30 December 1998 | Fiction, poetry

From Gården (‘The courtyard’, 1969)

The brown tablecloth hung over the edge.
I sat below there unseen in the odour of cabbage and warmth.

The sky hung on rusty hooks, the women of the courtyard shrank.
They were the only flowers the summer had.
They carried pails to the back yard where there was no sun.

Father read the newspaper, in the middle drawer of the writing table were
bills, promissory notes, pawn tickets, the rent book, everything in order.

Behind house after house the sea rocked somewhere like a patch of oil,
could be seen by glimpses if one leaned out of the attic window.
But most clearly I remember the kitchen table, it was seldom cleared.

Life, it was bottomless, it was a matter of being careful,
going out and in with one’s skin like a bruise not to be touched.
The sky was completely clear by the beating-balcony.

One had to make money, afford to live.
One had to have a room, a bed behind the kitchen
and save for a bigger one.

In the well of the building was a water as clear as a spring’s.

• • •

From Dagen vänder (‘The day turns’, 1983)

On the August veranda

The table is starting to get old, stands unsteadily
on its warped legs. Hinges give way,
lacquered surfaces crack, there’s a creaking
when someone gives the table a knock.
The evening, too, is old, smells of old leaves,
alder thickets, raspberry bushes. It’s hard
to find in the leaves that are starting to stiffen
a flower, no matter how faintly glowing,
with a forgotten smell like the summer rooms of dead generations –
a smell of old clothes, nutmeg or wood dust
behind wallpaper destroyed by damp in roughcast houses.
Something motionless, blind penetrates via thought:
now a calm with August’s twilight,
now a restless assault of images, as though a stranger
forced me to quickly leaf through some photograph album
with groups of people – rarely a landscape,
overgrown like the landscape now,
the reeds never taller, the water strewn with pollen
and on the table the lamp with its circle of light
over the glass, the journal, the block. Everything old.
Where I sit I can see a covered path,
years growing over, silence growing over.
Someone says on the radio: ‘The Soviet Union and the USA are not states
in the proper sense, they are power blocks
that think it self-evident to own the world.’
And a bit later: ‘Finland is not a bad museum.’
Twilight falls quickly, I turn down the wick,
sit for a while and accustom my eye to the night.
Old men cling tight to their blocks, out of tiredness
and habit, and the moths knock against the lampshade’s
clumsy old map.
I sit in a not at all bad museum.
I blow out the flame. It gets dark, then grey.
Someone arrives with silent oar-strokes, puts in
by the dilapidated floating jetty, between the two blocks,
heaven and earth. A familiar, dear voice:
‘I’m going straight to bed, don’t stay up too long,
you’ll start to get cold.’ I pick up the towel,
go down to the shore, get down on my knees by the jetty,
splash my face. Silence, faint breeze,
listening repose.

• • •

From Novembercredo Dikter i urval 1946–1996
(‘Selected poems 1946–1996’)

Thirteen poems

Over there
in foreign lands
nothing but vanity
there isn’t anything
the widely travelled one
looking into the distance

Friend with the trees
friend with oneself

It peers
from the forest
from the chink in the door
the autumn crocus

The vital thread tensed
the tone sweet
breaks, suddenly

Drew out
the aching wisdom
lived happy

Ill-matched pieces
of body
to soul

Each dawn
a warning
until he believed
plunged downhill

What I fled
came back
had to seek
other ways
unfamiliar laid by stones
out towards new land

With quiet mind
silent around eye and lips
my day of shadows
my lost faithful life

Her gaze
the chill at her wrist

You who cure sorrow
cure joy
give windless bay
empty shores

Join dreams together
to a single reality
a longing

Where did you leave me
where did you hide me
even before you went away from me
in the days of early spring?
I left you
because you did not exist
neither in the spring’s, nor in the autumn’s
changing days
only when the day
was at its fairest

• • •

Translated by David McDuff


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