“where shall we put our hope?”

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The cyclical nature of perception and improbable rehabilitation of historical figures (take a look at the youth of Russia venerating and admiring Stalin) makes me take a look at this poem by Finn Pentti Saarikoski. He writes ironically: “Marx’s mistake is Lenin/as Stalin is Lenin’s mistake/but Stalin didn’t make mistakes.” Today, it is just as likely that a young person with no tangible connection to history would read this and think, “Yes, of course. Stalin was a great leader.” (By the way, read Svetlana Alexievich‘s Secondhand Time: An Oral History of the Fall of the Soviet Union for more insight.)

from The Dance Floor on the Mountain
Pentti Saarikoski
XXIV Winter solstice
And the bees cling to each other
in the hive center
where Jesus is born a honey-scented child

The sun is setting
a scarlet winterball like a fatbellied man
our neighbor, the carpenter
will be rolling into bed

On the first day of year
I place two white porcelain jugs spout to spout
after thinking all night long
about Marx’s mistake

Marx’s mistake is Lenin
as Stalin is Lenin’s mistake
but Stalin didn’t make mistakes.

I construct a snowman
a sad fascist in the yard
so some image of this winter will remain
our neighbor the carpenter
bends his knee and takes a snap

A heavy snowfall
should mean a rich harvest

I’ll build
a cold church for the fascist
a warm one for Jesus

When with summer’s first ill-natured wind
the guests gone
we come down the mountain
with no protection but each other’s limbs
where shall we put our hope?

XXVI On St Stephen’s Day
I sit in their kitchen
drink some beer and listen to language
that’s their affair, their memories
and I scare: I say something
but it clatters
from mouth to floor like a horseshoe.

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