Timeless time

30 December 2005 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Jumala saalistaa öisin eli Jobin kirjaan meidän on aina palaaminen. Osittain kursivoituja runoja (‘God hunts at night, or, we shall always return to the Book  of Job. Partly italicised poems’, Otava, 2005)

Greek delights

I eat Giorgios D. Haniotis'
                    small joys
     buried in powdered sugar,
vanilla, rose petal and strawberry,
           as if wooing his three daughters,
reading Angelos Sikelianos' poem
                         'A country wedding':

and it is a beautiful blue day, Sunday,

the strange charm of Greek letters: i kiriaki,
hazelnut kernels dipped in thyme honey,
white herb ashes from the roadside,
a cigarette taste deep as sin,
tobacco smoke the only haze one can stand looking at,
a little quarrelsome noise, bus station flu,
promises made by Turks,
the threadbare pile carpet of the entrance hall as a word of honor,

          indeed: a roll of the same material
to place under your neck, yellow picture of camels on a
                      blue background,
the long distance buses silently waiting,
    smoke brand Dakota, menu item chicken pita,
the Herald Tribune vendor
        sits on the steps lost in thought, her hair
                       feathered across her eyes,
             budding wings like Audrey Hepburn's,

is the life of the prayerful always bilingual?
I toss questions into the air,

I am a long way from home, a reflection of my world.

Inside the hospital

Inside the hospital a man watches
                          on a screen
           how the blood flows within my heart
childhood's winter evenings by an electrified magic lantern
I lie on my side on the hospital cot
     thinking about Edmund Wilson whom I have
          started re-reading here
thinking about the Pickwick Club,
           not so much Dickens's text
        as Phiz's illustrations:
               Wilson talks about the Russian
      dramatization of the book
in which Mr Pickwick and the other gentlemen
ceaselessly kiss each other on both cheeks
the other thing Wilson noticed in Moscow  was
 Romeo and Juliet,
     'Shakespeare for the Komsomol,'
                 actors endowed with the kind of energy
     'demanded by parachuting and tractor driving' –
no, no, says the man studying the structure of my heart to himself,
 no, no, this isn't right at all,
              what's needed now is good old blood-stained
contrast medium imagery
coronary angiography, a bloody thing,  to put it Britishly,
        in the Soviet Union they devised the word
 Communoid to describe
a person who is not a Communist but who tries
              to act and talk like one,
        thus Coronary Communoid,
we have more of them here than there are Saami,

reality’s bloody shadow play,
the human being unarmed all the way up to his raised chin.

A pictorial language, only for what cannot be pictured.

Standing at the bar

It’s so hard to remember,
the years, screeching children, run away from the garden hose,
it’s always summer in those memories,
the graveyard’s broken hearts and fuchsias,
an afternoon glimmering in the lilac arbor, Miss Salonen’s
permanently hennaed liver-spotted hand
puts down the Queen of Hearts, the golden
clank of the Bismarck bracelet;
Uncle Pihlasoja so aged that he can say
‘a member of the government council’ without sounding like a schoolbook,
we boys sit close to the gate,
our bikes behind like us Apache ponies in Arizona,
we are Geronimo, the Vietnam War to come,
our childhood a day off, a propeller beanie.

Now, two middle-aged men, a Spitz dog snoozing.
The summer evening grows dense, the Saturday Requests on the radio do not end.

The distances

A talkin’ blues at the Piikkiö railway station

The distances are surprisingly long:
Oulu Market Hall as far away as Oulu,
the best Thai restaurant in Helsinki,
           one third of my life
I have sat in buses, trains, airplanes,
in the timeless time of transit halls –
           I am time, I am, inside and out,
deadline, option period,
waiting time, time of promises, time of the eve of the First of May,
too late time, drunken time
hangover mornings, longing, the heart's quick love beat,
stolen time of my own;

the distance from person to person,
to you: the fundamental idea of de Gaulle airport,
the whole time, but seriously: again, to you,
everybody laughed at us when I said that we were fighting against evil.

A man in love. Against evil….
But we do know, we who have seen the power of evil.
The most beautiful love is but a first step, timid.
Evil moves on roaring wings, an armored train blaspheming night’s prayers.

Rue The Name of Which I Can’t Remember

When you walk far enough on Rue The Name of Which I Can’t Remember,
you arrive at a tavern where sit the memories of Algeria,
scarfaced brothers of the hookah buzz.
We discuss post-war poetry –
everything new becomes clichés, shiny as suit trousers,
even when of the finest Italian wool,
thus a gentleman’s trousers fit a Communist;

the Irishman, a smaller man than me,
talks faster, the Dane is a Tourist;
I say that one gets closer to happiness
if one knows how to read it in Braille –
one may fumble, order hollow boxwood crutches,
they sound like a bassoon, existence,

in writing for the blind, adds the jurist, taps his pipe,
the Irishman looks at me like the sand in a grave, seriously:

the use of language is violence, nothing should be.
Death will never reach the ineffable.
The heart replaced by a chest of drawers, too heavy to move.

I carry street light on my shoulders, a Finn’s Moscow in my heart.
Freight train night, not a compound noun but the light’s endless dark cry.

Translated by Anselm Hollo


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