Ordinary people

Issue 2/1990 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Vaikka aamuun on vielä aikaa (‘Though it’s still a long time till morning’, 1989) Introduction by Risto Rasa

This time
 this time of consensus
 that teaches
           the poor to love the prosperous,
           the bossed to love the bossers
           the kicked to love the kickers
           and all of us to love humility
 obedience and biddability
 before the hingdom, the power and the glory:
 this time
 cries out for a tearer-up,
 calls for a muster
 of thousands and thousands
 of serious and honest busters.

I don’t love the rich,
all I love are my poor.
There’s no bending with us
to the kingdom, the power and the glory:
not apart, not together,
not even to each other

Everything’s in our Eyes and Ears

Europe's women were colonised with corsets,
 she wrote, and I said:
 Chinese girls had their feet fettered.
It would have been interesting to see
 a farm labourer's missus or a working-class mum in corsets,
 or a paddy-field plough-puller
         with lilyshoes on her lotusfeet.
 Bourgeois beauties and aristocratic maidens
         must have been precious few
                 then too, I guessed;
 the colonised were surely
                 the uncorseted
                 the shoeless.

Witches Have Green Eyes

I don't adore you because
         you're beautiful.
 I adore your beauty because
         it's in you.


Green eyes – witches have.
Or have they?
Red hair – witches have.
Or have they?
Can’t say – I’m colour blind.
Can recognise a witch, though:
she always bewitches me.

Five Songs About Love

Me: ‘Give us a kiss?’
Aliina: ‘No!’
Vilja: ‘Old hairy-chops!’

               Two new darlings I've got,
               so young and so sweet:
                       Aliina, the ever-suspicious
                       and Vilja,
               ready for a cuddle from the start.
                       How they shine –
                              their eyes,
                                      dark as dark:
                       Aliina's at least –
               her indigo-blue, darker-blue than sky-blue eyes,
               always flush with suspicious wonder;
               Vilja's eyes scatter mischief
                       and smiles everywhere –
                and laugh at me
                       when my hand goes out towards her.
                                                                    Sweet Aliina:
                                                                            trust and distrust by turns:
                                                                     a studied kiss and off –
                                                                            and then a headshake:
                                                                                     now then, that's enough...
                                                                     sometime I might
               but I take Vilja
               for a jolly good hug:
               Vilja can sleep there
               and when she wakes smile
               an angel's smile at a satyr.
Aliina, my darling,
 it's difficult to give you a kiss
 when grandad's beard
         makes your lips bleed,
 makes your cheeks blotchy
 and punctures all your trust.
               Vilja, the fearless,
               just a few weeks old
                        was fit to split with laughter
               at her first sight of me.
               Trust was instant:
                        grandads long for
               wit and sincerity

Might As Well Go To Bed

Sniffed, sipped, studied it,
          studied the wine by the candle flame,
 rattled on and rattled on:
           trite, tense, tough,
           light, lenient, laconic,
           rabid, racial, robust...
 Meanwhile I emptied the bottle.
 Jolly good wine it was.
The rum's flowing
 more and more night by night –
 chain smoking
 black cigars.
 Only the poems are petering out:
 silver temples
 are no come-on to the ladies now,
 now that my tally of grandchildren's growing,
 now that my teeth are dropping out,
 now that the wrinkles are netting yet more of my face
 and I'm thinning with sheer longing
 for sessions with fillies and wives.
They just deride me:
 get away with your kisses –
 go canoodle your grandkids.
 Serves you right:
 it's what you deserve.
Might as well go to bed,
 though it's still a long time till morning.


Are you inclined to sing
after your fifth rum?
Not me, any more.
Instead, they tell me,
I snore.

The Memories of a Moralist

Once, in the liberal-minded land of
Denmark, I purchased a couple of bottles
of soda water from a grocer and asked him
if he’d mind opening them so my wife and
I could quench our thirst with the contents.

The grocer snarled that he wasn’t some sort
of kiosk-keeper, drove us out of his dark
shop and bawled that if he opened the
bottles the police’d pick on some regulation
and drop on him like a ton of bricks;
he cordially wished the same for us.

Once, in the narrow-minded and socially
backward land of the Alps, whose
well-being is the joint-work of foreign
billionaires and the foreign-work-force’s
pariah-class, I and my wife were climbing
Banker’s Col on Sunny Mountain, intending
to shove our empty Kirsch-, Williams-,
Mirabelle- and Framboise-bottles in some
palace dustbin. But the bankers had
anticipated my move – or maybe they
were afraid the proletariat might be after
the reject diamonds in their dustbins: every
single dustbin was fitted with a safety-lock.

So we parked the bottles by some chateau
gatepost, headed down the mountainside to
the lakeshore and called at a dairy, looking
for a little more to drink: a couple of
bottles of Valais white wine and another of
cherry brandy.

The pretty girl behind the counter, maybe
one of the Emmental beauties, enquired:
‘Are you going to drink them here? Do you
want me to open them for you?’

If my wife hadn’t been there, I’d have
popped the word on the spot.


I remember perfectly well the pumpernickel
of my childhood – oval gingerbreads
coated in white sugar. Sometimes I used to
bring a few from town as a little
coming-home present for my own children.

But then I began to get confused when an
expert’s article in a book on cheese told me
that pumpernickel and blue cheese were an
excellent combination.

Roquefort or gorgonzola on pumpernickel’s
sugar-coating? Or some brie? Maybe a
starter of oxtail soup and meringue, with
steak-and-vanilla pie as a main course?

They make pumpernickel in Germany too.
It’s what we call rye bread in Finland. Rye
bread gave the Germans wind problems
and got nicknamed Bomber-Nikolaus. Dear
Cheese Experts, ‘pumpernickel’ denotes
fartarse. You’re fartarses yourselves, if you
pinch a German text without so much as
looking at a dictionary.

How I became a cigar-smoker

The kiosk wasn’t actually in the stadium
but the stadium entrance. One of my
privileges was to have a pig and a bottle of
lemonade at the kiosk window whenever
we set out on our walks. I don’t know
whether the concept of a confectionery
called a ‘pig’ is still current: it was a fried
cushion of doughnut dough, with a pig’s
trotter pinched on each comer, and the i
nside – believe it or not – was coated
with a perfectly unscathed spoonful of jam.

Very often the kiosk was also being
patronised by a well-set-up gentleman with
sleeked black hair. A ‘commercial traveller’,
so my dad, who recognised all the town’s
customers, informed me.

Each time, the commercial traveller asked
the girl for ‘his usual’ and received a box
of matches and a cigar, which, twenty year
later, I knew to be a Signora. Nowadays
the Signora is a mere memory.

So when my father and I strolled behind t
he gentleman along the Hietalahti and
Kustaspori waterside paths, I learned to take
in and relish the delicious cigar smell. Then
I became a cigar-smoker myself.

Para Personas De Buen Gusto

Now – unnerving news:
Castro's abandoned cigars.
Oh! However it hurts my heart,
I'll order a frame
    for one of my two Cohibas –
the long Cohiba that came from Castro's
I'll get a square-yard-sized frame for
           Castro's cigar
    and in large letters inscribe on the top:
    and at the bottom, equally large:

Translated by Herbert Lomas


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