Author: Marja-Liisa Vartio

Jacob’s Dream

Issue 3/1986 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from Hänen olivat linnut (‘Hers were the birds’, 1967). Introduction by Pirkko Alhoniemi

‘It was Jacob’s Dream, Alma.’

How could she put it so Alma wouldn’t get hurt. Alma had ruined the surface of the painting. The pastor’s widow stood nervously in front of the window and tried to say what she’d had on her mind for several days but couldn’t quite come out with. When Alma went out of the house, the pastor’s widow would wander through the rooms and check on things. And the painting wasn’t the only object in danger, but also the birds. Their feathers were ruffled because Alma kept wiping them with a wet rag. How could she put it.


Alma turned to look at her.

‘It’s called Jacob’s Dream.’ More…

The Vatican

Issue 3/1986 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Maan ja veden välillä (‘Between land and water’, 1955). Introduction by Pirkko Alhoniemi

At the top of the hill there was a cow barn with all kinds of trash scattered along its walls: rusty pails, pottery shards, old shoes, all the stuff country people toss onto rubbish heaps. The clucking of chickens and bleating of sheep filled the air. As I was running across the barnyard I had an idea that a chicken had probably just laid an egg on the grass or was looking for some place to lay an egg, because it was letting out such sharp scolding cries.

Many of us were running across the yard and in back of the cow barn. If I hadn’t been on my way to the Vatican I would have stayed to pat a calf that was rubbing its side against a wall of the cow barn in the glow of the rising sun. But I was in a hurry. I didn’t dare let the women out of my sight because I couldn’t find the way by myself, I couldn’t even remember exactly where I had joined the crowd. I had just seen them running by and while I hadn’t intended to start off for the Vatican just that day, I went along with them anyway. More…

Three prose poems

Issue 3/1986 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry, Prose

Prose poems from Runot ja proosarunot (‘Poems and prose poems’,1966) and Maan ja veden välillä (‘Between land and water’, 1955 ). Introduction by Pirkko Alhoniemi


I went underground, I was looking for my brother’s grave, and I saw him lying under a transparent slab of marble. His face was like gold, death had passed from it, and I knew I no longer mourned him. I came above ground. At the edge of the graveyard there was a round tower made of stone and I was high up in the top of the tower. There stood my brother in dark trousers, white shirt, looking exactly the same, in the same position as in the dim photograph someone, I don’t remember who, took of him when he was about to go fishing, hands in his pockets, head held high, he was looking up at something, not at me. And I asked him: ‘Did it hurt when the bullet went through your head, when the exploding bullet went through your head in the battle of Karhumäki, and you were still alive at the first aid station and you said something they told us about in a letter.’ He answered, ‘Yes, it did hurt.’ ‘What’s your life like now, tell me.’ I said. He raised a hand and pointed to the sky. The sky was blue, and white clouds were scudding across it. More…