Poems, poèmes

Issue 2/1987 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Mies joka rakasti vaimoaan liikaa (‘The man who loved his wife too much’, 1979 and Vaikka on kesä (‘Although it’s summer’, 1983).  Interview by Markku Huotari

Look at this epitaph with whiskers.
Threw herself so gladly into my troubles, sometimes she seemed to be bearing, properly, my burdens.
A dog called Julia. Combining
July and Yuletide.
Often thought of putting her down, so she wouldn’t need to die.
Smash her skull or break her neck
with my own hands, to stop her mourning her premature death.
Which still seems to be delaying.
She puts her four paws gently down, one at a time. So the Lord won’t hear her still about
and whisk her away.
Two years ago, she steps on some glass, her toe sticks out, a tendon’s cut.
She looks at me. Believe it or not,
I’m grieved by little Julia’s lot: for a second
I think the blood’s dripping from my own heart.


Once I was almost invited to a wedding, one time almost to a funeral.
And once I was almost there with the rest
at the chemist’s birthday party.
At best, I’m third, fifth or seventh wheel,
sometimes I get a call from a Salvation Army person
who giggles like Marilyn Monroe.
The railway station’s an old bat, and every morning it smooths its wrinkles,
the carriages are in their own place in the siding,
and I’m in mine in the light from the window,
and the days are brushed by nothing but
a big plaintive wing made out of birds.
There are Pentecostalist invalids here, God’s crippled-winged artists,
iniquity shines like the moon on the bare cheek,
and I’m not qualified for this world’s guitar club,
I get my music from frozen puddles in back lanes.
This morning I slopped my café au lait down my collar,
I’m terrified of death, its way of hanging about all the time.
I go like van Gogh with my ear in my pocket, I listen,
that’s all right there, in the ark grass. . .
The willow warbler of my mind taps on It, thumb-sized,
the ground-nester, childhood’s bird, the raking bird,
a little clump of grass for nest, exposed
to the world’s winds, the rain, the squirrel.
I go with my hair over my eyes, the snow piles on my eyelid, on my shoulder.
The town’s strange, my heart strange, the wind whistles and groans, an old bellows
the only relief’s in sleep, tiredness lets you grab the night sky.
A cigarette anneals my evenings, a certain reverie, its burning look,
and beneath the window the fragrance of snow and an unseen angel.
Weltschmerz, if the world still means anything, I’ve beaten.
I’m never almost alone, or almost gone,
if I am, or you’re wondering, I’m off.

From Mies joka rakasti vaimoaan liikaa (‘The man who loved his wife too much’, 1979)


Before death comes itself,
it paints the pine-boles red
around the house.
It pushes the moon into the sky, the bright moon,
like an old dish on edge,
whose light-enamel is peeling off.
Over the house, over which
night’s now swathing.
And in the changing, embracing currents, the house
gets ready, unhurriedly, all by itself
for death.
Long before death arrives
the mountains of the moon rise, set
on this little house that was home,
that’s hunching with scarcely audible breath.
The night-hinge turns, the moon goes,
and again returns.
I nail a cross on the door, on the wall,
on the snow and the pine-bole,
I light a wax cross
for the stranger to come.
In the night, wave drives after wave,
in the night, the ebb and flow of the snow.
In the night, the pillowslips, the fragrant slips and sheets
swell into sails, into expectation,
navigating from the rib-cage to the earth, to the frosty, resounding earth.
No stop on that road,
no backward look,
no halloos to the frontier.
Let the heart unroll as little red carpets
right up to the gate, let them glow,
carnations on the skin of snow.
You too, little bush, get ready
licking my window with black flames.
Get ready and be ready.
For death is tender
when it comes.
It hugs you to its breast.
Without a word, it teaches you the meaning of your cradle song,
which it brings you behind your stooped ghost,
behind the years, the decades.
It puts a gift in your infant fingers, a gift
you stare and stare at with dimming eyes.
It gives you the song you thought you’d forgotten.
Its breast and shoulders are garlanded with flowers.
It’s hollow, to be able to take in a person completely.
It takes you by the edges.
It spreads you open:
it tries to understand you.
It nails your eyes open,
and your mouth open, that
the clamour of life is clambering out of.
And you look, not at me now,
through me,
behind me,
at your own death.
And at the white flowers
that have burst out
round the tiny house.

From Vaikka on kesä (‘Although it’s summer’, 1983)

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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