Sunday, 19 July 2020

Benny Andersen: 'Noget at leve op til'

Something to live up to

I don’t exactly count my dead
just note the number’s steadily increasing
but what are dead figures
compared to live-as-a-doornail friends

I’ve nothing against the dead
some of my best friends are dead
the striking thing about them though is
their undiminished vitality
unlike a good many now living who are
more dead than alive
I know several undeceased
who bore me to death
while the proper dead
the professionals
have the habit of coming back
at unexpected moments
interfering in everything
getting a boring conversation going
making the lilacs bloom in mid-winter
producing laughter during a tooth extraction
causing anger during an anaemic TV commercial
getting one to re-read the book
one had otherwise sworn never
to read again
reminding one that the Limfjord exists
that one has experienced incredible northern lights
that rain can taste differently

Eight or nine frail notes
and I notice your sun-warm hair
tickle my ear
and your young mouth against my lips

A whiff of turpentine
the fat boy of the class
you vulnerable giggler
we once tried to mingle blood
but started to laugh and gave up
and split our sides when we discovered
that Arsenal could be pronounced arse-and-all

Then a paint dealer’s apprentice
emigrated to America
just in time to be part of the Korean War
that you never wanted to talk about
but otherwise fat and cheery to the end
when you collapsed in your tiny Japanese wife’s arms

A  rose-hip bush in blossom
a light-haired girl with calm
smiling movements
five years

Pipe-smoke and bog-myrtle snaps
lobscouse and Ella Fitzgerald
at Tut and Arne’s in Brønshøj
and that piano that yawned like a hippo
one had to play it to keep its gob shut
but how could once manage to dance at the same time
and discuss Ouspenski and the fourth dimension
and Buddha and Huxley and Eartha Kitt
and Freud and Kafka and PH and Liva Weel
and when we heard the first bird-call
and smelt newly fetched rolls
exhaustion reached the point
where exhausted by itself
it turned into previously unknown alertness
the piano began to play itself
the dance danced itself
the shutters shot open from one’s eyes
and your faces were all so beautiful and wise
that one had to throw a wicker chair
right through the fourth dimension
out onto the terrace while on one’s own
one sang a duet version of
Strange and Wondrous Evening Breezes
and Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot
so as not to go stark raving bonkers

A soft rustling in the birch-tree’s leaves
a blackbird that stops and looks at one
a line of an old poem
a particular crack in a tile
can prove to be chinks of light
into my mad Hades
populated with loved ghosts

Certain spirits have very beautiful breasts
a dark and golden laughter
others have to do with music
at the moment one has a phantom band
consisting of accordion and guitar
drums and tenor sax
violin and cello
plus no less than two on bass
they play some kind of fusion music
jazz and Mozart
sailor’s waltz and reggae
Carl Nielsen with afro-beat

I’m not afraid of the dead
I’more more afraid of the living
that really can take my love of life from me
but the dead give me experiences for life
oh what would life be without you
my indefatigable mentors in
how alive life can be
and it swings what’s more

But I must always be a bit on the lookout
they’re always short of a pianist
and at that point I simply opt out

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