Daring to dream

30 June 2004 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Vaaksan päässä taivaasta (‘A span away from heaven’, Teos, 2004)

In the evenings they lit a candle on the cat’s grave
In the daytime they made a cosmological model
with a skipping rope
feet tapped the rhythm and its shadow
the rope slapped against the street
once in a while a rock flew
against a concrete wall
plunged from the oval galaxy’s edge
to the edge of space.

I thought of Erika, of her
whom I had chosen to be my wife at that age, of how
she carried a kitten on her shoulder, and laughed.

Tell me about death, Erika:
is it true
that events are no longer consecutive,
that in the land of the dead
they speak the language of poetry?
Tell me, can one tell darkness from light
when nothing moves?
Tell me, is it dark there?
Are you wearing stockings, a frock?
Do you look the way you were,
or the way you would have become?
Or do you look all those ways, all at once?

In the evenings, they light a candle
and under the darkening sky they sense
that the cat is no longer a cat
and that no one alive
will ever take the place of the one who left.

Man’s wife

The room is small.
The walls have been painted white, with a roller.
A curtain divides the sleeping alcove from the rest of the room.
The man sits on the couch. The mattress peeks out from under the curtain.
Outside, it is grey. Rain falls from the sky.
The window looks soft
like a membrane into which the wind makes depressions.
The man’s feet are on the table, next to a stack of books.
On top of it lies The Working Man’s Wife by Minna Canth.
Man’s wife, he thinks.
He has already had three of those,
the third one’s on her way. Her way out.
On the bookshelf he notices the Kama Sutra,
it reminds him of Oriental ways of leaving this life,
by one’s own hand, in a dignified manner.
The window looks as if one could pierce it with a finger.
Divisions of water march thrugh the room,
the advance guards of a soaked army.
Then they are gone, as if they had never existed.
The man finishes the bottle.
Thinks about another one. That’s part of the deal.
A woman emerges from the kitchenette, hands him another bottle,
another woman, dark and warm and small.
She takes off her glasses and snuggles up to the man,
with one hand she strokes his neck,
there are dog hairs on the rug,
some of the rug fringes have been braided.
Little girls lie there, woven together.
Maybe childhood, he thinks.
Man, and working man, and all those wives,
on the battlefield, and the red
carpet woven out of childhoods.
Penny? the woman says, and the man replies Death,
and that is no lie, he could always give that answer,
in the past and in times to come.
The woman twists a few of his neck hairs around her forefinger,
the man closes his eyes, but the room does not let him loose,
nor does the rain, nor the river of past events,
the events just drift farther away,
toward distant shores, and the man imagines how the river
raises the hair of the stones by its banks.
Let me wash you, the woman says, and the man gazes
at his childhood woven into the carpet, and he thinks
that it has been thirty years
since a woman last washed him,
another woman, the very first one.
The man takes the woman’s hand and thinks
that all is well now,
right now, just as it should be,
and that this is
what I have not even dared to dream.

According to his will

Before he died, Father announced
that his ashes should be scattered in the sea.
He was the kind of man
who did not want his name carved in granite.
He hung his belt over an old churn,
when we were disobedient
he flogged us with it.
Later, drunk, he kicked the churn to pieces
and the belt fell on the floor. Lay there
like a loosely curled-up snake,
a single brass tongue in its mouth.
It took all the children
and Mother to pull him to bed
and his pants did not stay on him
but slid off his legs like shed skin.
He was the kind of man
who did not want his name carved in granite.
He wrote that name on our backs, with brass jaws.
We collected his ashes from the crematorium,
put the urn in a black Marimekko shopping bag
and took off in a boat.
My brother rowed, my sister pointed out the direction.
The oars whined a hymn, and the gusting wind
chipped shavings off the sun.
When we found a suitable spot in open waters
my brother pried open the lid of the urn.
We agreed to take turns scattering the ashes.
This agreement was reached
in a spirit of devoted consensus.
So I tipped my share from the urn into the water.
In the waves, the ashes grew
into a large grey shape:
it looked as if Father had searched for his form there
under water, and that we had been granted
a glimpse of the beyond.
So close but so out of reach.
When my sister started sprinkling ashes,
the boat turned
and my brother and I were caught downwind.
A strong gust grabbed the ashes
and flung them over us.
My brother tried to turn the boat,
but it was too late.
The ashes penetrated our eyes and mouths,
the folds of our clothes
and our windblown hair.
‘Damn,’ said my brother. That was all.
We tried to reconcile grief and laughter.
Back on land, ashes still crunchy in our teeth,
I uttered a remark, a truncated speech of sorts,
saying that this was the last time
Father punched us in the face.
He was the kind of man
who did not not want his name carved in granite.
He engraved it in our core.


Sunk into a coma, this Russian table clock
sits on my bookshelf.
Its wooden case pretends to Rococo charm.
On its brass-colored clock face
the hands have dropped down to half past six.
Somehow it reminds me of you, or of someone else
with a round face and chestnut hair.

I kept it awake for two weeks,
listened to its ticking and tocking,
but at the beginning of the third week I wrapped it
in a towel and hid it in the closet.

I forgot it the way I’ve forgotten
so many things in this life.

A year later, looking for something, I don’t
remember what, I rescued it from the depths
of the closet. I unwrapped it
and pondered its stopped life.
It looked sad, somehow, and somehow like you.

That moment felt so devout, the absence of time
so sacred, that I saw myself as the mother
of a dead person, the mother of the Son of Man,
in whose lap lies love, lost in winding sheets,
sculptural, pure, eternal.

I set the clock on the shelf as a bookend,
but did not find the key to wake up its heart,
didn’t even look for it,
the way I have not found others I have forgotten,
the way I have not looked for other things past.

Translated by Anselm Hollo


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