From If/Jos
-Eeva-Liisa Manner (Finland)

If it’s true that when I go
I needn’t go alone,
that you’ll come too, riding on your horse beside me,
its coat shining earth in the moonlight
(half-earth itself, half-wind)

if it’s true what you promised, if
you’ll ride to the gate – it’s a gate of mist
(the gale’s dropped, the grass isn’t bending) –

I want to go now,
I want you now.

Jos on totta, että kun lähden
minun ei tarvitse lähteä yksin,
että tulet mukaan, ajat toista hevosta,
sitä jonka karva kiiltää kuun valossa maan värinen
(itsekin puoleksi maata, tuulta puolet)

jos on totta mitä lupasit, jos
ajat veräjälle: se on sumua
(ruoho ei taivu, tuulen pyörre ei palaa)

tahdon lähteä heti.
Tahdon sinut heti.



The Rest is Grace
-János Pilinszky (Hungary)

Fear and dreams
were my father and mother –
the corridor was
my unfolding landscape.

This is how I lived. How will I die?
What will my destruction be like?

The earth betrays me. She hugs me close.

The rest is grace.

Snow like feathers


A White City
-James Schuyler
My thoughts turn south
a white city
we will wake in one another’s arms.
I wake
and hear the steampipe knock
like a metal heart
and find it has snowed.


“Feathers” – disposable, melting feathers – is the only word I can conjure to describe the perplexing, disappointing late-April Swedish weather. It’s not all bad, locked away in semi-seclusion with books and warmth and soup.

Find yourself a reliable soup-maker, people, and this will imbue your life with great satisfaction and nourishment. And when I say “soup-maker” here I am referring to a person who makes soup, not some device that will whip up soup for you. I remember being in Russian class many years ago, and all of the students believed that the word defined as “dishwasher” (посудомойка) in our textbook referred to a dishwashing machine. When a Russian lecturer came to take over our class on a Fulbright fellowship, she laughed and disabused us of this radically foolish notion. Would Russians circa 1992 have had dishwashers (посудомоечная машина) in their homes? How silly we were, she laughed.

There is much beauty in simplicity – and in ironing out the misunderstandings.

Snow, soup, and loud New Order, not unlike a rare snow day in Seattle in my youth – staying awake all night hoping school would be cancelled.

killer bees


Tomas Tranströmer (Sweden)
The buildings of the capital, the hives of the killer bees, honey for the few.
He served there. But in a dark tunnel he unfolded his wings
and flew when no one was looking. He had to live his life again.

(the original Swedish read by the Nobel laureate himself)

Kapitalets byggnader, mördarbinas kupor, honung för de få.
Där tjänade han. Men i en mörk tunnel vecklade han ut sina vingar
och flög när ingen såg. Han måste leva om sitt liv.


Image by Boris Smokrovic

Translation lie


Another of those times we (or at least I) must accept the lie and limitations of translation. I can look at the Polish original and glean what I think the meaning and ultimate English-language translation should be, but ultimately it could go so many ways. I fed this infernal despair and frustration with translation years ago by immersing myself in language study so that I could create reasonable simulacra of translations. Never ended up particularly happy with these seeming facsimiles or even with comparative studies of existing translations.

Yet, at the same time, I want people to see and read these works, even in translation, because there are so many works in the world that just scream out to be read!

Gratitude (links to a different translation, which might be useful for comparison’s sake)
Wisława Szymborska
I owe a great deal
to those I do not love.

The relief with which I accept
they are dearer to someone else.

The joy that it is not I
who am wolf to their sheep

Peace unto me with them,
and freedom with them unto me,
and that is something that love cannot give
or contrive to take away.

I do not wait for them
from window to door.
almost like a sundial,
I understand
what love does not understand,
I forgive
what love would never forgive.

From meeting to letter
passes not an eternity
but merely a few days or weeks.

Travels with them are always a success,
concerts heard,
cathedrals visited,
landscapes in sharp focus.

And when we are separated
by seven mountains and rivers
they are mountains and rivers
well known from the map.

It is thanks to them
that I live in three dimensions
in a space non-lyrical and non-rhetorical,
with a horizon real because movable.

They themselves do not know
how much they bring in empty hands –

“I owe them nothing,”
love would say
on this open question.

Here’s the original if you’d like to put your skills to work deciphering its code and interpreting its meaning and unveiling it in English as well.

Wisława Szymborska

Wiele zawdzięczam
tym, których nie kocham.

Ulgę, z jaką się godzę,
że bliżsi są komu innemu.

Radość, że nie ja jestem
wilkiem ich owieczek.

Pokój mi z nimi
i wolność mi z nimi,
a tego miłość ani dać nie może,
ani brać nie potrafi.

Nie czekam na nich
od okna do drzwi.

prawie jak słoneczny zegar,
miłość nie wybaczyłaby nigdy.

Od spotkania do listu
nie wieczność upływa,
ale po prostu kilka dni albo tygodni.

Podróże z nimi zawsze są udane,
koncerty wysłuchane,
katedry zwiedzone,
krajobrazy wyraźne.

A kiedy nas rozdziela
siedem gór i rzek,
są to góry i rzeki
dobrze znane z mapy.

Ich zasługą,
jeżeli żyję w trzech wymiarach,
w przestrzeni nielirycznej i nieretorycznej
z prawdziwym, bo ruchomym horyzontem.

Sami nie wiedzą,
ile niosą w rękach pustych.
“Nic im nie jestem winna” –
powiedziałaby miłość
na ten otwarty temat.

Image (c) Stephen Donaghy

misfired words


All those wounding words we can’t – and others can’t – take back: misfired words.

-Ocean Vuong
The stars are not hereditary. —Emily Dickinson

Turn back & find the book I left
for us, filled
with all the colors of the sky
forgotten by gravediggers.
Use it.
Use it to prove how the stars
were always what we knew

they were: the exit wounds
of every
misfired word.

Photo by Tobias Polinder.