Finnish poet Timo Harju did his obligatory civil service working as an attendant in a nursing home for elderly people. Now he has written a collection of poems - his first - about the experience. The book's title is We Watered Them Abundantly with Coffee (Kastelimme heitä runsaasti kahvilla, ntamo, 2009), and there follow some excerpts from its early pages.
Moisture seeps through the seams of the TV,
the grandfather clock that no longer chimes,
through the neatly made bed, the photographs.
The tears go flowing under the door,
turn down the corridor, roll into the lift,
then another corridor, not far to the front door now,
they’ll get out of the front door! they’ll get out!
the nurses dash after the tears grab hold of them
and coax them back inside by force. I write
a spanner in the waterworks. a wrench.
Leaving means hugging one another
like crushed blueberries.
A year ago behind that door
the nursing home director warned
that the people here were not exactly
sweet old grannies and granddads.
Perhaps it was a joke.
I’d like the nursing home to open wide,
for all the doors to fold and hide
and the grannies and granddads go fluttering out
with their wrinkles their wheelchairs
rushing bright as a cow field in spring.
But they don’t run, so come and see
the clouds in the nursing home corridors.
Ward A5, Wednesday
make breakfast sandwiches
(thin layer of margarine and one slice of ham)
wash kitchen floor
take porridge to table next to bed
pull blanket away neatly
carry to WC
put on trousers
(rub legs down first)
put on braces
get new asthma inhaler from medicine cabinet
clean and make bed
change towels in rooms
turn off TV
put on pleasant music
carry chest of drawers to basement
make lunch sandwiches
take residents’ laundered clothes to closets
read newspaper aloud
put spoon in open mouth
(if the upper denture falls out, it may need
more adhesive powder and pushing
wipe purée off table and from under table
sneak couple of biscuits from kitchen cupboard
find dead granny on floor of room
(plastic bag on head and telephone cord)
serve afternoon coffee
(two black and fifteen white
though now only fourteen white)
Ward A5, Thursday
The clouds in the nursing home corridors, sky-open springlike after a bathe
and forgotten, in a frayed blue dressing-gown beside an osiery.
The grannies in the nursing home corridors, the last beautiful pride
you keep in a small wooden box behind your forehead:
if the lid opens by accident all the things may drop to the floor
topsy-turvy you won’t be able to find them, your back won’t let you
you won’t recognise them any more even if you do.
the springtime your insides to pieces.
Here they come, the grannies.
Better to stay here indoors, the journey to the dining room is a rough one
exposed like this
a long way and all by sleigh.
You stare at the keyhole: the clouds are coming.
translated from Finnish by David McDuff