Wednesday 1 February 2023

Henrik Nordbrandt: 'Pjaltefisk'


Sea Dragon



Poems (2004)







When I think back I’m fairly sure

I got this book from some nutcase of a woman.

She must have been a nutcase

since she insisted she was me.

I believed her nonetheless

and borrowed the book to copy it out.

It proved impossible

for the woman was far too deranged to write.

You could have told yourself that before opening the book.

But I didn’t say anything.

Everything in it what’s more had to do

with the sea horse and its relation

the sea dragon.

And now I’ve lost the address.

So I can’t give her the book back.

Thanks though for the title

sea dragon.







Via God knows what unfathomable ways

I have come today to the word livewell.

It has got jammed between what promised

to be a new beginning

and what judging by its late winter colour

looks like an old powerlessness.

I have said livewell at least 100 times to myself.

I have shouted it to a doctor’s secretary

who thought I meant her, and maybe I did.

And maybe she thought I was mad, and maybe I was.

There’s no getting round that livewell.

And all this simply because I overheard the remark:

‘Not until yesterday did I discover what a livewell

actually is.’

For fun I say ‘llewevil’ seen from the angle

where it is named in the language

that has to be constructed so as to get the colour too:

That special silver-grey, the colour of childhood

and powerlessness, for childhood is just as powerless

as it is powerful

because so many years have passed, and nothing’s changed

that silver-grey on the old washed-up pieces of wood

made smooth by their travels through the seas:

Silver-grey as the shacks, in whose cobalt shadows

seaweed and old snow lie:

That silver-grey when it’s forbidden to use colours in poetry.

And I’d have preferred to have excluded the livewell.

But I find the positioning highly appropriate

here in the open area behind the small harbour

with a view across to the next flat island.

Has that made it clear enough! You can’t just

go around locking up live creatures.

It’s tough on the fish to catch fish.

All livewells on dry land! I go in for that.

Afterwards there’s an equal smell of snow, sea and tar

and a little of earth. That’s how it’s got jammed,

so the rotten, silver-grey planks give up being a livewell

and fall apart in a profusion of flowers

eranthis, unless my memory is at fault.

They are precisely as yellow as the light-cable you can

suddenly see in front of you, where sea and sky meet

the island where I used to stand longingly gazing

across towards this coast in my childhood.





Look how light it’s got here.

The shadows weigh

just as much as the bronze statues.

Where the heart beat

experiences now rest.


In mid-land there’s a blue lake.

Everyone knows it from within.

No one can reach it.

Third floors meet the coming of evening

with blank staring.





I thought I was walking on water

because it was frozen.


Then I discovered the banks had been covered

with yellow flowers


and the weeping willow by the jetty

was about to come into leaf.


When the water closed over my head

I experienced what it felt like


seen from above, without me

by two dragonflies in a mating dance.





It was my father who stole the pictures.

I saw it myself.

He had them

under his arm when he came down the road.

He must have walked a long way

for he was completely covered in hoar frost.

It was that far then

to the house

whose pictures he had stolen.

They had been wrapped in brown paper

even so you could make out the frames.

They were vulgar

with flowers, vines and plastic angels

coated with gold: That

was my father’s taste.

Inside the frames there was nothing

for my father had stolen the pictures.

I saw it myself

so he could get away with it

and the house be emptied of the past.

For the same reason

I can also work out now where it was.

In the March sunshine the flooded road cuts

through the black hills, curved like sarcasm.





Oh shovel! I one day address myself.

This is not the language I would have chosen.

This language will always the property of others

unintelligible deep down

shiny and dismissive as a bank building

a loan of lifelong instalments.

The price of this language

is death, so the word death is also the word

that trips most naturally off the tongue

no matter whose lips it uses.

I would like to do away with it

if only I could simply continue by saying

straight out what I meant:

My greatest aversion to these lines is therefore

that I myself have written them.

The next greatest that others have come up with the words.

That’s what this language is like. That’s how

its logic cancels out logic

so it precisely conceals the essence of what it is

like the bank building.

When I had moved on a bit, the word

death appealed to me a bit even so

on account of the sound, and the same with lips.

Now I’d most like to erase both of them.

Perhaps I ought to pretend the choice didn’t exist

If only instead of shovel I had

at least been able to say bell!





I have come to the full stop

that is called midsummer.

What started out so well

ends here.


What ends here is what

started out so well.

And that’s all.

And that is what’s written here.


It’s like being alone in the world

and saying the word ‘home’.

It’s like hearing the sentence

‘Your sweetheart is dead.’


The sun cannot disappear

for there’s nothing to disappear from.

When the wind blows

the trees show the blacks of their crowns.





Create nothing superfluous. There’s already too much of everything.

If I call this a sonnet, it is because the elder is in flower

and I call the elderflowers elderflowers

for the same reason as a sonnet consists of fourteen lines.

Subject to that logic a dinosaur displays itself in the fifth 

to remind us of the relationship between intelligence and strength

this evening is also a matter of: on the TV screen 

its short legs flail helplessly in the air as in despair

at its prey having escaped from it. Therefore the tenth line

must mention an old man and his psychopathic homicidal son

who from somewhere in America can put out this summer night

like I turn off the television. This is the twelfth.

The fourteenth should be read by the light of the elderflowers

so that which came before can clearly come to the fore once more.





Even if the word is also predictable:

                if what it looks like

is only elsewhere what it is

if yellow in other words is blue, 

this sentence even so changes its meaning.

That is one possibility.

Another is that ‘predictable’ turns me off.

I mean, it must be because of the sound

for I don’t connect any meaning to it.

It is one of the words which like

certain seasons would be best removed.

Without summer and winter

we would probably live a better life

and purely personally I could well do without autumn too.

An eternal spring – that would give ‘predictable’

a completely different sound.

So now you’re talking maybe.

And the very word ‘talk’ makes me think of two tigers

sitting at a round table solving crosswords

because the yellow and the blue

so clearly predict what is about to come now.

So maybe we should make do with removing July and August.

That is the time of year when the cumulus clouds

on an afternoon like today suddenly stiffen:

                become plaster

said with a word that can probably be said

                otherwise in some other place

but looks like, is pronounced, feels and tastes like plaster.

And that’ll bring the sky down!





Seldom has the sun felt so sated.

There’s nothing left for it on earth.

So much more

does its afterglow dazzle.


The shadows stretch into infinity

but never become night.

The day lasts for ever

like the year that has just passed.





It wasn’t my meaning it should have turned out like that

the way I’m glaring at it.

First and foremost I don’t like the word meaning

and I feel only so-so about like that.

I suspect like that to be a way of skipping something of what’s

probably most important

and like that I actually believe years have past while I wrote this.

I saw a pram standing three quarters gone in one of them.

It was completely yellow

and was standing in a shaft of sunlight, in a forest clearing

so you felt like just going off with it

so you didn’t have to be a child one more time

not just be a child again and again, as often happens.

I didn’t go anywhere. The way

things are here, the weather would have turned cloudy.

And I hate cloudy weather just as much

as I hate the word meaning.

So it’s like that today.

I ought to have said something quite different, but got as far as 

this clearing, where the leaves are falling into an empty pram.

The end of August’s like that.

It’s probably my fault. I’m prepared to accept it is.





I’m well aware it sounds strange.

It’s meant to as well. It’s because of the cemetery

where a grey slab of granite

is glistening with a rain was a long time coming

but never came.

On the other hand your name is on the stone

because you read this

long before I started to write it

and precisely in the way I did.

I did this

so that strangely enough it would sound

as if the cemetery could remain hanging

there where it does

up above the valley, where its clients

cultivate tomatoes and wine, before they themselves

which they must also find

strange, are to go up there

to feed the cypresses.

So this in other words has to do with the full moon

so ice-cold and still as it hangs

above the aforementioned trees close to the winter solstice.








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!







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.







(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.


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