A fifth season

30 December 2000 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Elävän mieli (‘A mind alive’, WSOY, 1999). Introduction by Lauri Otonkoski

In sparser gusts of wind
metaphors sough through the mind,
spinning as on the much-frequented
boulevards of a great park.
Even one’s most private thoughts are as common
as public transport, what a relief,
as shared as our anatomies and our bacteria,
for there is only one thread in the skein of the Norns
and the same fabric is always being woven
from the whims of fate: is that not a relief?
Treacherous individuality suffices only
for a fingerprint.
Metaphors always the same,
but constantly born anew
like a mind alive.

Language given at birth,
never our own, never others’, visits us just as we ourselves
are visitors here, two
short-term loans.
Beneath our feet the obvious
solidity of the elements, against it the white
paper of the mind, with tracks
of words, the paces
of your and my
inner animal, their weight,
velocity and order,
the paws of language, always fleeing
the primal state of silence
toward meaning which must be reborn
in another mind…

and just when it feels
as if you’re beginning to understand
its time to go.

There is nothing easier than words,
nothing more difficult than meanings;
O the pitfalls of ordinary sentences
and the laughter and tears welling up from misunderstandings,
O the birth of slangs, the freedom to mislead,
or the necessity to hide or the desire to be laconically witty
and sometimes the overwhelming need to be frank.
Then you say what’s being said.
Language, the possession of secrets.

The filter papers are finished,
and that reminds me that there’s not much coffee left
and then that coffee
is not good for the stomach or the liver
and from there, out of habit, I take the short cut
across the jungle of all cancer risks
directly to death or the fact that
we do not know the day or the hour
and that life is a serious and dignified business
even if only on account of posterity;
not to mention Mozart’s Requiem.
But I’ll have to go out and get some filter papers
so that I’m not left empty-handed.

Before I withdraw into the wisdom
of old age to meditate the field of problems
associated with the nature of time, I still have first to
take the rugs to the jetty for washing,
go to the grocer’s (don’t forget the pine-tar soap
or the scrubbing-brush), visit the doctor to hear
some old blood-test results and order an X-ray
for my new knee complaint, translate at least
three pages today and remember to back them up,
finish reading Goethe (fact and fiction),
take a day’s holiday, see a much-praised movie,
listen convincingly with something else on my mind,
play the violin/trumpet, although not necessarily,
make a new batch of cold vegetable soup,
cycle to a meeting, choose poems
and music, book a trip to a distant capital,
drink a glass of mineral water just to begin with
and follow it up with a heartburn pill and a carbon tablet,
leaf through the dictionary, curse when I can’t find the word,
plan to buy better dictionaries,
fear adult-onset diabetes for seconds on end,
complain about the lack of expertise of the committee
to the committee secretary, ask someone
for a small advance, live on it for four months,
and it looks suspiciously as if the field of problems
associated with the nature of time will remain unexplored
for another millennium.

Human memory is equally short
forwards and backwards.
We remember forwards by dreaming;
and that is, O ye sovereigns,
also how we remember backwards.
In backward-looking dreams
or human memory there are perhaps more
real things, but those real things, or facts,
nevertheless swap places and natures
according to the rememberer, and also
according to the rememberer’s different impulses.
For this reason it is more interesting to remember forwards.
You do not have to prove anything, at least at once.
And if you remember for a long time and with concentration,
these dreams, too, beget real things, or facts,
which can be grasped
by word and deed.

From park to park I explore this city
like Rome from square to square;
I proceed from place to place,
panic to panic. The most important thing
is not to stop still, just now,
when you’re not quite sure what will happen.
Autumn mist and the sea embankment at Hietalahti bay
where the old brewery has evaporated
and the warm, bready smell of malting hops;
but Salve still sells the cold results of its fermentation
and today I’m powered by it, fizzing
from panic to panic, from my familiar self
to this unpredictable decision-maker.
‘Worrying is friction which results
when a person begins to slide,’ I mutter
as I slide in through the door, out of the dejected autumn mist
and in to the safe tobacco smoke, to the indomitable knightly order
of the round table at the back where no one ever says
a bad word although badness is everyone’s familiar
and always hovers nearby. Like Parsifal,
the painter raises his glass and blood
is old gold:
there is a moment of grace
and the third equinox of a hangover.

A snowless December, a fortress of darkness
full of small glimmers, in the tamed garden trees
clusters of arctic fireflies,
cautious ceremonial light
but the celebration is before its time: a chilly,
black-lunged southwesterly, solid
as a city built of wind,
rattles every piece of loose metal, creaks
every gate and hums all night
in the tin roofs like a distant thunderstorm.
An over-ripe autumn, a fifth season
which no act of will can take you through:
all that can help is habit, torpor,
and the unfailing axis
of planetary motion.

A mild winter is a state of mind,
the sea black, unfrozen, like darkness itself
which seems to be gathering even
when it is lifting.
The sleety wind bullies a crow
which fakes a stagger in the wind
but docks with perfect control
on the park’s highest branch, grimaces
like a bloke frogmarched by the police knowing
that the authorities can’t do anything to him any more.
In hell’s cauldron it will survive better
than a person pining in a stone house.
It is outside, God-created,
but inside the wind, in some
older covenant.

In summer you shouldn’t think
about the nature of being; not even
a Descartes messing up something perfectly clear:
in summer, you can’t make out God’s thought
because it’s too bright, and nothing
exists unconditionally.
The good old philosophers
are at their best
on autumn evenings, when you can set
Spinoza, for example, on your shoulders
like a dark, lonely ulster
when you set out for a walk
around darkening Kaivopuisto park.
At the Ursa observatory
the crystal tower of the eternal necessity
of things begins to rise;
by the time you reach the Kaivohuone restaurant it is ready,
and in the Weather Vane, with a couple of beers,
you can wash it away into nothingness.

Translated by Hildi Hawkins


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