Toad Press, 2005
OF THE SAME MIND Poems by Jรhann Hjรกlmarsson
Translated from Icelandic by Christopher Burawa
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Ars Interpres: A Treatise on Autumn Butterflies, Of the Same Mind, Forest Wind, Oppositions, Advertisement for Spanish Scenery
Cover Photograph by J贸ra J贸hannsd贸ttir.
CONTENTS Of the Same Mind Sea and Sky Stone Fish Squalls Desire and Disbelief Two Words Valediction for Rimbaud Advertisement for Spanish Scenery Presumption of Sameness Forest Wind A Face Made of Night Jubilate from Daybook at Umsvali Another Frivolous Year Elegy A Treatise on Autumn Butterflies Oppositions
7 8 9 10 11 21 23 25 26 27 29 31 32 33 36 38 39 40
OF THE SAME MIND I once saw birds of like mind arrive. I hid as they flew in from the south bound for the north to their summer on the glacier. Those that made it were met by storm, yet still sang to each other as they recovered by the bare trees. The trees began shooting the youngest birds when Iâ€” who had intended to flee with themâ€” noticed that July was over. A young girl with red lips laughed at me from below the surface of a blue spring. I drank from her shadow. 1956
SEA AND SKY These women who cool my thirst, the women who love rain but fail at play, women who donâ€™t know red from black or gold except as something that arrives, again. I leave them as food for wild animals. But I must pick blackberries for them through the night, invite them to watch our dawn. We are together thenâ€” sea and sky. 1956
STONE Flashing in the dusk blue depths hesitant fish A child crawls across a spit of sand searching for the cruel flat stone 1956
FISH Shadows seen in the deep red whisper of something like wordsâ€” A girl who lived by the sea tells me about fish one stormy morning and we play with them us two, alone, that night 1958
SQUALLS 1. We are fishermen of death. We’ve never imagined ourselves hauling up polished cod on cold mornings or in the small dimensions of night, bringing our catch back to land. We never make land. But we won’t give up. Catch yourself a man. The warm-blooded fish. Newly laid out. We want the hands to poke out of the sleeves. We trawl for death. No one gives us a thought until it’s too late. The cheeky moon drawing men to its light. Little Agna is willing, out of hate and love. She sings all the songs she dances to, in hopes of changing the situation. The music that creates the fullness of this moment, it worries that she knows the source. A tremble on the hook. So we drink purple wine. Set a table on the sea’s bottom. There are more of us than barbs on all the snow crabs. Let the crabs live in the carcasses, help themselves to a bloodless body. Leopard seals look into the eyes of the drowned, weep at the calm. The buoyed seaweed is a good, proposes play. We are the fishermen of death. We arrive on the scene just as you seize.
2. The blessings of life turn into two rounded stones. They visit the sea with the same joy as you engage breasts and their blooms. Your hand gropes for God’s hand, and finds God. The breath finds the hand of God. But God is smaller than you can account for. He is a period to which all lines attach. Open, illuminating your sorrow or joy. You tremble as you touch each new emotion with your fingertips. How you love. I know that love is lonely. A beggar who patiently waits, collects sugar cubes knocked to the floor. I’ve overheard conversations about the blessings of life. I can only understand this concept as something interpreted by the self. I cannot perceive of God, because I am a reflection of God’s imagination. The blessings of life become two worn stones. Some day a mob may bash your skull in with them. You will lie in your own blood. Maybe then you will find the blessings of life.
3. The dead call on us. Death is everywhere. On the coffee table. In the green eyes that I love. Death is like the bay I now row over. The years go by without my noticing them. I aim for a spit of land. The dead have lined up like torches along the pebbled shoreline. There hands direct me. I see no face. The front door of the house is open. Fingers strum a dusty guitar. The blue moon acts as a lookout? Life is like the song of the red flounder, found only at great depths. The dead come to us saved through the eye of a needle.
4. All at once the universe has new stars. The darkness crowded out, comes back. The lights were simply embers from the crematorium. In town there are more tombstones than villagers. The carpenters don’t have it in them to build coffins anymore. The priests asphyxiate on the flat bed of eulogy. You say that the world is suddenly alive. But then a heavy darkness collapses at the window. The optimists lead their old dogs around the cemetery. These house pets lift their left back legs and strain. Mankind’s fall is no longer pure madness. It’s nature’s work. Lawns swallowing their tongues. We are thirsty, brother. The cocktails almost always change. Again, the universe fills with new light.
5. Poison collects along the curbs, runoff of our anger that includes our children. The cafĂŠs, the troughs of the city, document it. The women and men expect it to glow from fingertips. Life could be more charming. We have forgotten about the nobility of scarred mountains and the innocence of flat lakes, say the minor poets. But the poison has come to our aid. We cannot decide among ourselves why happiness has turned in on itself and now cares more about contentment than about childhood. We wait around with sunglasses in the rain. Really, life should be a captivating drama.
6. Certainty makes up only a small fraction of our lives. Clown-like fedoras strewn about. The coliseum is reserved for something more enticing. What’s true must be a component of laughter. Distort this, and you discover a brute. And the brute won’t have sex with the simpletons. He sits on the cat and tries to groom its tail. Truth won’t talk about trips it’s taken abroad. You might as well set up a playpen, cram it full of toys and gewgaws. It’s comforting to be able to glimpse it as you emerge from the tub. Be sure you dry your back. Have you lost your own scent? Certainty doesn’t answer disagreeable questions. You and delusion skip through the house. Go ahead, you can watch the acrobat, the man in the ape costume, spinning around a rope. To this day your wife still hangs the keys from black sewing thread. You’d better scoot down to the basement. The rats at their folk dances dance across the floor. You chase after them with a twig. You shoot straight for a place by the least likely means of transportation available. Truth lifts you up as a monument, erects you in the town square. The people are in favor of you. Certainty drowns in your tub. You love it so tightly you can’t perceive of it in yourself. You take a bath in the bath. Then, something tragic happens.
7. Why I was a witness to their fall, I cannot say. They set off at once. A fire burned through their eyes. Stones creased at their steps. A rainbow aureoled in support of their courage. Mountains were in agreement, but had been before this. So they hoofed it to the seashore. Why they wanted to walk into the sea I still don’t know. Ships stood idly in the bay. They didn’t know this place. Went directly ahead. The water was calm after the rain, and the shore smelled of seaweed. I watched them high-step through the shallows. All at once they changed color. I was watching myself. You hesitated. I saw nothing more. The sea swallowed then. I couldn’t do anything but laugh. Their look of dread reminded me of something very funny. Later, I pursued the algae dream of shrimp. It was wonderful to find them climbing up an arm, clustering around a left breast. That night, I lied down in the marooned seaweed, watched the bodies drifting one by one out to sea, enjoying myself.
8. Through the dead silence, the nights observe the domestic lives of birds. Earthworm songs cut the air. Shred at the feet of lovers. Their blooddriven hopes drift in the storm. The gallows is plumb. Your ships neatly in a row. Where is the executioner? Heâ€™s always the first to cheer up the vultures. There on the gibbet floor he speaks of the victory of humanity. Two ancient boulders can no longer keep their peace. They trick themselves into a promenade around the corpse. The river began grieving when blood streamed down the inside of the window and door. Through the dead silence, you witness the nights of the birdsâ€™ domesticity.
9. Cats lay fearlessly by your feet. The blade that terrorizes the autumn hay relishes their blood. What really frightens them is a freelance demon. But they can’t be subdued, and instead smoke their pipes out of resignation. My pen disappears there where I know two doves have taken cover under a rock, just like children who dive for flasks at the bottom of a lake. They make their grandparents ill with this water. These patients remember their own children whenever they drink from the flat bottles. Resigned, we recall our own children because what we choose to keep is long and tiring. Darning needles knit our lips together so that we cannot speak or kiss, let alone find out what’s wonderful about each other’s lips. As the smoke from our brave pipes sketch the likeness of heaven.
10. The morning light plays a monotonous sonata about the merits of suicide. The world’s cowl must be night. You see something in the silence that drinks from the wakes of ships. A poem dies suddenly of doubt. A bus continues on its way without knowing any of this. The quiet retracts at the hawking of the newspaper boy. The wine has altered. Doesn’t trust you to provide a proper memory of God. Perceives of your suffering, and believes in this memory. I don’t believe in you. You should find another ear. The answer is nowhere to be found, yet you insist on frying an egg in the same pan. Eyes like slugs climbing a ladder. Absolve me of manifold truths so that I may join the abandon of the squall. My nights linger there. A knife slicing songs of praise in half. An eel thrashes about in a puddle. The fishermen of death sail into the bay. 1961
DESIRE AND DISBELIEF 1. As I appear from outside the train window the world stares up at me from the blank page what became of the unfamiliar soldiers at the gate a woman spinning out of her thread When I came upon you your expression of alarm on bare knees My teeth have grown out over the borderlands 2. I look for my death in your life my dry lips find your roaming hand the sun a simple fruit probable seed days no one comes down the trail that ends under our flat stone twin-sexed plants we are a river flows near by the current tugging at the hand of the child in its depths
I have seen too many drownings I am certain this child is me I don’t want to live suspended anymore birds won’t sing about my death fog will continue to spill into the valleys fish must wake in the night a woman arranges her hair into a flood your one foot instructs the other angels fly across the roof illuminate my objections that covet this world hope and truth spill out of the tree: God’s reward to winter without charity 3. Trees everywhere are the hands of God their watery eyes will wail at this bitter life soon enough the leaves begin their sad songs a man gazes the snow glows it will soon be nightfall, and evening will stroll with its lover through the trees with a white blade between its lips 1961
TWO WORDS In a restaurant, red wine bottles scattered about the table, I multiplied two words by each other. I waited for the sum and stared at pigeons pecking at the window jamb, to where raindrops steered a rowboat over my shame— sun’s light crossing the floor and over the delicate feet of women. I read the book because I was really looking at perfect bare shoulders. The wine glass was waiting for me to escort it into the pine groves. While boughs cleaved Christmas joy in two, a swarm of birds strolled by, long-nosed and angry, across shallows that teemed with three-headed trout— no one asked for God’s mercy or other favors. Everyone preferred to look at the latest demonstration shaking the undergrowth. I went too but in search of enchanted berries. Content in the ornate, lighted pleasure park, my heart smiled like the famous Pleiades. This strange awakening stirred a package in my chest, rattling apart its brittle, taped skull.
Looking like burning fingers and tied to the next tree, a tucked reindeer stood up. Startled, it thought momentarily about other pasturesâ€Ś As a Spanish spring was being passed to many outstretched hands from the train scuffing by on a track veering somewhere north, a corrupt pleasure scattered a yellowing stack of commemorative pamphlets and delivered them to the world. Sleeping, I multiplied two words together. 1961
VALEDICTION FOR RIMBAUD In hell a pen races off, running away, I suspect, from Verlaine’s fevered scalp. The lamppost light thickens from morphine, eyes fall to the floor where they stare up at me. The wine poured by youths… You, who can charm us for just a day, are about to leave again— from each corner new opportunities glow like Bedouin campfires. I see you are in a hurry. If we forget everything, we should at least scoop out the leaves from the toxic pools. Those poets who hesitate believe in an everlasting life… But where would you look for our pen when it flies except in those memories of hell, cutting, now, our ties to childhood. 1961
ADVERTISEMENT FOR SPANISH SCENERY A German girl who reads Pound on the Paris to Barcelona train has chewed most of her fingernails down to their flesh moons. The poet loved snowflakes, tries to remember how they float for as long as he can, but turns away to look at the prostitute with a green lantern working a side alleyway. The German girl lies down to sleep. As overgrown partridges step into the compartment, the setting sun gnaws at her cheese. 1961
PRESUMPTION OF SAMENESS “I am somebody else…” —Rimbaud There’s only a resemblance The mirror only what we are used to seeing Across the outposts of the skull a war rages between the agencies who want to lead us through the doorless quarters, who urge us to believe something other than what we know what we’ve decided on as burden We could just as well smooth out a few wrinkles, remove the bags around the eyes However the skin covered with gooseflesh once again calls out in alarm, ruins the silent charm of the house and disavows all those similarities we choose changing the laws The mirror stands perfectly still only our reflection moving reminds us of being someone else In some other existence it’s always this way: the lives we lead we resent
Itâ€™s the struggle for breath that elbows us on allows us to blaze in joy and rage We can avoid the mirror But someone else has already passed by rung the doorbell People always answer their doors but they find no one there nobody to invite in Sometime later, Iâ€™m waiting at the door 1965
FOREST WIND The wind drops like a green sail on a skiff crossing the smiles of women— who can summon the sea? It always returns out of each tree, brake and out of itself from a great height. The men threaten it with hammered knives. The women shelter it, shutting it away in the idle cloud. These women drink of its physics and await the result, which fills them with currants and flame— enough to ignite a forest. The men can only look at the ground and say: I believe it is gathering into a fresh storm. The women groan or become silent out of anger and stroke the wind’s brow as if it was a former lover.
The men stand. The forest wind drops the sail, changes to dew so the squirrel in the mast can, at last, spell out its name. 1965
A FACE MADE OF NIGHT A poem hates mornings, the shadowless light of noon, the stillness of holy days. A poem fears drowning in a geyser. Like the hot spring it also thaws ice. A poem is lonely. So, why does it love dark alleys? Why does it hide from the people on the street except at the close of business and with the coming of snow and night? Perhaps we are more relaxed now, or could it be because we are prepared to share the bitter thought? 1967
JUBILATE I have heard that when spring draws near larks will sing from every leafless branch, and awkwardly like groaning patients on a roll-away bed. Spring is ruthless. It commands us all. Sing. 1967
from DAYBOOK FROM UMSVALI* 1. From Umsvali I see a raven gliding through the sleet. I arrive at the village, walk down to the seashore to where the post office faces the tides. From here I send these words, You must listen. You must be able to be empty. I hear the ravenâ€™s call and only then know that I am standing on the earth, in its flight. I am looking down at the headland through the sleet to where white rollers shatter. I am empty landscape filling me; I am not my lone voice. The ocean is the same grey here as out at sea.
The sound of the wind is inside the house on this very spot, the parked cars on the street— there is no one about except for the characters in Le Clezio’s book who say: You must listen. You must be able to be empty. Later, an airplane will land with one passenger, a few letters exchanged, a case of wine delivered. The aircraft is like a child’s toy, flies over the land like a sled coasting… When I hear the props I am driving a jeep to the landing strip. Two teenagers wearing sunglasses ignore me. They quietly unload the luggage and give the pilot the mail the postmaster at the seashore has arranged in a sack, and sealed with seaweed.
The dog, Loki, whose father was Scottish and mother Siberian, stands on the steps at Umsvali with Regina and Elli, where the grass is tall and dry and the cicadas sing so beautifully. The bird here is the raven, in sleet, in the soul, and in these words. Those who listen are not empty. 1977 *Umsvali is the name of a visiting nursesâ€™ house.
ANOTHER FRIVOLOUS YEAR Each year wears on you a little more and, again, you haven’t written one poem. Why is it you always forget to turn to the landscape… So what if it overlooks the alley. There is enough to write about. The ashtray is doming and may erupt, unread books like creeping fog across the desk, the spidery coffee cup beckoning, your typewriter is as fragile as an abandoned nest, the crumpled false starts harden into desert stones. But there are waterfalls nearby no one hears trying to speak over the vacuum, the year’s momentum has challenged the apartment to a sprint, a heap of moss stares down the washing machine, quiet fills the room with whiff of beaches, buzz of heath birds’ wings.
Out the window, onto the alley, toward the back of the house, within eye shot of the porcelainâ€™s censure, an oxidizing garbage can flexes with yellow newspapers. There, the walkway is strewn with jagged sprigs of shit from the frightened thrushes, and topped with the unmerciful leftovers of tattered housecats. 1978
ELEGY Days lose their luster and you ask yourself which is brighter, the inner or outer dawn? Was it something in the endless sea and lava flows of childhood or was it the ache of brief affairs that aimed you toward the surf— when you waded out, fearless, to compare the fraction of time on an invisible clock’s second hand that rules weather and chance down to the smallest features of your face, voicing an opinion mumbled anyway and understood to be, at the same time, happiness and sorrow. How could anyone leave you like a cloud on a perfect morning? Were the breakers still speaking to you on the bus ride out of town, in the lonely rooms you stayed in on your travels from this place to the next, did they proclaim something about time itself to you, that you lived outside of the rules— that riotous but unanimous choir always toasting everything you said? Toward the tidewater wash you walk, a blurring figure, transparent, leaving no footprints. 1985
A TREATISE ON AUTUMN BUTTERFLIES Unseen the butterfly appeared to me as a deaf memory about summer a summer that never was Our conversation traipsing around the house We donâ€™t see each other but feel an autumn breeze in common Butterflies flex on the screen door some find a dry patch of mortar on which to hang as if they were expecting an event One flies inside lands in the kitchen it wants to warm itself by the coffee pot Just as Iâ€™m about to say something like a rusty knife rattling down it moves to the bottom of the sink Try as I may to catch it to release it outside, into the season it refuses to go 1998 39
OPPOSITIONS 1. I’m not in favor of the round dining table on which I can barely scribble out a check, on which I write even now, in front of the fine china plates. What I’m against is heathen, there where the fox and ptarmigan hold their annual summits, dressed in fall browns, winter whites. Life is not so much against me. Once sleep overtakes me— and before I wake to continue my sanctimonious antagonisms, I try to picture myself near the sofa, out in nature, maybe, or in the stratosphere which mirrors every earth-bound event, and does so out of the beauty in change because of this thing called eternal brevity and to spite me in this largeness which surrounds us, changeable as thought.
2. You are repugnant to me because I draw out the worst in you. A prettiness I donâ€™t want to hold against myself. Then I can keep adversity out ahead to stay, daring it to change or stop. 1998
The Toad Press International Chapbook Series includes: 2004: TWENTY-FIVE AND ONE POEMS, Tristan Tzara / Nick Moudry 2005: MARTIAL ARTIST, Martial / George Held 2005: OF THE SAME MIND, Jóhann Hjálmarsson / C.M. Burawa 2006: WOMAN BATHING LIGHT TO DARK, Paul Éluard / Justin Vicari 2007: FERNANDO DE ROJAS ASLEEP ON HIS OWN HAND, Rafael Ballesteros / Steven J. Stewart 2008: THE FACTORY OF THE PAST, Mariana Marin / Adam J. Sorkin & Daniela Hurezanu 2008: MERCURY PROJECT, Grzegorz Wróblewski / Adam Zdrodowski 2009: SOME VERY POPULAR SONGS, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann / Mark Terrill 2009: THE BADEN-BADEN LESSON PLAY ON ACQUIESCENCE, Bertolt Brecht / Justin Vicari 2010: ARCTIC POEMS, Vicente Huidobro / Nathan Hoks 2011: AN EVENING IN EUROPE, Jörg Fauser / Mark Terrill 2011: SUITE PRELUDE A/H1NI, José Eugenio Sánchez / Anna Rosen Guercio 2012: EDUARDO MILÁN, POEMS, Eduardo Milán / Leora Fridman 2012: THE FLYING HEAD, Ioan Flora / Adam J. Sorkin & Elena Bortă 2013: EVERY GOOD HEART IS A TELESCOPE, Víctor Rodríguez Núñez / Katherine M. Hedeen You can find more information about our chapbook series, including how to order books or submit your work, at our website: www.toadpress.blogspot.com
OF THE SAME MIND: poems by Jóhann Hjálmarsson, translated from the Icelandic by C.M. Burawa. 41 pp. paper. staple-bound. Cover photograph...
Published on Feb 19, 2014
OF THE SAME MIND: poems by Jóhann Hjálmarsson, translated from the Icelandic by C.M. Burawa. 41 pp. paper. staple-bound. Cover photograph...