No. 4 & 5


Håkan Sandell  

Translated from the Swedish by Bill Coyle  

The last one, Assault, translated by Margitt Lehbert  


The Pigeons

Healthy metallic-bright pigeons
born in the shadows of forests,
weak despite colorful armor,
silken scarves billowing brightly.
Delicate scarlet feet, perfect 
feminine talons, exquisite,
too, on the male of the species.
Heartbeats expressed as attire,
throats curved and slender as serpents’,
sea colors far up in fir-trees,
seek me out now after decades.
Hardly-heard tones to the present,
notes on diminutive tongues find
greatness at last in the memory.
Pigeons in shadowy pine-trees
when ecstasy shifts into clarity,
amber-red eyes in the darkness.
Also where you lay broken,
leftovers hawks left in clearings,
fluttering shards of grey opal 
weighing the wind down, the forest
stood like a temple around you.
Wings that the waters reflected,
gracing the air and the sunlight.
Meetings with you as anathema,
animate litter, not manifold
greenery that sings in one’s vision,
chased along over the sidewalks
leaving irregular circles
scratched with your feet’s curled deformities,
give back an image of purity
rinsed in grey, grape-tinted clusters
trampled down there by the corner.
Lines that recall Leonardo’s
are quickly worked over by footwear.
Soot-covered pigeons are reddened; 
even in death they are blatant obscenities.
Pigeons that foolishly wobbled
in circuits from dinner to danger;
spat-upon thread-bare and clownish,
resigned past the point of timidity, 
more locked than the flame of a candle.
Yet there is in the pigeon’s blue highness
cast in the form of  the shadow
of a statue of horse and rider
or, when its wings are extended,
a symbol of gossamer visions,
a hint of its earlier existence
in a world that was worthwhile and nurturing
when it lived in the forests’ dominion.
Less refined minds will continue
to consider it litter and vermin—
are pigeons still able to fly, even?
If you sometime should happen to see them, 
sickly and slovenly, sitting 
dour in the gutters of rooftops,
close beside eggs that lie rotting,
you will see plainly a place where
a lusterless poetry flares now and then
in memory of all of its losses.

To an Child Two Weeks Overdue 

Pardon a complete stranger for pestering, 
but if beauty, good will and love have ever 
worn a human face, it must be your mother’s. 
She looks so welcoming I have to wonder 
if you’re not being unnecessarily skeptical. 
You’re expected, the white, tightly-stretched 
blouse where the bra is struggling mightily 
to restrain that swelling so as not to overwhelm one 
with its friendly generosity ought to be enough. 
But maybe she has a lazy-bones onboard, someone 
who’d rather stay there in peace and quiet 
in that crock pot’s lovely, honeyed sweetness 
and the magic potion of that rounded crucible 
than come out in public, exposed and freezing? 
The capsule like a sail, soft and flexible 
vast as the whole world, though a mouse hole. 
You stand upright—the sides soft as seashell— 
and if you decide you want to lie down and rest 
your mother holds you as in a swan’s egg. You yourself 
are the light where the nights tuck you into bed; 
pale star—in ten light fingers 
you sparkle, you spin, with head down. 
Do you know the secret, just before you spring, 
of the world that opens, are you able now, 
in that inwardness where the red lips say nothing 
to see that when your thin, silken hair 
reaches the roughness of her golden brush 
the sun and moon will be waiting for you there! 
When you’ve tired of your container’s marine 
life and the sea swell’s untroubled peace 
in this, the most feminine of places, and finally 
make up your mind to come out in a hurry 
you’re going to be proud, I know, 
of this new being you find holding you. 
And that you, despite it all, have come out of the night’s 
grip to horizons immeasurably broader 
will be clear, and later, when you’re squirming beside 
your mother, as if nothing more than a drop 
fallen from the nakedness of her hands or feet, 
know that you once again, like a chameleon, 
will find yourself in the unfamiliar body. 
Brown-eyed, as if taken from the shell of the chestnut, 
Or blue eyed, trickled from the greater stream, 
center of that milk-scented creation, 
naked and newly hatched and perfect. 
Stretched out from that arch where you reclined, 
rolled out to full length from that fold of velvet, 
you’ll be greeted by an intimate admiration. 
The rounded stomach and the little behind 
fresh from the garden of roses sprung , 
how ephemeral, like a cloud, yet how earthly you are. 
Welcome, little night-guest, eyes still closed, 
loosened from the heavens, rosy star; 
like a crèche’s Jesus, dreamy, illumined 
twenty-pointed, perfect little human, 
most wondrous, most beautiful, most linen-soft you, 
with the lines of a wave and the skin of a flower. 
Come now, come out from your rounded house 
don’t linger any longer in your corner, in the shadows. 
Large in your loneliness, alone in your bowl, 
crawl your way out of an outlived world. 
The hold can no longer contain your journey 
to awakening and the patient completion that waits. 
But given how long you’ve already waited, 
you’ll probably climb, or so I imagine, 
directly up in your mother’s lap 
And be able both to count and to comb your hair. 
Your mom is going to do it all for you, 
she already breathes your breath—and nursing? 
the little leaves of your hands flutter 
on their stems—I swear it—as your thirsty 
mouth finds its sanctifying raspberry touchstone. 
Like the necks of swans, your arms as you sling them, 
thin and fair, around your mother 
in a moment of mutual, mild seduction. 
Come out for a while--you can always go in 
again—I promise you, just like Aladdin 
promised his reluctant djinn –

if that embrace doesn’t meet with your satisfaction 
Come out, in any case, don’t wait forever! 
Come out in these years when your mother is young 
and believes so hopefully in life’s wonder 
and that it still can transform everything. 

Soul After Death 

"Now I see clearly that a warming sun 
was my body to me and that the converse blackness 
of light’s abstractions has chilled me through. 
I miss the body, and the warmth of blood. 
I miss my graying skin, and the daybreak’s 
cough, the arteries’ refilling from the heart 
in a strong flood through my autumn colors, 
the tattoos as soft as on silken cloth. 
In the aged body, in spite of it all 
the remains of youth rejoiced in the present. 
The shoulders were worth every bit as much as wings. 
A seraphic shrine surrounded the pigskin. 
The watch’s miniature toy-world on the wrist 
contained exhilarating depths in its hours, 
the minutes shimmered more than the eternal stars. 
I miss the brain’s stability—a gem 
of clarity, miss the rib-cage’s breathing, 
the sex’s hardness, the muscles that tense 
in strength, the blood streaming out to the hands 
to turn around, then, as in the crucified man’s, 
and that the air of what is fine and old and transitory 
is able to draw into the lungs once more. 
Every scar a precious memory, abandoned, 
now, with the wedding ring grown fast to the finger 
and the body itself, so soon obliterated. 
If I nevertheless, for one turn more, 
were permitted to step out of the abstract and into 
my earthly tabernacle, I long to go back 
like the angel Gabrielle to Mary’s innocence, 
to the old security of a point to hold fast to 
when identity turns away, and in its absence 
the empty space is flooded ecstatically." 

The Evil One

Little enough at first to come in through the keyhole, 
as I learned later on, bee-sized, it nonetheless
retained a kind of graceful abnormality when, 
full grown at one hand high, its wings spread in a show, 
it got to introduce itself with a little nod. 
In the dark countenance two eyes as black as coal
cut through the room, the body so trim and so athletic
his arched back didn’t make him look the least bit elderly. 
The creature stood there, black on black as in a rainbow 
for the night, smiling, with his mustache’s sparse whiskers 
trembling in time to the gusts of his sulfuric breath. 
“You called on Us,” he hissed, “you called us with your poems,
their viper’s beauty and their underground blue mysteries…” 
An elemental? A homunculus? A Nephilim? 
I wondered from what ancient race he was descended.
“Do you suppose,” he went on, “you can simply go
as you see fit among Our ranks? Well, let me tell…” 
The little dark thing got a smack upside the head 
that knocked his golden earring off; he started whining, 
praying, imploring—really a pathetic character—
and offering me at the same time power unimaginable. 
The worst was when he started staying up all night 
working on drafts of poems and then expecting gratitude. 
He complained often, too cold, too damp and through his chattering 
pike’s teeth he stammered, “Someone really ought to set
fire to something, oh the red flames would be magical”;
And then, one winter evening, purely by accident,
my manuscript burned up, that big, colorful tract
of morning stars and blue-black brier-roses that
the fiend had illustrated but that he, rebellious 
as always, stocked with oaths and curses, too. Time passed;
he started growing thinner, then, and stopped his nagging.
He shrank and paled, turning more bluish; he began
sleeping all day, while evenings he sat up and fanned
himself vainly with his dry wings, feverish and sweltering.
The skin hung from his backbone like a sail gone slack,
his buttocks, once upon a time grape-blue and tight,
withered, and looking at his wings I could see right
through to the pale arteries where the blood had dried.
I made the little wretch a bed from a shoe carton,
and though he found my sympathy repulsive, I
heard only the occasional obnoxious comment
as I rubbed Vaseline into his wings to try
to ease the awful dryness, and in my hands his long 
ears were so chapped and brittle that I nearly cried.
I fed him with a coffee spoon: a sip of bullion,
a drop of rum sometimes; and this although he tried
to clamp his lips shut tight; talk about devil’s spawn!
Still, he was company; in the evenings I could tell 
that he was there by glimmerings from his direction
like the last hints of light and fire in the sunset.
One morning he lay cold and rigid in his carton. 
It was a shock; the loneliness came welling up, 
then, and I wept for him on his descent to hell. 
My sorrow was unfettered, wild, irrational, 
and for a long time I just left him lying there. 
Eventually, I went and burned him and his carton 
and hid away the pieces of his skeleton 
from my eyes’ sorrow, hoping, too, to shield myself
from the incomprehension of both foe and friend.
Before I did so, though, I took the time to measure
his corpse: twenty four centimeters end to end.

On an Eggshell 

One time back there in the twentieth century 
I found left behind in my cabin 
on the Berlin train, in the Polish section, 
a sucked out eggshell stuck with 
a straw of hay like a ray of sunlight. 
Empty and hollow as a ping-pong-ball 
rounded as soundly as a silkworm’s cocoon 
a little cranium to be born from 
where someone anonymous like a god 
or a demon had sucked out the life 
yet left completely undivided 
heaven and earth in that oval. 
Like a seashell encompasses the ocean 
I listened at that firm shell 
to vanished summers, silent tears, 
to the wing-beats over childhood fields 
of birds, bees and dragonflies; 
heard the echo of empty schoolyards 
and touched the limestone in that armor 
as if poking at chalk on the asphalt 
with its naïve pictures’ depictions 
of the mysteries of the obscure sex. 
A world preserved and enclosed 
behind brittle walls and fully alive 
almost like on that lost, liquid sun. 

Time and Space 

My time is now, my place is here, 
the password has long since been spoken— 
I don’t need to seek it anymore. 
But as a wing will test the air 
the eye has trouble settling on a stronghold. 
It hurts itself on every kind of trash,
on all things mediocre, unappealing, 
clumsily constructed, narrow: 
is scraped and battered, slams into the ceiling 
and blinks a little in its bruise 
till—bend backwards, now—it rises 
and takes its freedom in a widened hall 
as if intending to annex that space. 
There’s only so much one can take 
of closed rooms and near suffocation. 
Easy to lose the power to create 
and crouch down, though the heavens generate 
ceaselessly new frescoes overhead 
with clouds so airily monumental 
they only leave behind small remnants 
Of the blue that had begun it all. 
My eye dies out in your apartments, 
grows grey, is clouded, the world falls 
and only flares up in a lighter’s glow 
just before the newer greyness of the smoke. 
The roof is low, and I am a caged creature; 
a hasty glance, nothing left to lose. 
Treason, I know, to turn my back,
but I fled, out into nature, 
to Norwegian mountains, Irish rivers, 
and drenched myself in wildest ecstasy; 
songs and rejoicing, my head seemed borne along
as on the waves of a strong flood 
but a disturbance that goes into one—
bracing itself—or out into the woods
must one day faithfully return. 
The principle in question is still freedom. 
They crack my shell but not before the kernel
is ripe, so golden, sweet and perfect
it no longer needs its shell’s protection
I feel what I have always felt: 
the powers that labor to annihilate
precisely balance out those that create
And if some kind of task remains, it maybe 
to fit around the emptiness
something that resembles casting molds.
I let the details lapse into dusk again, 
from the stubble blue I want to make
a color print that will preserve the time,
a weight for that which hovers, fillings
for the quarried out and hollow. 
Sometimes from these grey quarters, comes—although
this doesn’t happen every day—an artist
who with the pointed sharpness in a pencil
can give the clouds a clearer contour 
and can in places recreate the space
where at evening—like a god— 
the blue air fills it graciously

The Assault

The back absorbs a first surprise;
the blow reaches you - blind arrows
directed against everything and none.
Small tentative boyish styles
search the street for greatness.
They have sent the beginner, 
watched by the choir's gauging glances
awaiting the solo, before the semi-circle.
The second blow comes from the side
as expected, my left arm blocks it
and the right one follows lithe
as the paw of a cat of prey, shocking,
a crunch and it echoes like aspen leaves,
bent branches, through the pack.
I now repay hurt with hurt
and there is no other way to learn.
Now he senses, on the world's backside
so to say, a merciless closeness,
how warmth seeps into his Adidas,
urine and blood, and how this carries 
the steps of every transformation, flowing
from wide streams to a trickle
where one despite all is part of the
secret community of humiliation.
So new, confusing, to meet
the loving pliancy of the body
and how there's a sudden flash above 
the eyebrows - bewildering - a punch,
where a happy omnipotence should have
torn down all obstacles for a surge in the I,
the victim gives the corrective unasked.
Five men behind him, but the boy's smallness
at the foot of night, his delicate features
and the twitch of tension in his rose skin
awaken above all the desire to stroke
his cheeks: I swear by Samson's blindness, 
by the lamp, with which Psyche
inspected the naked wing, Gethsemane
with Peter's sword and by Brutus's knife,
that I wished for a different version
and dealt out the next heavy blow
without the smallest drop of anger.
Is this the reason one emerges alive
from adversities, and weakness
likes to kill us? But the life 
of the lamb, is it not incarnated in
the body of the boy shuddering here,
a felled wild animal whose saliva
drips from white, even teeth?
Can I stoop and untie the shoes' latchets
or - Master! kiss the maltreated hands,
without the next man pressing the dirty star
of his shoe print onto the center of my brow?
Is this the point, that the high cranium
and the soft filling of the brain
that weave identity with delicate threads
burst like a soap bubble in the void?



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with the author's.


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