On the waves of our skin

4 December 2009 | Fiction, poetry

The poems in Ilpo Tiihonen’s new collection, Jumalan sumu (‘God’s mist’) – about fakirs, beggars, poets, lovers and life – are tinged with a gentle sense of the ephemerality of human life (see Gatecrashing the universe)

Poems from Jumalan sumu (‘God’s mist’, WSOY, 2009)


These mornings when beggars
station themselves at church doors
and a little grace slips through
the fingers of some of us,
it seems for a moment good

That crows are flying about
and princes’ bones are clattering in huge sarcophagi

And now, with a basic shape planned
for the daily bread,

Early morning wakes up in Florence
with black flour in its fingernails


If one lived as a fakir
with spiky binary bits for a mattress
and some theory for a pillow
or a footnote under the bed,
or if one lived in thought,
shadowed by the brain’s convolutions
as in one’s gazebo of lilacs
with a glass of bubbling Hegel on the table
and Wittgenstein as one’s straw

or as a nail half-driven into a cross
and one lived one’s moment under the hammer
in the heat before
being forgotten in the depths of the tree
or as a rock on the shore, in a slow trance
making one see the horizon
rock like a swing
and the Pacific Ocean turn into a sand storm

or if one lived in the world’s flesh, in swarming cells
while fast-flowing bloody rivers
streamed hotly
towards the Niagara of the heart.

If one read the Bible –
and while rolling a fag
against the smoky stoneface of mental imagery
one grated on some verse

and dived into the misty psalmody
as if inside one’s bottle
to grope for one’s soul

If one lived on one’s will, towards
something better, always merely towards!
and how would one fulfill that will?
When the wind blows over the drawing table
a white paper remains

Or if one lived in one’s memory, in images
on the pages of an album
and found trust in the fact that
everything was gone,
everything was gone

or if one wandered asking nothing, with a bundle on one’s back
and a couple of words from a passer-by, the same
one could utter to him

Here we came under the stars
and the sky’s an accident,
and if your head’s in the stars, your feet
are solidly in their dust


The image of man oxidized, the old paint is flaking off
Hopes were taken away, the holiness of dream
                                    was stamped to its knees with money
Now dreams, ghosts on fields of asphalt,
are harrowing up whirlwinds,
and beyond comprehension and bread
a hundred radio channels are broadcasting

Two people alone
              blest with their happiness
wander in the woods

and the black horns of plenty, they belong
to the holiest of holies


My funeral was by no means
a quiet affair
but was celebrated in an unbelievably messy and literally
cacophonous sniffing, slurping
and shuffling, and even though
it was spring, that yearly rock bottom
for allergics, there were in fact
such tarred lungs and crapulosity there
as I’d never have expected
from those bright-eyes at school Christmas parties.
And if hymn-singing is bawling, is it
singing? No it isn’t. The difference between bawling and singing is
in the ending, and there’s no end to bawling, at least
not in the world I’ve left behind.
Song however goes on to its exalting end
with a beautiful balance, and one certainly doesn’t stand
open-mouthed, yowling at the woodshed corner.
I’ve always found a challenge
in Melartin’s The First of May, the one where
Larin-Kyösti ends every stanza with the words ‘so that
this song will ring out in heaven’s lofts!’
Good Lord! There’s certainly not going to be anything in heaven
comparable to a shingle-roofed building,
and if there is, with one mixed choir
and two time-beats I’ll sort it
into functionalism.


Day by day we’re growing old.
                                    It’s sweet, restful
You brew ginger tea,
           and I splash some Amontillado in
And so we’re able to make love
                             all this morning too

Yes, yes, you do remind me,
                                  our pulsebeats come from the forests
From fields, riverbanks and meadows
                    windblown from wood, stone and fruit
                                      the waves of our skin
raise their moments on the foam of desire

And today too as if on the very last day
                               for those seconds
          we’re always making love

Translated by Herbert Lomas


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