Tracks from my Album
Translated by David McDuff and Sarka Hantula
Anni Sumari was born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1965, and studied literature and media/communication studies at the University of Helsinki. She is the author of fourteen books of poetry and prose, including Selected Poems (2006), The Years Above the Waters (2003), Train Play (2001), Sinerian (2000), and Measure and Quantity (1998), for which she won the Finnish National Broadcasting Company's Dancing Bear Prize for best poetry book of the year. She also received an artist's grant from the Finnish Ministry of Culture for 2004-2006. She is active in translation and editing, and her works have been translated into 24 languages including English, German, French, Swedish, Danish, Belorussian, Serbian, Macedonian and Italian, Slovene and Hebrew. She was shortlisted for the Runeberg Prize, and in 2016 was elected Best International Poet of the Year by World Poets Quarterly Magazine (Multilingual) and the editorial department of Chinese Poetry Abroad). She was the first Finn to receive this meritorious award. She is a member of the Board of the Finnish PEN Center. She recently received an artist's grant from the Finnish Ministry of Culture for 2007-2011, and has edited and translated a book called Odin's Steed: The Scandinavian Myths, which has just come out in Finnish. She is the co-editor of The Other Side of Landscape, published by Slope.
Anni Sumari's poems have been translated into English by David McDuff.
The sky, Swiss air space, December
We slide on the tray of noon,
we ski, we slalom on the expanse of the clouds.
On the plane’s wing it says: Do not step
outside this area,
I would never dream of it, I promise you,
anyway it’s cold out there, -65°C.
The snot runs, what joy
to be able to pick an anthrax sample
from one’s nose, I long for you! even
in the deep frost I can’t
concentrate on what is,
be where I am.
unquestionably at an altitude
of at least 11,880 metres.
That cloud is tall
for its age, the hairs on its crown
touch the angels of heaven. So
at night it’s the starry sky,
one must be thankful for that,
if on top of everything else one wasn’t
thankful, what would happen then?
Europe lies under an eiderdown
weary of those things that come
from the sky, from the blue, the bolts
the ribs of the clouds slamming down
into the divine comedy.
Be quiet, be quiet, encyclopaedia.
The concepts burn your ears
as you don’t know what is behind them,
gratitude, freedom, love. Innocence
is a white house and an empty bottle,
are you wiser now. From above the rural landscape
is a threadbare suede coat
a moth-eaten stuffed reindeer, what else is
missing from this picture. The shadows of
the trails of jet planes ticking
The earth’s face has always been hidden by plants
and encrusted with bivalves. Is it any wonder
that some of them were preserved, perpetuated
in stone or resin, marble, softness.
But is it possible
that even one portion of spaghetti Bolognese
will be preserved in any circumstances?
The mountains grow bearskin,
then turn to cinders,
the romantic beaches grow fossilized,
the messages vanish from the answering machine,
but the most haphazard one of the most tender things
preserves its form, remains, moves minds,
is put on display, receives its value by chance,
a nucleus of meaning.
The granite flickers.
A human being wants to know
his exact location, approximately
by rule of thumb
the bedrock, and how long
a finger can be held in the candle flame
before it burns –
and if there is stone underneath
is there also stone on top? and what
meteor would fall
on my head, if I lived long enough? and
have I already lived beyond the moment when
I ought to have died?
and will I push my head
through the grey granite
even in the graveyard.
But here is a surface
which will not be breached: the horizon.
You can freely choose
an arbitrary point
anywhere on the globe,
and you will notice that all
gazes finally turn there.
Before that, however, they perform
an inconceivably complex
figure-dance at the fourth dimension
of the system of coordinates.
Through the oval window
I watch us reach our goal.
I am not touched at all.
In the sunlight, seen from above,
the cities are broken mirrors
in which your memories
are distorted in reflection.
You clench your fist
you caress the emptiness.
The dead would do well
to weep for the living
and not the other way round
translated from Finnish by David McDuff