The only time for loving

Issue 4/1998 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Iloiset harhaopit (‘Happy heresies’, WSOY, 1998). Introduction by Herbert Lomas


Down from the top floor crept
a kind thief

and loaded a bed with silver,
nicked from a house in the harbour.

‘Ah,’, he said, like Weiss: ‘an
impecunious lot – no hope of swag.

The lady’s purse is empty, nothing but
matches, sugar, a teabag.

Too few frocks in the wardrobe too
for a pretty lady.’

Morning, and the bedside chair
is piled with frocks from the neighbour’s line.

A proper thief is smitten
and shows his philosophy of crime,

and I’m a poet!
Neither foxes nor police dogs stir my heart

but I do love the sheer out-and-out howling
dottiness of our time.

Boy throwing a snowball

A boy’s throwing a snowball and admits he intends to hit
the place he hits –
(and thus always hits the place he intends).

‘Daddy, daddy, look at me, throwing snowballs!’
And Daddy says: ‘Come on then, and hit me!’

‘No,’ says the boy: ‘It’s not right
to decide in advance
where you’re going to aim.’

Daddy takes careful aim but hits Mummy who’s just passing,
and, uninstructed, says: ‘Sorry, darling.
I didn’t mean it.’

‘Daddy,’ the boy asks, ‘Daddy, how can an accident
be so accurate
and how can an accident be forgiven?’


I’m less interested in ownership than in
the outlines of literature, music and painting:
mathematics, philosophy.
I know the truth! She’s my mistress,
the broken outlines of my reality.

Inventors of the wheel
in a wheeling world distinguish
philosophy and mathematics from art
so they can deliver their goods.

A dawdler by the roadside
does nothing but cross the road
and invents the wheel and vehicles.
Mounting one, he loses
first his goals and finally his burden.

Summer’s the only time for loving

Angelically I squandered all I had,
and she I first married
angelically bared her belly to every cad.

Thrift and fidelity, ant and pismire,
fill the dish then close it.
They show the virtues of the choir
of hell. God knows it!

If you’re homeless it’s hard to live
in any spot but any old spot.
Summer’s the only time for loving. For love, an heir
squanders his land, his cash, the lot,

and when he’s skint
his adoring girl tums faithless bint.

That eternal August! In September she said:
‘Darling, goodbye! Must fly –
right now. Must be on my way
or I’ll be late
for my rich fiancé and my wedding day.’

Lord, how crowded the world is!
The money! The savers with vision!
& how many priests, sending folk to prison.

The court of appeal, the courtroom and the highest court

Under the apple tree you saw her, bare-shouldered,
and by the reeds, in the small hours when you
were listening to the loon’s cry, you saw her
naked and swimming. Ah, dreamer!

Now you write her name on the bedsheet
she’ll come and change in the morning.

You heard the village women: ‘She’s a thief,
she lives in the house of the wolf, she bares her body
to the village men for a few pence.’

And in dreams of the night it seems God speaking:
This woman is a light in the sky
half-open, right in the middle of the summer sky,’

How can you clear your ear with a cry?
Where is the village where truth and joy can be spoken?

Heaven, pure heaven

Just as he’s all for moderation
in drink, gambling and affairs of the heart
– and does admire good manners! –
he holds to moderation in his skills and art.

All his prayers come true,
he’s famous and rich, and, dying,
he goes to heaven too;

but heaven’s immoderation sends him spare.
He’s told to mend his manners,
go to hell
and study heaven there.


So how long have I loved this woman?
Nightly I sleep at her side, and at three
she wakes me to make love. Ever since January
I’ve been sleeping at her side in Lahti
and living in sixteenth-century China
on the Fukien headland in the province of Amoy.

Ah! She wakes me for love, and I have to fake
excuses to get out of my calligraphy class.
Oh, those piercing February sunsets. March’s diamonds
in moonlit snow! And that bloom on the Amoy hillslopes!

In April she says, ‘You wept in the night.
What were you dreaming?’

‘For months now, at night, I’m
a Chinese mandarin, married, with children.
I’ve been so happy. But don’t be jealous.
Dream time goes faster than waking time.
Last night my wife died. And before the end of April
I’ll be laid with my wife, in the same grave.’

How long have I been loving?
All a cold winter long. Endlessly.
Right up to April.
And who, when I’m dead,
will see to my children in China?

Translated by Herbert Lomas


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