No. 8-9


Ulrikka S. Gernes 

Translated from the Danish by Dan Marmorstein and the author 


The Averted Moment

An angel comes every night.
It sits on the edge of the bed.
A darkness, slightly darker
than night itself. A mouth
pleading for words. That I must tell
everything about surfaces and limitations.
Everything about the nature of substance:
temperature, density, volume.

I turn toward the wall,
a memory of Monday in my mouth,
and mumble the alarm clock’s dictate,
that the calendar steers the course,
a Filofax guards the time.
But no! The angel rustily rattles
the chains of the Hereafter, coercing
and threatening, wanting to know, right now,
everything about the distribution of resistance,
pressure and weight in 
the being of physical
possibilities. The structures of textures,
grooves, cracks, dewy grass
beneath the soles, the floorboards’
patina of silk and hidden splinters.
Exactly the way it feels:
a southern wind, sea mist, the brittle
wandering of an insect along the arm.

And don’t forget the tongue’s fan
of antennae, picking up the wine’s
frequency, deep from the grapevine’s root,
and that of the bread, in a recollection
of stone and mercy. Small, soft tentacles
for the joy of the wind’s promises
of wild herbs having strayed into
the May city’s fumes of petrol and lilacs.

Nothing is anywhere near enough.
My tormentor refuses to let go, insisting
on scalpel-like precision. Restlessly, stubbornly,
inciting goose bumps, giving me the shivers
up and down my spine, and shoving
a menacing miracle off in my direction,
like a sudden fall from a soaring height.
That I now must absolutely tear
the body’s veil: its fullness up against the other;
the skin’s elasticity in the fingertips’ orbit
across the star chart of freckles.
And the cells’ thousand compass needles
in the embrace, trembling, but having
no doubt about purpose or direction.
And the gravity, which lets the hair
fall down in cascades over the face
and the shoulders, sparkling
along the curve in the neck.
And the hand’s brush across a hip.
And the hand’s warm grasp around the hip.
And exactly, the way ramifying figures
indulge themselves in an orgiastic architecture,
in the direction of thousands of cells, in the 
direction of the light of the touch,
where arcades of membranes and folds
unfold themselves beneath the arches
of the lips, the lips’ slow parting,
the lips’ meeting. And the oral cavity,
to be exactly there and recognise
an unfamiliar flavour, the pinch of salt
and vanilla at the gateway to a world
within the world. And the snail, which lives there,
and the snail’s trail along furry paths,
reading the scar’s Braille of pain,
and igniting the swaying moons
of tenderness.

The cool ocean of the tear.
The sound of comets’ birth.
The dance through the blood’s hall of mirrors.
The sudden start that delicately spreads
the wings of sleep and opens up
the dreams’ passages.

The greedy angel demands details,
nuances; more than the 
blush, the source
of the blush. More than the pulse,
that which ignites its quivering haste.
Cannot be satisfied, cannot be bribed,
not be allured by quick measures
of toothache, life’s urge, anguish.

My guest of ashes and wishes
only wants to know the whirl of the senses
and offers ”in exchange” a picture
of the god’s averted gaze
in a distracted moment,
ours, on the planet, now.

The Steamed-Up Window


For the first and only time,
I have my father on my lap,
on the back seat of the car,
all the way home.
My father’s ashes.
The weight hits a counterweight
some remote place in my life.
A unit of measure without proportion
to another fullness: that something
so large can become so little,
that something so small
could ever weigh
so much. That it never
had entered my mind
that bones, tongue, hands
could be reduced to this.
Like a new-born, perhaps:
“Oh, isn’t he small?”
“No, his weight is quite normal.”
“Oh, isn’t he big?”
“Yes, it really hurt to deliver him
into the world.”
His mother carried
the same burden, a lead weight,
cradling it in the depths
of its own purpose,
as I do now.

My father, I have him on my lap,
I cradle him in my arms,
all the way home.
A matte-glittering lead weight
sinks, fathom by fathom
in bottomlessness, until the darkness
condenses and closes in,
and he’s an orphan
and I, his still childless child.

                                                   The urn is warm!

The sound of massive doors,
metal echoes in my ears,
and the oven’s hissing flame — that mouth,
that throat, and the ball bearings’ whisper
along the last chute.
A terminal industry
adroitly handles
the steel tools of dust.
In the end, on a stainless-steel shelf;
a small white wooden box,
the vehicle for a thought,
unthinkable in size.
Are the ashes alive with embers?
Does it have a pulse
hidden away in its powder or is it
my own body’s insistent circulation,
which transplants the blood’s temperature
to the dark chamber, the heart,
where he now lives, blood-swept?
It’s all in there:
the girl dreams’ jewellery box,
a diary with a lock, the question
to which this is
the forever unambiguous answer.

Even the smallest breeze manages
to lift my volatile source,
all of my fleeting completion
erected as a column
of dust. “Daddy, is this where
I become a human being?”
The one who, in her arms,
cradles a weight, which now
can be carried away
by a very small ship.

Deprived of its juices, the wood
can both burn and float on water,
as a wonder, and I shall
push you from land back
to the earth, your chief’s voyage.

The car rocks and sways,
sliding through a landscape,
which has withdrawn its fragrances.
I am here without a name,
a foreign entity. My body,
enshrouded in lime and loss, tips
over hard edges.
Like a grain of sand
in a clamshell, I am a traveller
with an impossible baggage.
It fills everything, demands
that I shall contain boundaries,
which move inward from within,
entrenchments of barbed wire
and mother-of-pearl,
where the shock’s echo
tears at the net of the nerves.

My father’s ashes in a stubborn dance,
whirling over all fences,
into all cracks and fissures,
fill sudden emptinesses, shrouding
my tender surfaces
in a skin-thin gauze
of dust and memory.

And I bleed through, breaking out
into a blossom of wet blotches,
this surfeit I am, of being,
and fumbling urge to be,
like dry leaves thirsting for water.

Condensation of life — the law
of the living. The body breathes,
yearns to get out of itself.
The car’s windows steam up,
veiling the direction’s white line.
Yes, April is cruel,
gives, but keeps no promises,
and time is a blind leader.
Like the window, which steamed up
with your last breath, Daddy,
in the exhalation beneath my lips.
The lead weight from my tongue sank
in vain, fathom by fathom,
and disappeared, meeting no ground.

That kiss is within all kisses, a cool
recollection of distance, dark waters.
Like the window on to which I now,
with a broken nail, inscribe your life.
And Daddy, no man has so precisely
made his reflection be known
along my lips’ glass horizon,
as you, in your whisper,
far darker than kisses,
when you passed Death to me.

On the Stairwell

You know those days, closed up
in the stairwell. You walk and walk.
Up and down the stairs of blood. Pressing
your weight against the banister of the genes.
Stumbling at the reunion with cells’ mirrors
and reflections at every platform, at every landing.
Is it really you, dragging scraping steps,
an awkward baggage of enzymes
up and down here?
Up and down between the darkness
in catalytic basement rooms
and chromosome attics’ flickering
Rembrandt light, turning off and on.
And who are you? And what are you doing here?
The soft sound of children’s voices,
cutlery and plates, the cuts into the daily bread,
a mother calling, and the TV mumbling
through the cracks.
A pulse beats behind every closed surface,
where the letter slit in flashes reveals
pale hands, a pair of frightened eyes,
and steps hastily tiptoeing away.
An envelope is torn open. A letter
is being read, eyes are being closed.
Possibilities dwell in seeds, tick in bombs.
The blood rushes toward the scene of the crime.
A blushing turns blue. Threads of scar tissue
tack precise moments into life’s cloth.
The scab, this little node of memory,
you carry on. Up and down in clockwise
twisted double helixes. Up and down,
generation after generation, sent into forever.
God’s and Darwin’s dance steps, a whirl
of dust and steam rising from empty bottles,
and a sequence of proteins
gather the sentence into a face,
almost yours — a life, maybe yours.
A chemical code, and yet, the molecules
are a poor alibi. Run, just run, you’ll never
get away with it, anyhow. Up and up. The stairs
turn and twist in tightened curves
around themselves. Leading nowhere.
And down and down. And back and forth.
You walk and walk, see your name in passing,
engraved in brass on a closed door.
On the next floor: same name embossed,
both on the left and on the right. And on
the next one again, and everywhere. You can just
walk right in. It blinks and shifts, all of it,
in passionate agreement, and the steps
are treading water in a source that’s impossible
to drink from or to drown in. Maybe somewhere
in between, in the trench between cause
and effect — quicksand, or what
is even worse. A precision of atoms,
so totally indifferent. Here, it’s just you
and all your eternity-cloned menagerie.
Just you and you and you. And do you really
want to send the Slinky on, a toy, a pastime
from top to bottom? And do you really
believe you can make fire from the flint,
do you really think you can invent
the wheel? Did you keep the manual?
At the end of the day, every notion
turns to ashes. Stop for a moment.
Let your eyes get used to the darkness,
to the tenderness, where butterflies
can overwinter until
the next season.




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everything published 
here remains 
with the authors.


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