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No. 7

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Gunnar Harding  

 
Translated from the Swedish by Roger Greenwald  
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FÜR ELISE

Not driving nails into the piano is the issue,
not setting fire to the curtains.
Itís not a question of freedom from your upbringing
but an upbringing for a freedom that exists
only occasionally. Not to take on
the stiffened expressions in the family portrait above the piano,
the ones that make the notes go sour
when unpracticed fingers search for her,
stumbling across the keyboard.
To sit in a chair thatís altogether too big
and read the encyclopedia volume by volume
until the entire known world
trickles into you in alphabetical order
and then to re-create it with an erector set perforated by small holes
through which freedom passes as through a strainer.
To be slowly filled by it
as the flowerbed is filled by the water from the pipe
until itís flooded or a pink geranium finds its way up.
 

PRE-RAPHAELITE DANCE

Itís in our sleep we dance so well
through fields of towering cowslip.
Itís in the era before Raphael

before perspective came to light.
Darting through the air: a swallow.
Itís in our sleep we dance so well.

Each person and each human act
take on the form they have inside us.
Itís in the era before Raphael.

From yellow bells a melody rings,
the only song I wish to dance to.
Itís in our sleep we dance so well.

A second-shard I see myself
as tiny, in the bird-eyeís mirror.
Itís in the era before Raphael.

Deep underground great maggots thunder
but the cowslips drown them out.
Itís in our sleep we dance so well.
Itís in the era before Raphael.
 

BUNK JOHNSON IN NEW IBERIA

The sunshine dries into dust
in the brown-red fragrance from the Tabasco factory.
The furrows in his face, decades of stubble fields,
the truck tiresí dry rubber lips in a time that isnít his,
flaking like the plank wall that his shadow has pressed into.
Rusty springs force their way through the driverís seat,
his ribs press through his overalls.
A deep drag makes his cigarette butt glow.

He waits in the heat outside the Western Union office
waits for the teletype machine behind the roll-down shade
to start ticking: Come back sweet Papa.

Back to the beginning
when only the hundred thousand notes beyond the scale
are real.
Back to the city
where all roads began,
as the heart pumps blood
out into the arteriesí ever finer system of passageways.
His face young again, reflected in the trumpetís brass
pressed against the lips that force his breath
through dark labyrinths
where the pistons go up and down inside the valves.
They shunt the air through a verdigrised maze
until it rushes out the bell note by note,
darkness given power to get sorrow moving
until all feet are tapping.

Back out onto the roads to a thousand towns
where the pulsebeat is the sledgehammer
that pounds tent pegs into the earth.
The circus tent still rises every night
to a height of 1,000 yards.
ďTiger RagĒ tears loose from the trumpet
in a streaked salto mortale from trapeze to trapeze
by acrobats in patched tights
medallioned with constellations in brass.
When the drum roll breaks off they fall to the ground.
The fire-eater walks around the ring
swallowing gaslight after gaslight.
Later he sleeps calmly all night
with his head between the tigerís jaws.

Every dawn they move on
 and leave behind only
  an elephant turd as big as a soup bowl
   on a deserted main street.

Until the labyrinth of roads grew narrower and narrower,
became tunnels through sunshine always more intense
and the dust whirled.
Amid the stubble fields the freight trainís pistons slow down,
hiss air out into the landscape,
which trembles and disintegrates.
On the sign he reads NEW IBERIA.
It was the town all roads led to
and no roads led away

from the back yard where the dust eats the truck
that eats its way ever deeper into the dust
until after ten years
the roll-down shade snaps up at Western Union
and someone shouts:
Telegram from New Orleans to Mr. Johnson!
He gets up, takes the piece of paper and reads:
Please come back....

 

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