Monday 6 December 2010

'Stenkista' - a poem by Lars Gustafsson

Stone caisson

At a funeral
I met, for the second time in my life,
Uncle Sune.

He had a wonderfully heavy head
one of those heads
you know you would appreciate

holding in your hands and turning thoughtfully
even as a hosed-down cranium.
What are you up to now? my uncle said.

And I, caught in the middle of a rainy summer:
Building a stone caisson by the shore of Hörende lake.

(Which on that day was perfectly true
I’d actually been working on
it for weeks, to avoid doing something else.)

My uncle, with that heavy head,
looked up with fresh interest.

Really nothing else
than an old crofter from Småland:
‘Laying down a caisson. Heavy work that.’


I later realised that such knowledge was unusual
Most people are completely ignorant

when it comes to stone caissons.
They think you’re talking about sarcophagi,

huge coffins of stone*, neatly plinthed up
in old wearisome cathedrals,

repositories for no longer actual
rulers or insane princes

who we have no need of here.

Nordic Familybook, second edition,
naturally has plenty of information as always.

The caisson consists of a joined-together box
of sturdy timber that is towed out

to the fresh water spot you want for it.
A quay. A bridge. Wood does not rot under water.

It is then finally sunk with heavy stones,
providing the abutment you were looking for.

In a cruelly changing world.
Many old quays and bridges in Sweden,

the wise book from 1904 says,
still rest on this type of foundation.


I’m still busy filling mine
with all kinds of heavy stones.

When I was very young
I did not really exist anywhere.

Now, with all these heavy stones on board,
with more coming every year, dead friends,

dead relations, dead expectations,
not to mention the great blocks of what’s unfinished

that will soon start to be dimly visible above the surface
everything is pretty much fixed.

(‘Laying down a caisson. Heavy work that.’)

But this caisson and I
are not exactly the same thing.

I laid it where it lies,
as the saying is,
‘with the intention of avoiding discovery.’

(* The Swedish word ‘kista’ also means ‘coffin’)

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