Friday 14 October 2022

Lars Gustafsson: 'Stenkista'




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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