Nothing but light

30 December 2003 | Fiction, poetry

Prose poems from Huoneiden kirja (‘A book of rooms‘, Otava, 2003)

The ladies’ room

Behind the shining mirror twin girls are squealing, they disappeared inside the walls long ago. They had plaits, red pompons, bad moods – all of them moulded and twisted by wire coathangers from the very start. They gouged the house full of passageways, they hollowed out the paper walls with silver christening-spoons. They disappeared between the stairs on the staircase, saying: evil’s a gateway onto a void with hundreds of gateways inside. Now they’re in this room, behind this mirror. Now the sun’s rising over the firtree-tops, creeping step by step higher towards the overarching sky. Inside us there are two hundred girl-embryos, the girls shout, they’re handicrafts fashioned by themselves like us: out of pearls, blood, splinters of mirror, it’s these we were made of. If you don’t find us, you’ll not sleep a single night. Until you do you’ll wander about the house, astray with each memory, until your hands are thinner than your words, the days slenderer than your hands.

The storeroom where the man who last renovated the house lived

The man made a chair in his own image, with four limbs, able to bear, for centuries, a weight greater than his own. He drank a glass of lazy summer’s sweat, built a house in a week, and that lasted for centuries too. When he couldn’t bring a woman a flower he brought the picture of a flower. When he couldn’t bring her himself he brought another picture where water delivered open sea, the sun its sunny mood. He said: brightness is a mutual agreement. And when he walked, the sun glowed on his thighs, his calves said: we’re getting strong so you can walk, not faster than before, but still further.

The hobby room

The woman said: his hair’s silky, glowing gold. I twisted his hair round my fingers, he twisted me round his little finger. Some nights I sewed the whole night long, making a silky-thin web. Other nights he came by. He didn’t fit into the house, had to bow low beneath the beams. Hairs caught in splits in the timber, I gathered them after he’d shut the door behind him. You had to bang the door shut, or it went on rattling in the wind, swinging between the room and the sky. You had to live life, keep the hairs separate from each other, make the children, love the men. My fingertips yearned for him, dripped honey. I made a rug from his hair, light shone from it. The last time he left, the rug oozed blood, the black hairs of other women. I sewed a black rug with my fingers bleeding, I went on working till the rug was finished.

A conversation with the imagination in the library

We read the same books at the same time, in different places. We looked at the same pictures: waves made of silvery wind, landscape etched with light. The mind gave point to the paint, radiating letters onto the canvas. We swung, for years we swung from side to side, the curtains audibly swallowing the wind. When the sun curved from the sand to the lake, fiery flowers gleamed in the water. Now the past flashes in the mind like a home movie, a gleam on the cottage window-panes. All overexposed moments, no trace of a person remaining. No toeprint in the sand, no mirror image. Nothing but light.

The bathroom’s greek tiles

My daughter scatters bubbles in the air, she says: the dolphins save a singer who sings each song as if it were her last, from sheer joy, from happiness, from sheer love of the last songs. I sail along the bath’s enamelled water, my song’s a flute, a brilliant xylophone. When I sing, out of the foam a castle forms, a wall, meandering corridors, my voice echoes along them. I sing to the one born from the foam with seashells at her ears, and to the one who remains unborn. I have a permeable foam-castle, I’m a poor empress, the universe’s woman, dear to the gods.

The staircase from the brother’s and sister’s room down to the old potato cellar, now the jam cellar

The boy flees to the cellar, puts a stone to his ear to stop the alarm splitting his eardrum. Each time, the ear stops hearing, the boy stops dying. He’s carrying his sister in his arms, the staircase creaks: one time, muddy water dashes in from the window, as if the houses are being sick and memories, both living and dead, are torrenting along the streets. He says: a person is a form that forecasts a body-bag, the nation’s a synonym for decomposition, the house is flesh sketched round a ruin. Hmm, he snorts, what prophecy is there, unless an insignificant one, what alarm is there, unless the sirens’ blue sonnet sung to the clouds. Sister, the fathers are returning, they’re correcting the work of their hands. The houses are growing so tall in order not to crash down. Summer’s rising still, with a milk-white belly. And there’s not a single squadron stopping the hot weather.

The horse’s room

A leafhorse is galloping along, lush and let loose. Its flanks are gleaming with the smell of birch, a summer evening’s inspiriting light. If only our sun would never go down. If only love would stop measuring itself out, the hourglass stop measuring the void to fill. The horse gallops, the clock rattles on, the heart, through its ventricles, records the night. The horse gallops, it gallops like time with silky fingers of grass on the temples. With a leafy sun on its flanks, a gold-eyed owl on its back, it gallops through the dim forest. The evening’s last light is on its mane, a dark fortress of fir murmuring in its eyes.

The towered chapel’s open roof terrace, formerly the birth chamber

This is the temple where prayers are really prayed. Where facts are taken otherwise than we see them, steps to the tower, and there alone the landscape stretches before you. As you return from the tower, how could your footprints be the same? And though the way goes straight down, what’s really straight is not demonstrable with lines. Nor height measurable from earth-level.

The nursery

It’s raining in the nursery, and everything can be imagined: the skidding of the cars, the wet market-stall roofs, the rustle of the raincoats. A child jumps in a puddle, his boot soaks up water. Now it doesn’t creak any more, and, since it’s got a hole in it, the child too understands now what’s going on when a tub doesn’t hold water, leaving nothing inside, when a dish doesn’t fill, when a boat leaks or a person does, when you have to keep bailing in so as not to become empty, and not to drown in what you’re trying to hold in. But the boot wanted no water from the start, and the child’s foot didn’t want the boot, this the child knows, now at last the child knows everything, everything that can be known.

Glass painting

In the garden two heads are growing for the birds. The lily-corollas rise high, they crane towards the sun, split wide, deeply orange, like monks’ flapping robes, they slash gashes in the sun. Two lily-blossoms grow from each stem, and each stem divides, with another growing out at each juncture, as in a grafting on an apple tree, or in a hopeful human being. A shoot is squeezed into the wound, it grows into that lacerated earth, into that woman, at the new moon, when the moon’s a shining, steely sliver of bone, when your step’s weak, with a ravine below, when the silver cars crash into blood-red and milk-white ones, when the rivers double their forks, the sphinx frees itself into animal and human, a human into man and woman, a woman into adult and child, a child into good and bad. About good and bad let’s not speak. Everyone finally takes on the form of tears, their jewels, what remains of a person, in the rain. It’s the universal mould, the closing tone.

The room under the sign of Pisces

A girl sits by an aquarium, motionless, for a year or two. Her heart glides slowly inside her like the moon, slowly as the moon it glides along the blood’s calm current. Then the fish swim to look at her with flashing skin. She sees their shapes, their scales, the texture of their fluttering fins. She sees their mandibles flowing with amber, their robes that are bodies, their eargills that scent out the green salt of the billows. She sees the seven wonders of the sea, finally the eyes they eat with. A fish glides from the silence of the water, looks out from the glass, and shouts: you’ll be getting hungry, you’ll catch a fish, question and answer, between them the endless echo!


Trees rise from the water towards a matt black sky. Their wet trunks seep water and the smell of bark, their roots take their rest in the shimmer of the water. In the shimmer of the water glisten mosses, forget-me-nots, sunny waves from fields of rape. The houses rise from the water like tall grey teeth, black streamers fluttering in their windows, we lose our way in the labyrinth, each one. And what’s ignited when we fumble into each other in the dark, it’s not a filament but a light.

A window partly under the water

If beauty only exists between birth and breakdown, the power to blossom only on loan from these, memory’s truer than fact. If truth is beauty, beauty truth. It’s true, water has walked on me, artfully as a conjurer. Sorrow’s walked through me in the shape of people. Now a boat’s tossing from the ceiling of the highest room, and we’re tossing on thin threads. With our griefs, our throughways, it’s a way, not from head to foot, but through heads. With no delay where form becomes truth, if truth only exists between birth and breakdown.

Translated by Herbert Lomas


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