basket
humming: She does as I do 
	buries her hope
she believes as I do in sun and spring.

Frau Bach

Sometimes she would forget him altogether 
in a sweaty muddle of chores
perhaps on a day when when he lingered at the organ
building as he used to say a cathedral of order
or a day full of serving-maids' clatter
cooking-smells and cruets or when small heels
kicked hard inside the waist of her dress.
Sometimes she would forget the ponderous precentor
for what he had given her to endure
		also disappointments
the princely displeasure, his gloomy silence
he seemed scarcely to notice the numerous children
except at table, she pulled Friedemann by the hair 
he rapped out fugues with his soup spoon
she was run off her feet keeping order
but it also happened that she remembered 
		that one busy day before Christmas
		before the Lord's arrival which required much food
		she had leaned her forehead against the frozen pane:
		a moment's pause in the order of the ice-crystals.

The name

After his death we found the writing-pad:
his name, a hundred times his name
and more than a hundred, fumbling attempts
composed of tall, rigid stems, quivering
with obstinacy, scraped attempts
characters that clung to one another
as if on the way towards more patience.
What was left of him was his name, his name was
his outpost, his name refused to give up
when his hand refused. As long as he
could manage his name he was there, he remained.

Translated by David McDuff


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