The forest and us

30 June 2008 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Kerttu ja Hannu (‘Gretel and Hansel’, Tammi, 2007). Introduction by Anselm Hollo

In the emptiness

When we were children. We went to sleep in our father’s and mother’s bed. I got father’s sweaty side. You got mother’s fragrant blankets. We dreamed pale green spherical cloud dreams in wrought-iron beds and burnt our fumbling paws on the red-hot shade of the night light. We did not know. That this downy softness wouldn’t last. The rooms were always large and the big people were big and there was no sin. In the course of one day you managed millions of things and the sun took the lake down with it. These are facts, and the teddy-bear hospital was overcrowded. I stand behind these facts. Behind me a cello is playing. It feels lonely. There was a lot of chocolate and sharing, shopmobiles and tall spruce trees that father, when he was young, climbed all the way to the top of, because he was unable to fall, then.

Now I enter that forest and don’t give names to anything. Invisible, I walk on the pine needle carpet, shouting now and again to see if someone here would recognise me as their own.

Would lay down their work and see me.

Das Kind!

To Dzherassa Gappoyeva (January 1st, 1998 – September 3rd, 2004)


Bring water,
I am thirsty.
Bring tear water too,
sprinkle salt water both sides of the roadblock.
Bring a bright flower.
Bring Coca-Cola, I am thirsty.
I am an ordinary pampered baby,
stuck out my tongue at you in the morning.
My hair looks untidy,
draw the ribbon tight.
Straighten my frilly collar,
it mustn’t dangle today.
I’m a calf that was pulled out by its hooves,
you’ll never forget that passage.
You almost fainted when I kicked you.
Phlegmy and bloody
I fell away from you.
Bring water,
bring a bright flower,
bring Coca-Cola.
I am your child,
I am the girl in the frilly blouse and flowers in my hair.
I am a child forever.
But do you know, mother,
so are all the children of all other mothers.
Even when grown up, forever children to their mothers.
Touch the red granite with your hand.
Is it cold?
The sun has been blazing all day.
So the granite must be warm now.
Warm and smooth it is.
You bring water, you bring a flower, you bring Coca-Cola.
The night will be clear.
I am blue smock flower hair girl,
I am holding balloons in my hands.
There were stars on the ceiling of the gym.

Bliss illumination

A long time has passed since Gretel and Hansel’s childhood, epochs and views have changed, the great deep forest has been felled. Replaced, now, by radio towers, paved roads, ski lifts. What comes to mind now may be just some Entwood, they can no longer remember their own forest. The nature path through skinny new growth starts in the car park, Rammstein plays on the car radio. Wearing woolly hats with sponsors’ logos on them they walk on a gravel path across a clearcut area. Gretel and Hansel seek out, separately, certain kinds of non-places, dead zones. Motorways, abandoned wastelands, construction sites, patches of natural growth, urban pastures.

Could one construct a lean-to here, spend the night, lost?

The witch reminisces

No one looks at a mirror in this sort of life situation, said the witch. I had a mouldy two-room apartment and in it that idle loser, three brats, and as a bonus, Oma and Opa. All in the same efficient square footage.

No looking at a mirror. Just stink. And if one should happen to look, by mistake, all you can see in it is just more progeny. It’s a hallucination. It’s the future. It’s what’s coming.

When I gave birth to my fourth child, they gave me my own room in hospital. There was a mirror in the room. What did I see? In the mirror I saw a young girl with black hair. She had bare feet. We smelled good. We were alone. We were hungry.

Gretel and Hansel II

There were just the two of us.

There was no one else.

Just the forest and us.

There was a faint path that didn’t lead anywhere.

Not home, not to the gingerbread house.

There were adjectives: dense, sombre, thick, similar.

You and I, dense similars.

Your hand, dry and warm

in my hand.

Our distress shared and not to be uttered out loud.

We were just the two of us, and mute,

and it was wonderful.

Gretel and Hansel III

In any case, I trusted you,

always and forever.

Do you know what it’s like to trust another,

always and forever?

I don’t know. If you’re a big brother in the middle of a forest,

abandoned by your parents,

you probably don’t think very highly of your little sister.

Nor do you then, I suppose, trust anyone

always or forever.

Nevertheless, I tell you:

you should trust me always and forever.

I’m the only one in this forest who knows you.


As grown-ups we didn’t talk about all that very often. But we did not forget our father’s mistake, his two blunders. The gingerbread house encysted itself in us. I don’t know if Gretel spent time on some trauma couches, I certainly didn’t.

There were times when we got drunk and talked and bawled until five in the morning. Reminisced about everything and cackled about it. Bone! Was that witch ever stupid! Blind and dumb, sniffed things with her big schnozz but didn’t notice anything.

Gretel poured some coffee liqueur in her drink and confessed, looking guilty, that there were times when she missed all that, the milk and the pancakes, the apples and the nuts. That gourmandising. And those windows that were made of pure sugar.


Once, and only once, we hugged each other on the balcony on a cold night. At that time we were so tall that we weren’t growing anymore, we had pay slips and study report books and our own refrigerators. It happened after Hansel had found a new one and divorced the old one. We squeezed each other in the dark and forgot all snow-white birds. Sick, Hansel said, when he let go of me. No it’s not, said I.


After Gretel had killed the witch, we mooched hither and yon in that paralysed forest. Finally we reached a shore. It was on a lake, not by any sea. (The seas had to wait. We were a forest people and still are.) I was ready to throw in the towel. Who would now attempt to build a bridge? Or a boat?

Look, a white duck, Gretel shouted. In her typical fashion, she started to make up a poem.

‘Little duck, little duck, dost thou see,

Hansel and Gretel are waiting for thee.

There’s never a plank, or bridge in sight,

take us across on thy back so white.’

The duck swam towards us. I sat on its back and left some room in front of me. Gretel disagreed. It can’t carry both of us at once, she said. We have to make separate trips.

Well, I did see that it couldn’t carry both of us. It felt terrible to stay there alone on the silent shore. I would have liked to go with her. Even at the risk of our falling.

Translated by Anselm Hollo


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