From life to life

Issue 2/1997 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Taivas päivystää (‘Sky on duty’, WSOY, 1996). Introduction by Tero Liukkonen

Flitting from dream to dream. Vanishings.
And you can’t even look.
What you looked with has been taken.
Then there’s more you know.
How helpless you are.
Then you know what Bottom meant
awake from his dream and trying to remember
what he’d lost. Then he did wake.
‘Man’s but a patched fool,’ he said,
‘if he’ll offer to say what methought I had.’

                                                                          Everything had gone topsy-turvy
                                                                          but she just went on feeling
                                                                                      she was hanging her head,
                                                                          she just went on feeling she was searching the lawn
                                                                                                   for a four-leaf clover,
                                                                          and the lawn had covered everything up
                                                                          and not a soul was troubling her.
Coming back, with the concert still
ringing in my ears
and that particular overtone
escaping me,
                                 how was it –
a girl there in front of me,
grey felt hat on her ears –
it spired up from the top of her head
to a black bead
that flashed in the lamplight –
        and how did it go, how did it go,
that silly hat, in such a serious business.
                                                                          What goes wandering, when you don't and I don't.
                                                                          What goes wandering.
                                                                          The poem that incarnates
                                                                          from life to life,
                                                                          some black gold of our absence.
                                                                          The water rushes to meet you, the stream of spring,
                                                                          and you go rushing, shoes in your hand.
In the night, in this room,
        some other window's light went' out,
and my window,
       when I look out, at the snow on the roofs,
a face forms out of the darkness,
       a great form
on the curving wall of the tower opposite,
a face somehow familiar, dark eyes,
hair piled high on the head,
with a black dress underneath, and a round collar, extremely white.
Something she has behind her, darker and darker
       her eyes are growing,
and from her shoulders I'd say she's no longer young.
I lit the light for her.
The night's cold and she's not intending to leave,
       this snow and frost figure,
she's intending to stay here, the winter long.
But for her kind the winter could be
short, and that's perhaps is what she wants to say.
I lit the light for her
       so I could write her down.
How splendid it was
      you in the door,
                                 what a doorsplendour,
 don't try to find that door.
                                                                           In the room where there's the carving
                                                                                                            of your breath,
                                                                           there it is, your breath's
                                                                                                  black lacquered wood,
                                                                           there's black wood in that room,
                                                                                        the carving of your breath,
                                                                           look how it's smiling, it's lovely.

Why is the beautiful amazon’s
beautiful torso here
when her beautiful head’s on the floor above?
Doesn’t belong here, the attendant says,
all the heads are on the floor above.
Our European patrimony too has been divided up,
there may be quite a way
between the body’s parts, Socrates’ head
in Rome, and his possible torso
in Copenhagen, everyone gets his bit,
and let me just point out that Socrates’
sizy soft belly
is far more lively than his head.

                                                                            I'm standing by the window in the torso room,
                                                                            I'm standing in harsh daylight
                                                                            and I'm not yearning for the faces the hands
                                                                            that are gone,
                                                                                                   people are starting to flow,
                                                                            some coming in, carrying
                                                                            heads for these torsos,
                                                                                                                       seeing if they'll go,
                                                                            one after another
                                                                                                                       each trying his own on,
                                                                            none of them goes with this one.
I walked faster than steps
      the sand ran

                                                                            A purple cloud
                                                                                                   your thunderbody high in the sky
                                                                           the long rumbling of memory
And yet, after decades,
my joy still strays in you,
                     when you hear my voice
my voice is an excursion of memory,
a reverberation, with you at the end.
Memory full of light, life after death.
                                                                          A huge sleeping ward,
                                                                                                             a sky on duty
                                                                          whether you're nodding or waking
                                                                                                 the night's bright.
                                                                          And each one's bed is in the centre,
                                                                                      each one's in the centre,
                                                                          under the circling sky.

Translated by Herbert Lomas


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