Sunday, 26 April 2009

Mårten Westö - "Nine Days Without a Name"

Mårten Westö (born 1967) has published around ten books of poetry, prose and essays. His 1998 collection is entitled Nio dagar utan namn / Nine Days Without a Name. What follows below is the title suite. Some poems from this collection have previously been translated by David McDuff for Books From Finland 2/1999. As David points out there: "In his third collection, the Finland-Swedish poet Mårten Westö (born 1967) rides the buses and trams of his native Helsinki, contemplating silence, childhood and the visibility of things". I, Eric, have also published a few poems by Mårten Westö in the Canadian anthology of Scandinavian and Baltic poets, The Baltic Quintet, 2008.


Mårten Westö


A night in a half-empty bus
The painful monotony of the reflection
In the seat behind a
recruit reading Donald Duck, the moon
that tosses around sleeplessly, from side
to side. In the lit-up shell unquiet dreams
of dental visits, cystoscopes and
soporific lectures about the rôle of the subject
in it all. When I
wake up we are already there, but
I still hear her
voice, as if under
my own: “I can see you
in what always remains silent in you”


Slept sardines, thought
I awoke, heard
her, saw her through a battered
visor, fading slowly away,
copper clashed,
she whispered determinedly, went
with sound in her body, so unlike
her, shut the door took
everything with her, the disappearance
remains like writing, stains
on the sheets


Last night I walked past the undertaker’s
window lit up with piety.
A lone sample gravestone stood in the window
and my name was chiselled into it:
everything was as vivid as if it had
happened yesterday when I still existed
and she wished me dead.
Even the inscription had been formulated by her:
“Went into the world black-and-white, grew disappointed when
someone lost touch with him.”


I grow light as you grow dark
dark as you grow light

am woken up by the silence
as if it should say something

in my body something moving
ancient silver-white fish

and behind us
all those arms

reaching out for someone
resembling what we resemble


loss always arose suddenly
like the tide at Mont-Saint-Michel
heard nothing wandered haughtily
in and out of us with its sad patches
reminded us about something we would rather
not get involved in
places where there was no longer room for us
like childhood, dense
that you remembered when
the rain ploughed through your picture
and I for the last time heard you say
that we must save something
of the prospects we once had
like inside Beethoven’s Seventh
when someone reaches out to us
and we feel we could still have won


the embassy courtyard empty and deserted
like the coming centuries

the cat’s eyes like fires at the gate

the light on your naked body
still an undecipherable language.

hear myself whisper: tomorrow
tomorrow I shall carry you

the light of your face
as it once lit up

the unutterable darkness
that bears my name


I am saying it now, by way of your voice:
I was once another
who clung to the world without protection
like a torn pennant while the days
galloped away on their blinded chargers
in your absence the day grew light infinitely slowly
over the place I had got stuck, was pressed in
it was only the silence that said:
where I am not all languages cease
and when strength was at bursting point
when nothing else remained
your voice was suddenly
all that existed
and was left over


I blow my sight free,
my lungs empty
and the barely perceptible hammer blows
from the city brake the rhythm
slowly the human system of pipes ceases
to fill the world
joy forcing its way onwards
I will henceforth call pain it
doesn’t matter what I
call it When the first light
becomes visible I shall wander
with my face towards the city


for nine days I inhabited the world alone
now I think constantly of you

see you more clearly
in the shade of my palm

at the door the child with its satchel slung absently-mindedly over its shoulder
he stands there boundlessly, guarded by the forest

but I cannot think of summer, mummified
insects and lifelines that hold

want to go back

back to your
black rooms that

have the imprint of
all my hands

Translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens

1 comment:

David McDuff said...

Those work well, I think, Eric. I like IV and IX, in particular.