Between shadow and sunlight

Issue 4/1996 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Homecoming (translated by David McDuff, published by Carcanet Press, 1993)

It was hopeless trying to keep the window on the yard side clean
Perhaps it was an advantage not to see clearly,
roofs and chimneys, indeed, even the sky became friendly
seen from this renunciation. When it rained
the water formed streets of narrow drops, almost silver-coloured.
I considered them closely.
What use I should have for them I did not know.


There was a tree in the back yard.
It stood looking anxious most of the time.
On blowy spring days its last year's leaves still rattled along the walls.
Now that I see it perhaps more as a tree
than as the upright-standing broom we took it for
I write in its honour a poem late-born but deeply felt:
                  Autumn leaves
                  under the bright spring's
                  tracery of branches –


Slowly the house expanded out into the darkness with new rooms,
new passages and staircases, a courtyard behind a courtyard,
closed doors where – quiet! – someone shouted complaining,
or was it only imagination, shadows, misapprehension?

Slowly at the same time the house shrank, the walls closed in,
they acquired the skin’s colour, colour of tired eyes as they saw
stains spread out across the ceiling, as though someone
were bleeding through the floor, but not a sound was heard.

Slowly we grew older and ran on staircases
that echoed without answer during hot summer days.
The evenings darkened, were Jilled with windows and lamps.


When any grown-up comes down the staircase
we run right away to the side, hurry past without looking up.
When we have reached the top staircase window
we can see the courtyard narrow and lifeless below us.
All who move there are silent.


The future was seldom mentioned.
Today was enough.
Saturday was best,
father and mother as though they
were children,
and I hear voices like the hand at my brow.


I woke up to someone shouting in the courtyard.
I woke up to a smell of gas, everyone lay dead, even me.

I woke up to war having broken out and my clothes burning.
It was completely quiet. Only father snored reassuringly.

I woke up to so many catastrophes.
It was to lie in training for the future.


Come in to where I am. No, you need not be afraid.
If one has lived alone as long as I have one is helpless.
I sit most often and watch you playing in the courtyard.
If I did not have a son who sent me money I don’t know.
Perhaps it would make no difference. When most of the time
one has no one to talk to one begins to doubt.
Sit down. You can have a cup of coffee, and you need not
stay long. So it’s you. I’ve watched you grow
since you were small. Here. What I wanted to say
was: if one doesn’t have any contacts
one stops living in a way, as though one had been cut off.
One bleeds away, and afterwards one’s just left there.
Money helps one to stay alive and yet
it doesn’t help. Against that. Am I boring you?
I’m so used to talking to myself
that I can’t talk to others any more. Not properly.
Not that the courtyard here really exists for me.
Before 1used to read, but now my eyes can’t manage.
How old are you? Ten? Just as well.
Perhaps you won’t understand very much of what I’m saying.
Go when you want to. And come back – some time.
If you feel like it. Well, off you go.


There, by the edge of the cement wall,
there, along the black soft rim of asphalt
in the lightning bright sky
when the smell of burnt film rose,
I leaned forward,
kept my hand still:
a ladybird escaped, crept finally up
like a confused paint of joy,
between shadow and sunlight.
Slowly I presented my hand
as in a dance,
and it reached my fingertip, stopped,
flew suddenly,
and I saw
like a shimmer
the tall beauty
of space.

[Poems originally from the collection Gården (‘The courtyard’, 1969)]

Translated by David McDuff


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