A smell of the sea

Issue 1/2000 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Namnet på tavlan Klee målade (The name of the picture Klee painted’, Schildts,1999; Kleen taulun nimi, Otava, 1999; Finnish translation by Jaakko Anhava). Introduction by Hannu Väisänen

Old harmony

You see an old street and stop outside a gate to a shadowy inner courtyard. An oak tree grows there, its crown stretches towards the light. How big it is! On a bench underneath it an old couple sit looking at you. They are trying to discover what you once were. Beside them lies an old lute, like a large, gleaming fruit. You go over to it, pick it up, play a chord. The old woman and the old man look at you without surprise. It has all happened once before, after all. Not much more is needed, only a deep silence. The oak tree murmurs, the old couple have gone, you sit there with your wife and see someone entering the courtyard. Do we know him, you say. But scarcely have you finished your question than the courtyard is empty again, a moment in eternity.

Individual measurement of strata

It is important not only to measure time, but also space, nuances, landscapes, air. And in the air the smell of fruit, petrol fumes, roads through fields, singing from distant places, voices of people and animals. One has got to be watchful. See this tranquil valley, floating like a heavenly staircase, and the sea with dark gorges in the morning heat: the distance between them is the distance between your eye and your heart. And, in the earth, layers of light you will at last unwittingly measure, in the earth.


The line has no beginning, it has a direction and is both closed and open in itself. It changes, moves, becomes a part of the tree’s crown behind the window, one summer morning when the light is rising in one’s breast. How simple it all is! Lines, lines of thought, verges of trees, and the patterns of the roads, the water-mains, the nerve paths of memory: how quickly it is all over. And yet I can sit at the window of the demolished house and watch the play of shadows from the maple, hear its murmur and the steps, those familiar steps up the staircase to the room where for a moment, grown old, I know what is happening and what will happen in a warm June moment.


After his retirement Frans was seized by the stubborn thought of turning music into graphic signs: circles, free-floating balloons, pennants on roofs, stairways leading out into nothingness, doors opening and houses forming a city. A city in the most general sense? No, a specific city. Which one? On the pad he had by his bedside he wrote with effort: Pirla. We could not find any such city. This was one of his last free fantasies.

Room perspective with inmate I

The eye follows the sound of water in the darkening room. She has washed herself, from the tap trickles a narrow silvery stream. It echoes with rings of cold against the stone floor. There beside the bed she kneels with her head against the white sheet. So many poems burn within her. Soon it will be night and next to the garden the locomotive with its three black coaches can be heard. She gets up slowly and goes out of the room, but the room follows her. Such great sorrow can only be contained in rooms that are closed. She returns, lies down on the bed in great longing. The cold approaches the foot of the bed, stops for a moment, then places a thin cloth of mist over the sleeping woman.

The singer Rosa Silber’s vocal canvas

She walks on to the stage with long strides, stops, stands still, without gestures. Dust from the wings rises in the heavy air. Out of velvet silence gaze white faces. A man begins to applaud vehemently, is hushed up. No one is visible at the black wing of the grand piano, but from its jaws a chord is heard. The harsh song lays a hard hand on the silence, just a streak of blood along the elbow. The head bent back, the throat so naked, exposed, the bitter evening begins. Like a dark pattern to observe, like signs before one’s face: all the in­evitability and sharp knife-blades of simplicity. And over all this, as though the world had shrunk to the wrinkles of a backyard theatre, the singer Rosa Silber’s vocal canvas, beneath which every child, even a grown-up one, is for a short time concealed from death.


The famous conjuror summons me up on stage. He looks into me, submerges me in sleep. Under my back I feel his hand. The weight of my body dissolves. I hover horizontally, with the back of my neck against the backrest of the chair. There is a smell of sea. The murmur of the audience dies down. He takes away the chair. He gives me a shove. I glide away. Who am I? If someone calls my name, will I regain my weight? How high will my fall be? If only someone remembered me. Then I could be rescued. Only then.

Translated by David McDuff


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