Kjell Espmark, The Creation ( Part II) Translated by Göran Malmqvist

Hades seems to be personal,
tailored to each one.
In mine you can’t get up ─
the blackness that here is the word for heaven
presses against the ground. Myself,
I’m stuck to it like a foil.
Not even hope can raise itself one inch above the ground.
If I were rowed here from the city I governed
the boat must have been thin like a playing-card
and the ferryman flat like the knight of clubs.

My crime was to have torn down the old town
as if I’d torn off a piece of history!
What I remember is a carved gate from the baroque
and a staircase with painted windows─ a scene
with the Virgin and her helpless knight.
I also seem to remember a sluice between the waters
shaped like a clover-leaf.
All was crushed by merry excavators
which also took with them the rest of memory.

Here is neither height nor depth. In spite of this
my task is to design the new city
Without houses capable of being raised from the ground,
yes, without being able to lift the hands to do the design.
A travesty of Creation!

I am attacked by shadows yapping in the surface
with my grey blood between their teeth.
They demand an explanation from me.
What can I explain? All I ever knew
has been levelled with the ground.
Here isn’t deep enough even for repentance.


So I’m a “type” that has aroused interest
at the Institute of Racial Biology,
and can be read between the lines in the rapport:
“Types partly mixed with the Lapps. Espnäs.”
My father’s cousin Karl-Erik stands in one photo
together with the brothers Per and Jöns Herbert
in their Sunday Best, someone helped him with the tie.
Sleeves and trousers embarrassingly short
and the jacket too tight around the buttons
in the nervousness before the examination.
Are the trouser-creases Aryan enough?
The brothers stand in straw of the cow-house
against a whitewashed wall
that associates with Holocaust
looking seriously into our time.
The year is 1931
and history is just about to take a great step backward.

Father stands outside the picture, posthumously frightened
by his suddenly impure racial features.

Myself, I’m shaken by the diagnosis as such,
a tiny creature caught in the racial biologist
Herman Lundborg’s magnifying glass.
The blinking steel blue eye
on the other side of the lens hesitates
whether I should be shoved back into the Lapp tent
or be admitted into the next stage
of the Millenial Plan.

Father’s cousins stand at attention
while the photo is aging around them.
They wait for the decision of the Institute.
As if they just had been unloaded on the platform.

The Day of Wrath

This is the Day of Wrath
And the century has begun to dissolve into ashes.
Surely we had expected that the neglected God
would send his carpenter’s plane of fire over the world,
not that our own wrath
would turn against us.

Cannae, Waterloo and Verdun
are cursing remnants
of ribs and bones that never fail.
Also wagging jaw-bones demanding revenge.
Wrath gives strength to the jerky fragments of bone,
exhorts fibulae and knuckles to rally.
We have long waited for the signal
that Law has resigned
and once again makes anything possible.

And now, at the sound of the Assyrian horn
we dead raise ourselves, clattering,
warped skeletons, tottering in a fit of dizziness,
trying to make the helmet stay on the cranium.
We all long to get our teeth into the others’ throat,
the throat that the last war bit off,
and tear out the others’ hearts,
hearts that have been dust for centuries.
But first we shall slay those among us who are unsure,
those who recognize their anguish
in the empty eye-sockets of the enemy.
Then we can reduce those cities to ashes
which have for long been ashes.
And that is now
and a thousand years ago.


Instead of seeking The Great Vision
you ought to engage in the pleasure of begetting
and then walk with your woman in the moonlight
listening to the one lute
and feeling the cool air brush your neck,
That advice you got from me, Li Zhi,
who once tried to teach you to write
as the hare skips and the falcon strikes,
and not to be quoted.
Don’t try to defend yourself arguing
that many wish to burn your books.
The real text
burns while the hand writes ─
the paper curls with blackening edges.

On the utmost tip of a hair
where you unseen would build your cottage
you found an academy.
I’m disappointed in you.
Have you forgotten me who was thrown in gaol
for my admonishing constant doubt,
with the moon my sole friend
and a razor my conclusion.

So now I wish to teach you to live
as the bluebottle sneers at the swatter
and the ageless cockroach
takes a shortcut through the fire.
I have been dead far too long
to respect what you call deletion.
What I shout in your deaf ear
is that mortals exist. You complain
that you have seen her smolder and curl
with blackening, bubbling skin.
Yes, you whisper you have seen her turn into ashes.
Then I will tell you what I have understood
of all I’m supposed to have taught:
What is man in man
can’t burn.


I thought I went to bed with a wench,
though turning my back on her.
She grabbed my cock which grew large.
I turned against her, put it on,
it bent, but managed to enter. He is long, she said,
I thought a child may be made from this. And came ─
as if a rocket had exploded above me,
in a rain of sparks.
She bit my earlobe and whispered: Swedenborg,
which greatly scared me,
especially as my father passed by in his episcopal vestment,
with a dark air, not saying a word.

Meaning: I have moved in the society of science
and proudly added my name to it.

My arrogance caught naked
with dripping cock
dressed only in its soiled shirt.

Noticed at once how the feet stank
and the legs itched, bitten by bedbugs.
Couldn’t even find my wig.
God pressed down my face into the shit
as when you teach manners to a pup.

Now I understand another dream a while ago.
About the book I redeemed with nine farthings.
All pages in it were blank, but shone,
as if angels’ faces wished to get out.
It seems that a larger text is demanded of me
like the Bible version of the origin of the world
pointing to a richer creation.
The alleys and sheds in this block, so hard to interpret,
wish to become a city of glimmering meaning.
The whimpering unborn seek me.
And the empty heaven begs for color.

Evening on the sixth day

The powers’ demand for letting me meet
my beloved in the world of shadows
was that I gave up myself, piece
by piece, in the staircase down through the darkness.
The first step got my hair─
it lit me a few cubits on my way.
Even my face, which I gave up,
spread a shimmer, scarred by smallpox.
The eyes I could part with
as darkness grew thick around me.
One step got my heart, swollen with weeping,
another step my withering womb.
Hardest of all was to part with the memories;
picture upon picture flashed from pain.
At last I was only a shadow among shadows.
But two treasures I had kept
in a fold of shade in the dress of shade:
the itching memory spelled love
and a grey drop of my blood.

I did find my beloved’s shadow
but it went groping over me
without recognition.
Then I smeared the drop of blood on his lips,
the darker shade that was his lips,
and he was amazed.

My hand that was no longer hand
caught his hand which was still a shadow.
And we began to climb upwards in the dark.
With every step we created 
a piece of the other ─ a familiar contour,
the eyes that once had chosen the other.
Yes, fondled forth genitals knowing one another.

Near the light at the end of the staircase
when we had puffed breath into one another
we remained standing on a step
that had something to say to us:
hold back your image of the other 
and let the other be the other.
Amazed we checked ourselves,
before creation had been completed,
in order to restrain the demand to recognize.
And there was evening the sixth day.

The Answer

We who sprayed the railway embankment
moved slowly along the rail
with the containers on our backs─
blue spots among rosebay and meadowsweet.
But the fluid that swapped a piece of July
for a better view for the traffic
was deadly for us humans.
With each sweep of the nozzle
our life sank one millimeter within us.
I saw heaven and its black clouds
straight through my comrades!
When my hand sought my face
the fingers grabbed empty air.
You who have heard about us perhaps know:
Did the railway, the people’s own railway,
take care of our families?

There is an exhausted answer
but now to quite another question.
What sank in you
has been forced to sink also in us
who lay rail-tracks here in East Africa.
We have used most of our breath
to impregnate the sleepers.
And every echo of the sledgehammer tells
how we have knocked down our lives
month by month
as nails to fasten the rail.
This embankment on its way toward the grey horizon
knows that we have created a fragment of future.
What was left of our chest and feet
our families had to take care of.

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