He had begun to die.
I visited my father in the hospital,
he lay in a white bed which was clean and sinister.
……..But he didn’t want
to lie there, he wanted to get up again,
……..get out of there.
He was on the 6th floor, with a view;
outside was a firestorm.
road signs banged on their hinges
Cars zigzagged below,
as if everyone was dead drunk.
But in here it was quiet,
……..My father’s lips,
the sound of his hands against the duvet.
We touched each other.
He had almost used up all his words,
the ones he had left meant: out,
……..home, off to work.
His innards were destroyed
from cancer; the doctors had opened him
and closed him again. Unbearable pain.
……..He didn’t say that.
He tried to fool the nurses,
……..the doctor, himself.
He rang the bell, and they arrived.
I have to get up!
He sat at the edge of the bed
his white legs and a swollen hand
Two nurses laid his arms
across their shoulders to help him up.
Their knees trembled beneath the burden.
……..Pain screamed through my father’s
bones, he grew white around his mouth,
like a corpse. He wanted to get up.
Later, in bed, he breathed in pain.
I had to catch the train around midnight –
……..walking about, smoking.
We could say anything
to each other now, but all words
were crippled. Good bye! he said.
said something more.
Everything collapsed. I walked to the train station
through empty streets, where the hurricane roared
tore at houses, trees, my clothes.
Debris slid across the asphalt,
as if the world was being torn apart,
……..or was tearing itself loose now.
Translated by P.K. Brask & Patrick Friesen
Marten or stoat? The sound of a predator
from the loft in my Mother’s house, it lives there
bustling as we watch television.
Father set a trap –
And I moved away, my Father died.
The trap lies in the ramshackle greenhouse
buried in junk. The matter is abandoned
forgotten, my Mother has new plans
for her life. And I – on paper….
my plans flutter down like paper planes.
I am home visiting and walk about in my Fathers jacket,
I was to have left, but I stay an extra day.
And kill time studying
his tools: spade, steel bar, clamp
worn-out saw blades. Loose nails and nuts
have crept out of the drawers to participate
in the discussion –
a sack of old brick-laying tools;
he did his own work, my Father.
He built stone dikes that still stand
gnawing at the wind like faces –
a gritty clan of boys and old men’s faces.
When he came home from work
he was lit through, cleansed by the wind,
he smothered his horned hands in vaseline.
With them he smudged my Mother’s clothes,
the door handles, and finally the newspaper
before he fell asleep. A happy creature.
Fury roared outside in the trees
October, November, December
all the wild plans he stubbornly suppressed
to be a gravedigger, sexton
and gardener in this wilderness,
where even the gravestones fall over in January storms.
He raised them again every March.
And planted trees.
A few survived – nearly destroyed by salt and sand.
The marten uses them as a spring board
to get into the loft.
Should I go out and rig the marten trap
set it up again, and then stay there –
standing in the wind like a man of concrete?
just take the bus, the train, the ferry
back home to the Alphabet
to build a trap
Translated by P. K. Brask & Patrick Friesen
Visit from My Father
My dead Father comes to visit
and sits down in his chair again, the one I got.
“Well, Niels!” he says.
He is brown and strong, his hair shines like black
Once he moved other people’s gravestones around
using a steel rod and a wheelbarrow, I helped him.
Now he’s moved his own
by himself. “How’s it going”? he says.
I tell him all of it,
my plans, all the unsuccessful attempts.
On my bulletin board hang seventeen bills.
“Throw them away”,
he says, they’ll come back again”!
“For many years I was hard on myself”,
he says, “I lie awake mulling
to become a decent person.
I offer him a cigarette,
but he has stopped smoking now.
Outside the sun sets fire to the roofs and chimneys,
the garbagemen make noise and yell to each other
on the street. My father gets up,
goes to the window and looks down at them.
“They are busy”, he says, “that’s good.
Translated by P.K. Brask & Patrick Friesen
My Father’s Wristwatch
I wind up my father’s old wristwatch.
For almost three decades it has been here in the drawer
waiting to be thrown out.
This was the watch that was on him when he worked
with animals and stone and earth.
It is scratched and marked by the things
he grappled with, like no other watch you would see today,
browned by cowshit and stale sweat.
Struck by something primitive, a feeling,
I take the watch from the drawer and wind it up.
The second-hand forges briskly ahead.
Super Shock Resist in tiny letters
on the face. I keep my eye on the hands,
somehow it feels encouraging
to see the old watch resurrected from the dead.
The hands keeping up, the time spot on.
When my father was my age, he was in the churchyard
eight hours a day. Now he is there permanently.
He left behind him a few stone dikes, five children
– and this watch
For seventy-five minutes the ghost watch gleefully races
the modern digital clocks in the house.
As though time really were cyclical, reversible.
Until, for all that, my father’s watch
stops again. Immoveably. Definitively.
What is there to say? I put the watch back
in the drawer. Someone else can decide.
Translated by Martin Aitken