Wednesday 31 July 2019

Henrik Nordbrandt: 'Sea Dragon' - Part V



(Written after an eye examination)

How long haven’t I seen it coming:
‘Sharpness of detail’ turns out
on closer inspection to have been a pipe-dream
so ‘resolution’ would be the word
that replaced the one quoted, if change were possible.
Which it isn’t.
Blindness makes everything so clear.
And in that way
I can be sure that she hasn’t been here:
There are too many conditions
that cannot be fulfilled.
Change conflicts with the nature of these lines
like Dante bringing up himself
long before anyone has thought of Homer.
But why
mention world literature when you can make your own
and furthermore as you grow old become more and more
sceptical about world literature?
Especially the part of it that rhymes.
Without rhyme the details would even so have been sharper
not to mention the view
from the large panorama window with the palm tree
and the pyramids in the background.
I too would have felt at home on the back of a camel.
I you consistently removed the word I
every time I was just about to use it
I would be a happy man, I think.
That’s why I long for the day
when I have forgotten to read and write.
So this blindness
isn’t all that bad at all really.
It looks like a moral instead of an ending.
So she might well have been here after all, don’t you think?
Yesterday she was Beatrice, today Maria, tomorrow maybe Giraffe.
I remain the same
and thus recall, because of the changeableness of everything,
less and less about myself.


Unbelievable the way Picasso could look at a goat!
In actual fact
just outside his native town I saw 37 in a field of cauliflowers.
I counted them, you see.
When a cloud hid the sun, they turned yellow as sulphur.
They were much too busy
devouring cauliflower to notice that
or else sulphur-yellow goats was
a perfectly normal sight for them.
It wasn’t for me. That was why I had stopped up.
Outside the cloud’s shadow the landscape was ochre-coloured
brown and rust-red as always.
The cauliflowers were green-violet and almost
as big as the goats
that attacked them with something that looked like utter disdain.
They butted and guzzled at one and same time.
It looked like a battlefield where the cauliflowers
because of their superiority in numbers
were predestined to win.
I invented the colours to make it last longer.
I wished a chance for the goats
to finish eating before they were held fast
by the last stroke, the last sickening
blot of green-violet.
But they didn’t make it. Just look
at them standing here
their mouths full of cauliflower, sulphur-yellow
with lavender-blue udders.


I have painted a picture so one can see
that what it represents
is further away from it, the more it looks like
what it is.
And so I have painted it
in words.
Just look at how far away
you already are from the self you used to like
to compare with the sea
there where it reveals itself
between the spring foliage of the beech wood
with fishing stakes and gulls
when the milky-white evenings become longer
than it is possible for you
to penetrate with your consciousness.
Words deceive
exactly as colours to
and so I have said it
in colours.
For colours do not rhyme
with mullers or cullers
just as little as with Hüdavendigar
a street name
that is especially dear to me
because the same gulls hang out there.
Sea does not rhyme with filigree
even though the sea is filigree-amber right now
as the deer come into sight at the edge of the wood
but possibly with thalassa
Yes, far out
very, very far out with thalassa.


In Extremadura people stand well apart from each other
and each of them with a cigarette in the mouth:
They see a long way, but have this in common
with pumpkins
that they have to have a lit candle in their heads
before it dawns on them.
On the other hand it is impressively beautiful
far, far away from the nearest telephone box
and in billions of sunflowers
between each of the lazy green rivers
that flow into the neighbouring country Portugal
where they used to wear
funny pointed hats
and have heaps of neatly stacked skulls
in their baroque churches.
The person who cannot see it quite clearly in the mind’s eye
has read so far in vain.
For this is how I want to write
the way I saw it
when I had written this.


It must be me who’s caused this cloudy weather
for I am without shadow
or religion, and I only see what surrounds me.
Only something red would be a saving grace, rowan berries perhaps.
The red house by the lake has always been the archetype
I thought was nearest to me.
The woman at the door seems simply made for that door
and from the white rowing boat at the end of the jetty I caught
my first perch in a lake a couple of lakes down river.
Everything is there to receive me, but I pass right through it all
and into myself without being discovered.
If anyone has ever known me, they do not show it.
On the other hand I can then stand for hours under an open sky
and hear the words I am going to say
like a distant thunder that never gets any nearer.
For I love the violet there
where the sulphur-yellow runs down into the green earth.
If you replaced the sound of the word I
with the sound of a fly lying on its back on a window sill
you would get a more exact picture of the truth.
That is why I cannot become a Jew
a Christian or a Moslem
not even a Buddhist, even though I have tried.
My lack of shadow
causes cloudy weather, I want to get away from myself. Love me for that!


I am so looking forward
to summer coming to an end!
And the wind singing
so distant woods draw near
and darkness coming early
and yellow marigolds gleaming
so sleepwalkers
can find their way down from rooftops and church towers
and I have forgotten who I was
and dance beneath a street lamp in the drizzle
along with the moths that ate my last suit of clothes.


On the day she decided
was to the first in autumn
my mother counted the elephants.
That was a sort
of old custom she had.
There were four
but if you looked very carefully
there could just turn out to be five
or possibly only three, she said.
This characteristic
I have inherited from her.
As far as my father is concerned
I inherited the gold lighter
I myself had given him
along with his sword.
The elephants were yellow
with green and brown and red blotches
so they could get away from themselves
in the September forests
before the first gale ripped off the foliage.
Finally you heard the garden gate
shriek in the gale.
On the far side of the lake’s steel-grey water
it sounded as if the god of
the wild geese had spoken.
After which there was a long silence
which has really never properly been broken.


As far as I can see, it must at some point be you
who has finally written this.
Since the end clearly comes first
that implies God, you’ll probably manage to interject.
For the ways of the Lord are unfathomable, they say.
But I say: There is no god outside 
the word God, and I really wish
Jesus had stuck to the word.
I find his miracles a bit tasteless.
I think I could have believed
if it hadn’t been for them.
Then I would now have been a Christian
and who knows? Possibly a general.
There have been Christian generals before me
in the exactly the same way as Lazarus
ended up dying anyway.
So why procrastinate?
Here in midwinter
the unfathomable ways are full of water
which in a wild dream of changing itself into ice
melts into the sun just before it disappears.
I’m not getting anywhere
but am ageing with time faster than time passes.
That stands to reason, you say.
It’s got to do with the fact that you wrote this a long time ago
so it’s soon Christmas, hurrah for that!
If God in that connection were to argue the point with me
I would plead the concept ‘poetic licence’
just as he is most welcome to do the same.


It gets dark earlier
than I recalled.
Many windows push forward
but none reach.

The wind goes right through your clothes.
Your soul freezes to ice
without your body noticing.

The street corners
cut across the years.

You were a different child
than the one you thought
and the one who notices his wounds
has already bled to death.

Everyone stands
outside each other.


The days don’t get any shorter
and life doesn’t get any longer
and death doesn’t get any closer.

And nothing feels any farther away
than it has been written
by the shadow in this low sunlight.

Henrik Nordbrandt: 'Sea Dragon' - Part IV



I declare this poem to be a sonnet:
Firstly, because it has fourteen lines.
Secondly, because it will prove
already in the first line to have heralded
a surprise: Namely, thirdly,
because one will unable to get
any meaning out of it before I myself
have found it: Fourthly all of this
will first and foremost deal with the one and only
for such a person no longer exists: And how liberating
to be able to talk like this about the one and only.
The one and only has left me, and I am too old
to find a new one. Sixthly and seventhly I’m talking nonsense.
Find a new one! There is only the one and only.
So this turned out to be a sonnet with fifteen lines.


I love to sleep around
in strange rooms
with strange women
to hear the rain on the roof
and hear the banana plant rustle against the gutter
and hear the water pipes gurgle
and a radio start up in the room next door.

I love to hear a woman
burst into a lament in a strange language.

I love strangeness:
The one room more strange than the other
the one woman more strange than the other
the roar of the tiger in the courtyard beneath the moon.

I love being in love
in one particular person

and I listen to all these sounds

alone in the dark.


I wish I could see you as you were.
No! I wish I could see you
as I wish you were.
No! I only wish that you were
such that I could see you.

But right now you are too far away.
So most of all
I probably wish I wasn’t here at all
so it was only you.

And if I stare long enough out into the dusk
at the almond tree in blossom:

Then all these 
my conflicting wishes are fulfilled
at one and the same time!


Just say it as it is, she said.
So I do just that:

I don’t know who first turned
their back on the other
but I can just as little forget your back
as my own childhood.

You ascribed to me
your worst attributes
as I also ascribed to you
quite a few of mine.

Sometimes you became my mother.
At other times I became your father.

That was how we played
father, mother and child

to the great benefit of the children.

No life was ever breathed into them.
So they were never laid in the earth either.


Sex, many people claim, is a part of nature.
I believe the opposite, that nature must have blundered

and have become pure unnature when it invented sex.

‘I want to marry that!’ I said the first time
I saw a sea dragon. ‘And I mean right now!’

So I found a human as a replacement.

Judging by her grace, shape of nose and curve of back
she really did resemble a sea dragon.

And she often appeared in long, fluttering robes
in the open air, while she sang: ‘I am at one with nature.’

As far as sex is concerned: Well, let’s skip that!
For the same reason she fell in love with her psychiatrist.

I should have looked my own unnature in the eye
and stuck to the sea dragon behind the glass of the aquarium.


‘Kendimi hayalet gibi hissediyorum.’:
‘I feel as if I were a ghost’
here in my old boarding house room
in the Halikarnassos of Antiquity
with the roar of the disco of the same name in my ears.
And for the same reason the end comes
before the beginning: In the beginning was the translation.
That was before I have learnt the words.
The words that come last are the ones I like most
because it is them I understand least.
That’s what it’s like being a child. The word child is so abused.
That’s why I find myself saying it every time doubt seizes me.
It does that when I feel bored.
When I feel bored, I doubt that it’s me doing it.
There are so many other children who also want to be me.
They have learnt the translation by heart
but individually do not understand the words.
Not a hotchpotch at all. We’ll come to that in a moment.
That comes of being a ghost.
Purely personally I now think
unconceived is a better expression
for the being that surrounds us in this house.
And it’s precisely here
the word hotpotch intrudes.
They are already mixing several languages together
like when you stir an old-fashioned sooty pot.
So there is only the image left.
Somewhere or other in the image there’s much too much red
possibly because of everything there’s not any room for
the autumn gale for example, the garden’s purple figs
and the boats out in the blue bay
seen through the sunlit cobwebs behind the window panes
or perhaps because I have blood in my mouth.
I don’t care whether it’s yours or mine.
I love feeling like the ghost
whose mouth someone or other has returned to
in order to whisper declarations of love through
the chorus of the unconceived
when we lie mouth to mouth and caught
behind the cobwebs, in each other’s twisted limbs:
All the untranslatable.


Because you never left
you never came back either.
So when I walk around this lake
it is not because I believe I will meet you
or imagine to myself
that you hear what I say.
It is because of the stillness
that I have chosen precisely this lake
and because it is dark and deep.
The migrating birds change course and fly round it.
On its banks I only meet my own sodden tracks.
So get the hell out of here, dammit!


Summer has not gone yet
and you have not gone yet
and I have not gone yet.

And the door is shut
and the warm evening sun filters through the window panes
and the birch tree’s shadow brushes

the dust on the black table
with the white vase.
And the dust stays put.


Joy is like an hour-glass:
You want to turn it upside-down all the time
so as to make it last.
And that which runs down is sorrow.

Henrik Nordbrandt: 'Sea Dragon' - Part III



On far too bright days in January
the talk once more is of everything else.

What fun it was
to be desperate
when one was young!

Sometimes one happens to say ‘I’
and regrets it for years afterwards.


When I woke up, the lid was back in place
on the large black cauldron
and all that was left
of the cannibals
was the echo of their exotic name.

The bookmark stuck out of the book on the bedside table
at precisely the right place
and when I stuck my feet out of bed
I saw that my shoelaces
were correctly in place in my shoes.
And my socks lay right next to them.

There was no crocodile under the bed
and the spider
that had been lying in wait behind the door
had gone away.

My head and my arms
had not been placed
in separate
black plastic bags.
They were firmly fixed to my body.

I could move without bleeding.
I didn’t even have
a stomach ache.

On the kitchen table there was a coffee maker
an ordinary coffee maker
in the morning sun that percolated in
through the flower-patterned curtains.

They were in need of a wash.
It looked like
it was mid-April.

When the water boiled
the house sounded so empty.

All those I had loved

were long since dead.


Drop me, my friends!
I’m not worth my
own shoelaces.

Let go of me and let me fall

to where I’ve always been
in spite of everything.

Don’t let me lie rotting
up here in the open air

where a cloud could catch sight of me
and have

its golden evening over the sea ruined.


Snowdrops! What do you
do for the rest of the year?
I would like to too.

A very strange light
that’s half spring and half autumn
half in view, half me.

I can’t be bothered
Not one more year. I’d rather
have a hundred springs.

Such is self-pity: 
A mollusc with tiger’s claws
deep within its heart.

The happy ones there.
The frightful ones here. Passing
me myself en route.


It happened that year
that my birthday fell
on ‘The Day of World Poetry’
which was also celebrated
at the World’s Centre, in Delphi
to which I
had also been invited.

It was all too much!
I took to my bed
instead of making the journey.

If I had come to Delphi
I would have not been me
and therefore I
would not have been invited either.

So much for that birthday.

So much for that year.


I held the speech.
The others held their noses.
I didn’t know any of them.
From the expressions on their faces
I could see they all knew me.

Beneath the wreaths of flowers
the body lay
wrapped in a black rug.
You could sense
that it had been sort of flattened
and that it was
about to spread out.

The speech was without words. A dry cough
stopped me
each time I began.

Outside the dream
it would have been interpreted
as meaning it was my own
funeral I was attending.

But there was nothing outside.
From the window
I could see the parking lot.
It was raining
and the sun shone through the rain.

So there would be rainy weather again
within three days.

That’s what people would say when I was a child.

So much for that.


A real Danish summer is to be the theme of this sonnet:
For it to be really right, what surrounds one mustn’t be said
in thirteen or fifteen lines, but in fourteen: that in my opinion
is how it all falls into place, so form and content become one
in the same way that I am at one with the summer
which is at one with Danishness
which is really really right: But this poem wouldn’t be so
unless it pointed out that no one can be at one with anything else.
There’s got to be room: A real Danish summer
is probably where I could best do without myself.
And I would gladly let nature speak for me, if the vulgar greenness
hadn’t made it all too embarrassing:
In its midst there’s a tall red chimney: It belongs to the crematorium.
What a consolation at long last to be free of oneself!


It’s too late in the year to be outside
but I’m sitting outside
in the twilight, on the bank of a stream.

I’m also too old to be me
but I am me
because I’m saying what I say.

On the bed of the stream dry leaves rustle.
Above the twilight
the sky is red like a parrot’s breast.


The sunlight there outside is just as bright
as it is dark as night here and as bleak.
Above the narrow yard a glass-shard’s light
flares on the battlement. Like the far peak

all of my travels dearly would attain,
extinguished, like their final mirrored sign.
I always end up here. My strength has waned,
I cannot carry on. The fault is mine:

This hotel is the stuff of all my dreams.
I’m my own guest, the lowest of the low
and the poor landlord who burst into screams

and slammed the door. That I myself best know 
as chalk-white there as it is pitch-black here.
And you are far away! Farewell, my dear!