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


We are the deleted history.
We are the ones that never existed.

We were slaughtered with our backs against the mountain.
Our crime was to be named Armenians ─
the very name was considered an attempt at rebellion.
It was hard to see the children cut down.
Hardest to hear that it never happened.

We were potential members of the resistance,
perhaps thirty thousand, a Polish grammar
that must be arrested ahead of its language.
The very day we stood by the edge
of the silent ditches we had been forced to dig,
the very thin copse around us, 
the trembling light through the pine needles ─
all has been erased from history.
We never became more than a paradigm.
And our death has never taken place.

We were those who thought cross-wise
and tried to give our socialism
a few human traits, perhaps a snigger
or an attempt at sympathy,
yes, even eyes that dared to see.
We were erased from all photos
and cut out from the memory of the state
but remained as a defiant notion.

Clattering we stand up, half abstract
to demand the world that was denied us.
We gather under a heaven of earth
with amber to light us.


When I was exposed as gay
I was brought before the inquisition,
old men who bowed to one another, Spanish fashion,
before they allowed themselves to be shaped
by the experienced chairs in which they seated themselves.
Their faces were of dark parchment
that had been scraped again and again
for the new script of each century
while retaining vestiges of earlier writing.

Now, would I confirm my name, Alan Turing,
and my residence in The right city?
I have never denied my identity.

Before the judges stood a scale with two bowls.
In one bowl they placed my contribution during the war,
when I decoded the German crypto,
and my blueprint for a machine
that competed with the human brain.
In the other bowl that I had made love with men.
And that bowl sank so heavily
that the first bowl spilled its contents.

I was condemned to have my lips stitched together
and my testicles burnt to ashes
to make sure that my heretical thoughts
and my sick semen
shouldn’t infect future centuries.

But they didn’t succeed in totally erasing
the draft that bore my name.
You who find one another in the cyber-space
borrow my voice.

The Bird Sermon

I am all that is left of our village,
too withered to be raped.
They call me feeble-minded
because I pretend to understand the language of birds
and feel Africa’s pain in my joints.

I have heard thrushes preach
about the hungry dominion of the white
that struck out a passage in Genesis
and left nature gasping
as if it no longer could breathe.

And I have heard swallows prophesize
about the black souls who would come
on wings stolen from the Koran
and take our children. The terrified trees
tried to pull up their roots and flee.

When the rebels had impressed their message on us
and forced up the girls on the loading platform
I heard the very ground cry out
instead of the killed.

I walk away to see my kin
in village beyond village, beyond time if needs be.
I notice how the forest around me
has shrunk back to long ago. And the birds sound
as if they just have flown up from Mother Sea.
Also their space is unfinished.

The Language

Death, the master from Munich,
struck out heaven, landscape and faces
from a familiar brownish painting
believing itself to come from Peasant Bruegel.
Here and there the canvas lies bare
with long threads that are called obedience.
That’s probably where I was born.

Can foreigners conquer language
like cancer conquers our cells
and turn them against ourselves?
Until what was once our language
corrodes liver and lungs.

My wrist-watch knows.
While I float out of time on the Seine
my watch still lies on my bedside table
ticking forth the story
about father who died from typhoid in the camp
and mother who was killed by a shot through the back of the head.
The watch dreams one day to be allowed to stop
or rather: to be allowed to stop before history.
It has been oxidized by its memories.
What it wants to show is language, not time,
language getting up from its illness.

Can words burn?
Our great dictionary hesitates about the answer
behind backs worn by the conquerors.
Here and there ravaged by fire, 
places where words have lost their meaning
and meaning is but obscure flakes.
One such burnt-out word is “memory”.
Another yet smoldering word is “home”.

In such a world the notion of “angels”
is nothing but silence.
Like the angels in Vézelay, in the top room
with a view of the crusades:
human birds caught in the plaster,
their faces turned against the wall, as I 
turn my face against the bottom of the river,
a resigned silence
in azure-blue and dying red.

I broke out from my creation
that had just broken to pieces behind me.
I heard its bones and ribs rattle
trying to stand up
only to collapse in depressive dumbness.
But it’s a dumbness that doesn’t give in.
I’m on my way, whirling round,
sinking and rising,
floating farther and farther into the oblivion
that at last will be our home.
And our unyielding language.


I toss on my camp-bed,
entangled in the mosquito-net, covered in sweat:
How many refugees does a single person
have room for? Without the whisky
I couldn’t pull through the night.

Right now: a mother and her two girls
crawl through a rice field. She fears
that the little one shall cry
and the others in the group choke her.

A rumour has spread that I’m a doctor
and the column of refugees is turning this way ─
kids with stomachs like water bags
and women split inside out.
How many desperate souls are there room for in me?
Right now: someone rests on dripping oars
while the patrol boat glides past in the dark.
And suddenly all is searchlight.

When I try to stitch together
one people’s split-open belly
the other people, moving shadows
threaten to cut off my hands.
How much do we have to forgive?
Right now: they are wading through a stream
in order to escape the scenting dogs
and the cries Kill! Kill! Their past
has just been run down.

I’m turned into a camp for refugees,
my brain into a muddle of gray shacks
nailed together by hope and terror.
But also the mutual hatred is there
like the latrine stench throughout the days.

How can the half of the world that is burnt
be created anew in the part that was spared?
The smoke takes our reservations.
The smoke is full of faces
nothing but eyes and flight.


Those who survived the Holocaust
were to meet here at Hotel Lutetia
where Rue de Sèvres crosses Boulevard Raspail.
That was our resistance against history.

The barracks were a language from Bavaria
that reduced us to hair and shoes.
Our burnt thoughts hung on the fences.
Sheets of heaven and landscape were gone
as was everything intelligible.
But our dream of a meeting beyond time
was left in the rags that were we,
squeezed together in filthy sleeping cribs.
Even we who were but burnt bones
dreamed of the distant day
when we would rise up, rattling,
and go to meet the others’ bones.

Now we are at last at the place agreed on
and see our people approaching from afar.
with steps that no longer burn.
But we don’t yet believe they are real,
not strong enough to recognize them.
Therefore we stare into the hotel window
to see them come in the reflection.
We must meet each other carefully
lest our happiness be too rapturous
for us who have missed it so long.
At last we walk toward each other, determined,
as if we scattered ones now gathering
wished to help the retarded Creation.

After a moment’s hesitation
a blackened fragment of a hand caresses
a temple missed far too long.
And smoke that may have been a child
is cuddled by smoke in the shape of a mother.

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