Breathe out, breathe in

Issue 2/1999 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Nio dagar utan namn (‘Nine days without names’, Söderströms, 1998). Introduction by Bror Rönnholm

Quickly, at a zebra crossing
          not of wonder but of
 something closely related: the tree
          upturned by the gale
 with its roots to the heavens, the lit-up
          church spire against the night sky, a few
simple gravestones viewed at a
          suitable season, a quartet from the Marriage of Figaro
 or just standing at a roaring
          crossing and writing this, invisible
 to all in exhaust fumes and a faint blue
          light from a hidden sun, a few
times mistaken for a
          loved pupil

Through an early window

Only now when I have seen us as visible like this
I know that there is something that always remains
invisible. As though the little boy who is glimpsed
through the layers of the years were me; standing
there in the twilight behind a back that
must be smaller than his own. The clock still
strikes heavy blows in his fragile body while he listens
to the misery of those who have been left on the wrong side
of sorrow. On the black bay the blinking
ship sews stitch after stitch while mother stands in the kitchen
plucking darkness from one vessel to another. The dog
comes howling up the hill with a fish hook in
its paw, but the red car drives and drives
through the maize-yellow field towards
the future, mows down the years like a mad thing
without anyone at the wheel.

The book

I open the old book carefully
so that the butterfly-thin paper does not

fall apart, I recognize
the name, but not the memory

which tumbles out like a hibernating
insect: a rusty compass needle

that carried someone home, then lay around
and became an involuntary bookmark for

whoever made notes in the margins
‘someone always came too close to me’

that is underlined, once
it must have been important, but

I can’t summon up the face any more,
only the ungainly handwriting bears witness

to someone who was once close to me,
even then with snow in his heart

and a lightness that became too heavy to
carry, a stubborn striving to remain

unsurprised by himself, before
he for a moment

that became longer than he suspected,
walked back into

that black forest which
for the first time

had whispered his name.


The more I know about
the world the less it lets itself
be known. Perhaps it is so
simple: that it does not have the same
heart, not mine. That we have the music
we deserve. And about everything
perhaps it says just what you think
it says: that life is neither more nor
less than yourself a vessel of light
ready to take in all the darkness
you are capable of


One night in an empty bus
The tormenting monotony of the reflection
In the seat behind a
recruit reading Donald Duck, the moon
throwing itself sleeplessly to and fro, from side
to side. In the lit-up shell uneasy dreams
about visits to the dentist, cystocopes and
soporific lectures about the subject’s role
in it all. When I
awake we are already there,
but still I hear her
voice, as though it lay under
my own: ‘I see you
in what is always silent in you’

Two silences

The children sleep, but in their faces I
see a lamp being lit, and something lights
them up from inside and grows into me, from
the other side, from the silent
side. What do newborn infants dream about? No one
knows but their eyelids move all the same
on a dark night like this one when I sit
and listen to the smaller one’s breathing: once
a second, breathe out, breathe in. I
imagine the fear in the moment
of silence when everything stops, think that
there are people who want
just that. In the tram the same morning:
a man, a woman and a twelve year-old son. He
sits a little to one side, without contact with the others.
He mutters to himself Clear tics. The
sun rises over the city. Even now an
unmistakable smell of sweat in the car. At
Fredriksgatan the boy’s song rises to a falsetto
and I see him plunge forty years forwards
in time. Alone he sits on his
bench and is angry with the world, tries
in vain to light a cigarette butt, twilight
falls. Suddenly so hopeless to think
that all have been children, that all have lain in
beds and been silent in surprise at
their own sounds. Lain awake in a
silence that was not the silence of death.

Translated by David McDuff


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