Selected poems Translated from the Norwegian by John Irons

Unfolding (2016)

Week 6

1 April is known of old as a dangerous day. Everyone can be fooled, and even though death is granted immunity on that day, he too can be cheated, fortunately, but it means taking a chance, and in the Carnegie Hall in New York Simon Barere is at the piano playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto when a blood-clot in his brain blacks out the hall for him and lets him die – perhaps in the first movement, perhaps in the third, while Ma at the same moment is practising on the violin.

She has talent, she has been told that, but the gaps are lengthening between each time she plays. Why is never properly accounted for, but it is possible that the by now four millimetre-long neural tube from now on insists on playing first fiddle. That is roughly how Ma explains it later, a play on words, and perhaps it is correct, perhaps not.

To know something for certain is not possible.

Pa senses this, he is sitting under the lamp reading Aristotle’s ideas about the superlunary world, the one that stretches out from the moon’s orbit and away. That it is to be understood as quarks and parallel universes in the future is not even on the horizon yet, but Pa has a propensity for amazement. He is only twenty-two and the potential for everything that can happen is infinite, and he is going to become a father, but he does not yet know this, he does not know that he will have a daughter, he does not know that the cells are dividing, that they have already become an embryo, as yet only an integral tube from mouth to rectum, and that something resembling gill

arches will become jaws and ears. He does not know yet that he will be eagerly listened to by a child, does not know yet that he himself will have to bear the burden of history, and then pass it on, just as all humans have to bear the burden of history and pass it on.

Week 38

Five thousand light years from the earth, where it is coldest in the universe, the Boomerang Fog spreads out.

The certainty about the light years and temperature out there, minus 272° Centigrade, would have caused Ma to shiver in her thin-woven maternity frock and wish for some warmer clothing, for example the spacesuit the first Japanese astronaut, Takao Doi, wore. He is admittedly wearing a green T-shirt, and not the white Skywalker outfit when he, several years later, throws a boomerang inside The International Space Station. The boomerang whirls away from him, at the same speed as on the earth, describes a circular path round the capsuled space before returning, and he grasps it with the elegance of weightlessness, just as the Australian hunter catches his throwing stick after it has whirled up red dust and animal hair, there in the Simpson desert, Northern Territory, but what if the hunter’s and astronaut’s instrument were to become unruly and not return? Would it then be on an unintelligible journey towards, for example, Nirvana, or would it get lost or be swallowed up by the incomprehensible Centaur constellation?

For the time being, no weaknesses in either theory or practice have been detected, and despite the lack of practice, Ma understands what must be done, and she attempts to throw, quite precisely, boomerang or not, gravitation or not, upwards, outwards.

Password: Chairos (2013)

 Inheritance CDV, The assignment II

The birth canals have long since been forcedly traversed

the Navajo-white mother’s milk has long since leaked out into the Milky Way

and we have become desperate in a world of misrule and injustice

but here there is still a democracy of dark berries and antioxidants

bulbs in their casing, entrails in their cavity

gardens and forests in the chlorophyll universes where nitrogen and old betrothals

still gleam in the light of the experienced moon, and the moon

honourably nominates us, indicates that for us space travel

can be the way out, but first of all we are directed to follow

the law’s wild imperative:

Continue to be a human being!

Inheritance CDXVII, Spring format

The purity of the exact sciences and the vagrancy of thought is stuffed into an

already overfull April, which has to be expanded from thirty to forty-five days.

The amino-acids crackle, and I get a quickstep-understanding of the world

a blackbird’s sense of time.

The second is lengthened to spring format, the larvae measure the new day-cycles with their own lives

there will be beak on beak, song on song, and I become untamed once more

flee to the forest, where over-light and undertones become allies, and

the stars have finally become real, even those that are extinguished.

While the Higgs boson gnaws (2011) 

Inheritance CCCXXX, Experimentum crucis I

I’m trying to write forth the world, nothing less than the world.

The effort encompasses almost everything, but the order of birds with its

galactic span eludes me, and therefore the poem lays the ground waste

crushes ordering and word classes and attempts to rise

while I clear away, wingless and earthbound.

But birds don’t distinguish between words and kurrrhh and numbers and themselves,

they combine everything in a kek kek kek kek keeaah or prrrt kabrik prrrt kabrik

in an inspired flight from Babel or any other place where humans have

lost language or words have razed or dictated, and

birds are more distinct than anything else I know,

with their authoritative appeal they cut the day into three, five, eighteen gleaming entities:

Kekekekeke woikawoikawoika – come to this tree, to this school of

mathematics, moistened with dew and broken with light, where the larvae learn more yet

more about their metamorphosis in an unpredictable equation; will they become like butterflies

or will they become food for songbirds?

The fox visits, calculates, prowls

the grey shrike adds, raises everything to the next degree and Corvus corax flies in a

new formula for this day with three korp, korp, korp, and blue birds multiply

kaykay kaykaykay kaykaykya right up until the faculty is approved and

stabilised due west of the nest, where owls’ pellets hit the forest floor and break

into worthy fragments of mouse skeleton and hare’s fur.

And light solves the formula so easily, so easily, for

light = light, and 

the days change to having twenty-six hours,

the smitten years whirr around their largest moons.

It can’t be more beautiful than that. 

It can’t be more scientific than that.

Inheritance CCCXXXVI, Chlorophyll ritual I

To arrive at the third millennium, half disarmed and half armed 

for green thirsts for my diluted millennium blood, or

green avoids me and will survive me, or are we of the same force?

Am I perhaps to stand here in the north of Europe, along with the ever-returning 

chlorophyll, and slowly once more have to translate everything into rough-hewn poetry

while light, water and master sonnets fall and splinter and are spread over towns and roads 

and have to be recovered and returned in circulation with trees and birds hereabouts,

but also with everything else I still will want to desire: temperate

regions and infinitesimal quarks that covertly rule over life and death,

but most of all the thirty-six good people that at any time hold

up the world.

psi (2007)

Inheritance CCXCVIII, First metaphysical excursion 

What is it I can see? Don’t ask me, I can’t give an account of it.

I get another attack, my teeth chatter, my kneels fail me and nor am I this time in any

real danger of my life, but fall to the ground with visions and convulsions and out-turned eyes.

‘Hello, do you know what day it is? Can you say your name? Can you move your toes?’

someone shouts to me as I come round again.

I don’t answer that either, understand that I must give up my personal history.

It has been partly erased, is partly so soiled that it is unpresentable, coated as it is with

foam and dreams.

Instead, I become a convert who leaves home and land. Make the poem completely homeless

so it can first roam far and wide and then tell a history of the world.


I give up everything so it will be able to provide and account, and no matter how stutteringly helpless

I let it speak out confidently and display its true old-fashioned heart.

If not, if it is not capable of surviving, if not you can never see it, and you must; it must be

love at first sight, whether you know what you’re talking about or not

whether you have ever loved or not, - I mean; the poem must, with its naive flirtation,

slowly bring you to your knees and imperceptibly rob you of your senses, and after that it must be

missing beneath your skin for the rest of your life, like a stolen secret.

Inheritance CCCXXXI, Works of Love IV

Struck once more by a rare high-frequency sound, inaudible as if from dog whistles or just inaudible with

a distinct aura, as if from a strange sound faculty that splinters all known megahertz

and spreads out that also the innermost archives, also that which world history does not mention

exists in a distant pulsar or in an overgrown sector somewhere, in some walls and


everything sinks and rises at the same time, keeps the visible in check, keeps the inexhaustibility of the

invisible possible right in the world and a sudden agreement between us to inherit

each other alive, to mix luminous cells now, steel and unknown goods from the holy

future do not only apply to us two among other lovers – no, everything is included: stones and

plants and animals stand in the same testamentary guild, also those who have been disinherited,

whether they know it or not, whether they want it or not, and


we are to inherit each other, not on account of a sudden, rare high-frequency sound, not

as a result of the doubtful mandate of this poem, but to inherit each other in reality, in a truly

revolutionary and romantic act that admittedly may appear ridiculous on a sober

day as this – but we know better.

The Paradise Effect (2004)

Clubs Daggers Cutlasses


...glottis, leather skin, lymph nodes, capillary loops, lumbar vertebrae, meniscus, synovial joints, cerebellum, glia cells, adrenal cortex, Bowman’s capsule, lunar bone, pupil, ureters, nasal septum, occipital lobes, appendix, jugular arteries, cranial cavity, portal vein, Merkel’s disc, hymen, wisdom teeth, sublingual gland, Cremaster muscle, lachrymal, sinusoidal node, ilium lumbar muscle, iris, eustachian tubes, anytenoid cartilage, mitral valve, cuneiform bone, pericardium, ball joint, rib cartilage, parietal lobe, arteries, tailor muscle, inner anklebone...



 In writing I must have reversed the numbers

In writing I must have reversed the numbers and automatically and with a firm hand 

I have written 3002 instead of 2003. I simply take this as a sign that it will become true that we 

will be there together, on a April day a thousand years in the future.

I write April 3002. The magpies are kicking up a racket above trees and roofs. The colour of the 

new grass is ancient, but it lays its young pigment round us. It is like after the great revolutions. 

We have survived and learned so much, how we can be interconnected, for example. 

 We still risk there being light-years between us, but the distances will be able to be overcome 

in the space of seconds and with the aid of clarity of thought and purity of the heart.

To be on the safe side I am therefore already conjuring both my and your atoms into a new 

incarnation, for I do not want to miss these future connections, the magpies’ 

riotous play under the enormous spring sky, that the world will still be bursting with life.

The Titan Gate (2001)

Goddess report III

I behave like a goddess, become involved in cosmic affairs, it does not pass 

unnoticed but I take the attacks as caresses, parry with myrtle, ash-root, with 

fist and knee and omnipotence float like nectar, drip from finger-tips. 

I carry the commonest attributes, one day apples - as many as I want - imported from 

Brazil - another day a titanium-light, collapsible sceptre of unknown origin, easily 

transportable and, 

to take the external characteristics first, I am walnut-coloured, green-eyed, lightly draped, 

am most often close to the throne, close to a stellium of extinguished suns. I am half-human, 

half-suffering, seriously flirting with the demigods or engrossed with the sea-salt, with the 

former Congo, with patching felt shoes, or quite simply taken up with being worshipped - 

by the elements, by the universe.

January 2000

It is the great winter, we stretch the degrees of longitude 

stretch one through the Cape of Good Hope, past freezing point

through the Fimbul winter, pull it across feldspar, pirates and dangerous triangles

through flights of hummingbirds and wild canaries, we pull and 

pull as if our hearts would break.


Coccyx, Kokkux, Cucculus


Are stars the souls of the dead that have slipped into heaven I am a complete ignoramus 

but I believe and believe, I stamp five armies up out of the ground, they are not kindly disposed, 

I look around, it will soon be spring, who can be my legitimate heir, 

perhaps the cuckoo, the bird that calls its own name.


Goddess report VIII

I am now in the worldly realm, midway between the Middle Ages and the year three thousand, 

it is a fine age, I am of high rank, clad in leather, ritual, narrow-shouldered

have control over the armada and my leadership style is unlike the generals’; it is hesitating and vacillating. I take frequent breaks, open and close a red lacquered box fairly unmotivatedly, 

fumble with my keys, fumble with the main plan, rub away at a piece of light amber and allow 

myself to be distracted by the fact that Botticelli also bore himself stylishly, that he painted light exactly 

as it looked when it wedged itself in an atrium in his home town or twined itself in Flora’s 

flower-bedecked hair – this light which has anticipated my age, which is completely 

unchanging and I listen when the stories of the famous naval battles are told, of Atlas, 

of brute strength, of the time a grandchild’s child ate up a whole plate of millet. 

I guard the instincts, gleaming flecks in the dark cosmos of the body, but everything in its own time, 

now I finally make a challenge, stand guard over us: Ratio, ratio and ratio! There are so many 

helpers; stonemasons, weavers and laser engineers, I gather them round me, hand out 

camp beds. Let us sleep under an open sky, let us celebrate midsummer together, 

let us be friends.



Someone must have anointed our eyes while we slept, for

we have lost a film tonight, guilt

is obliterated, wilderness opens up

for a while you are blind, for a while I can see and

I lay out the cloth with the gifts, a hammer, woodwork, small cutlery

you build blindly, shelter upon shelter are knocked together

for a while you can see, for while I am blind and

I sip you, consume you mouthful by mouthful

you slice a piece out of us, put on the lid and then

we can sleep once more, undaunted

for something will see us behind an edge of vision, something will prize us open.


The Drift of Days and Nights (1998)

Amongst all that is awake II

I rely on the brain, I rely on it for this: that it controls the chemistry which is always on 

the go with its whooshing and its sugary mix. That it fixes enough oxygen to me to 

get along. That it keeps at a distance the very worst in language, that which circulates bold and 

unabashed inside its delicate mazes and binds together fat and protein and words of wisdom. That it 

coldly rejects that which rises to the unrecognisable, which concurs with everything people say: 

shopkeepers, newsreaders, vicars. Invoked or not the words do not be afraid

come, they filter in and out of my head like a small god. Then I am exposed to it again, protect 

myself with small shields against all the noise, gaze at the clouds, the moon, the blacked out ships -

everything that holds my tiny world together, and I put my trust in the brain’s intrepid agents: 

they shoot like marksmen, coolly smuggle in whatever is in short supply, the usual: 

faith, hope, love.


Aus der neuen Welt

The pulse is no longer at rest, the right elbow and lower arm of a left-handed player begin to throb. 

The ears are freed, are on a journey and there are cries of da capo.

The cellist gets up. Her taffeta dress swings as she greets the audience. She holds 

her instrument in front of her and her ash-blond hair falls down in front of her face, and 

the sound that only hundreds of hands can produce sets the blood circulation going and 

causes the faces of all the audience to flush. The one who is afflicted with gout forgets his torments. 

The manic one floats on the applause and will come and look for the first violinist behind the stage 

afterwards, offer champagne and pleasure trips. Hands, lifted high, cause programmes and 

pastilles to drop to the floor, fibres loosen from fabrics, thoughts work away. People whispers 

Slavonic names they cannot possibly have any natural knowledge of, and from the 

murky outer reaches of the memory images emerge: of plains, of wide Czech rivers and 

villages in autumn. Mighty theories of the world seem clearer. A fable begins to take 

shape: of bringing together a blind person and an invisible one. And dreams: of letting one’s hands 

continue the conductor’s movements in a semaphoring of enthusiasm. More cries of da capo, 

but those acclaimed give another deep bow and leave the hall for the last time and the applause gradually dies down.

For everything is brought to an end. Everything. Also the blood which will no longer coagulate when 

it is released but become foul-smelling water.

Music on the other hand belongs to a different regime and will continue to bring people clad in 

taffeta and silk to a state of readiness, and lead to euphoria, to sweet confusion.


This ideal moment

Happiness waits - elevated and grave.

I go to mass: Omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori.

An adventurous life awaits me.

I do not waver in the face of it.

Someone says: Wait and see, but I do not wait.

I take the name Roslin.

Follow the guiding star.

Gain master energy.

Float freely in the world’s palate.

Strange. This ideal moment persists.



1. A portrait of Giorgio De Chirico,

I have drawn it on the basis of a photograph.

His ear lobes were unusually large, presumably a manifestation of self-healing abilities.


2. Dice of bone and marble,

showing signs of use, have been cast across an oak table in front of the fire in the room where the members of the Hanseatic League tramped around in their primitive leather boots and the women prayed: “Mikael, Peter, Johannes, Andreas, Lavrans, Thomas, Olav, Klemet and Nikolas. All holy men, take good care of me by day and by night, my life and my soul.”

3. two rolls of linoleum,

what am I to do with them? Difficult to answer, I can’t bring myself to throw them out at any rate. The floors of the house have already got carpets, woodwork, are exposed to invisible wear. Perhaps I will remove the Turkish carpet with its imported cockroaches, admittedly it has a distinctive light yellow colour woven into it, but it collects dust; a nest of textile fibres, mites, hairs and skin cells.

But it’s out of the question, I bought it off Leila. She has woven it and sold it to me.


4. Mirrors were rare and expensive in the Middle Ages. Now they hang about the house and I often look into them, but not particularly inquiringly. They cause the rooms to expand, though only apparently and if I should remain standing in front of them, I do not see my own mirror image but normally veiled images of North African landscapes, mirages, sand, water beneath the soil.


5. The lupin seed rattle quietly.

Have lain in an envelope for three years. I had forgotten them. They were fetched from the dry slopes along the windswept coast. An orange container ship foamed its way forward across the horizon, you sat in the car and sang; there was so much oxygen there that we could have ascended into the air.


6. The heavy Buddha sculpture of stone.

Whoof. It was a dead weight to move around.


7. The washing machine,

white, chaste, masculine, faithful.


8. The same age as me, the tree.

I envy the tree. It is to guard the house. It lets everyone in, but keeps Astrea and Leda in their places, knows about the empty bird’s eggs, the crow feathers, the steel pens, hundreds of handwritten letters, the films: Kodak 1958, Fujicolor 1979 and the garden party last year, admittedly not in the picture.


We begin to stammer

 We leaf through ‘Das ewige Antlitz’, a book with photographs of death masks.

The features of Napoleon and Beethoven in particular soften the unease roused by the other photos,

 it looks perhaps as if for them the battle has been won.

We are visibly relieved, we sit in the shade of the gingko tree and talk to each other in our 

mixed languages: about the course of the river in a bird’s eye view, certain unhappy people who take 

revenge for the strangest of reasons, glistening slate and spotted orchis.

We have surrendered to the heat and the strange landscape gazes at us.

We sit in the shades, close to a bulwark of light, red sand and lizards, and the weight of 

childhood causes out feet to swell, makes great gaps in the memory and we 

begin to stammer about the snow-clad mountains back home, the beetle in the bird’s beak, the sea that 

washes and washes.


© Torild Wardenær 2013