Time walks slowly

30 June 2002 | Fiction, poetry

When Eira Stenberg (born 1943) began writing in the heat of of Africa, her pen sank into the paper like a tattooing needle into the skin, she says. Her experiences there are alive in her book of poems entitled Siksi seurustelen varkaiden kanssa (‘That’s why I consort with thieves’, Tammi, 2002)

The journey

Wheels clattering, landscape speeding by the window to the past
notebook on lap she understood the journey’s essence,
that it’s a lap she lost in early childhood
when she stood up and set off walking
away from the arms that had carried her from room to room
giving views from on high as if from a mountain:
the apparitions of things, the furnishings, the tints of pictures
and the bedroom mirror they arrived in,
mother and a child, a holy image she met
again in churches and on altars everywhere
as if it were the purpose of the journey:

until she remembered another image, betrayal,
arms stretched out on the transom of a cross
and understood the clattering of the wheels,
the women’s faces, their tears

and despair, the sound of the umbilicus when it trembled tight,
as the string of an instrument,
heard the sound of roots reaching for food in the earth.

Thus she understood the journey, the speed of the wheels, and the wings,
the sails swelling in sea-winds and the strings that tied them
to longing and flight
and saw that the weight of the testicles changed to gold in purses,
and saw an angel with raised sword guarding the gateway
the milk flowed through.

The earth’s libido

The earth’s libido weighs you down, the earth’s gravity.
It’s a weighing machine, the counterweight a gravestone,
and at the base of every thirst sits someone toothless
speaking milk language, babbling liebe lobe.
It’s Sugarsprite, the sweet secret in the depths
where rock salt unravels a tart thread,
you don’t remember it.
It pushed you out of the dark into a desire as long as your story,
it keeps you in its clutches.
You sleep half of life and run the rest,
brush your teeth, clip your nails, behave yourself.
Sometimes your bones scrunch against the flesh, your skin goes thin
and something rises to the surface.
It drills through the skin and runs away.
The shallow flow of the vena cava is heard, the days sink to the bottom,
they lick the rock and feel the suction of the earth.

Salty areas

I’m coming to salty tracts, crystals
forming a scurf.
On occasion, at times, every so often,
grief comes and makes time a veil,
the bones blacken, the body turns to smouldering embers
and love flares up.

Loneliness is a cupboard full of coathangers
shaped like shoulders, headless.
Daybreak dawns with a front-page car-advertisement,
afternoon rejoices in Lola’s new breasts.
The bourse news swings up and down, youth gets nervous,
the moon darkens and the Dead Sea floats you
like a frozen feeling.

Sometimes, for a second, someone
wonders at her body, the shape of her hands, and her teeth,
gets scared, tired, and takes a pill.
Tracts exist where life’s out of control, crystals form,
in the mouth there’s a taste of iron.

West Africa


A Cotonou night in a small dilapidated hotel.
The room’s a windowless cube,
the dado vivid green, the upper wall white,
a child’s building-block where sleep is quiet and deep.
The ceiling’s propeller spins fast enough
to lift an aeroplane into the clouds;
below, the unprotected bed has no net.
A mosquito’s slender shadow flits on the wall,
a companion, and fear sinks into fellow-feeling:
that her role is indeed to be born
into such a skinny little body
with no one asking her permission,
and mine to flee,
protect myself from her desire
that, asking no one, nor explaining,
drives her towards my body’s murmuring riverbed,
not telling why blood is a target of desire,
fever and germination.


The equator cuts the twenty-four hours in two,
cleaves it like a fruit.
The sun rises at seven and sets at seven,
and a boy’s running to the shoreline of dawn
with a satchel on his back
while the ocean’s still swathed in mist
and seeming weightless
and only the waves’ boom betrays the water’s weight
on this shore the last Portuguese slave ship left
for Brazil in 1885, as the book
written in the conqueror’s language tells.


At daybreak eight lizards wait under my window
when I push a heavy wooden shutter open,
eight unblinking pairs of round eyes stare
in my eyes.
How could I resist such a look
as, sides swelling excitedly, they do a press-up act
to show the power of their forepaws, brisk little males,
and expect their breakfast, pieces of apple,
a rare imported delicacy here.
They’ve learned my way, they wait in a row,
their look doesn’t let up as their rosy mouths chop
the fruit’s green skin.
I’ve learned their ways, I cheat the leader,
throw my food to the weakest.
He cheats every one if there’s a chance.


The equator’s time walks slowly,
his legs are black and slim, his step equable.
In some gush of affection God moulded
a cathedral of limbs against the Atlantic blue,
printed a smile on the lips with his fingertips.

Each time I see him start at his beauty,
his mode of moving lingeringly
as if each place in his body were anticipating a caress.

Grace addresses tenderness, poetry threatened feelings.
Time’s perplexed, thinking about its task
near him.

Translated by Herbert Lomas


No comments for this entry yet

Leave a comment