May 1, 2019KR OnlinePoetry

Notes for One of Death’s Speeches

Translated from Swedish by Victoria Häggblom

I was foretold, foretold to
be foretold, foretold to show
a way out of here, I was
foretold to deal with things, foretold to press
nails of morphine into
the flesh of the globe, foretold to see
entire continents
convulse, foretold to see gigantic
body cells go numb, knocked
down and splattered on
the flicker of white sheets stretched
from pole to pole, foretold
to be foretold, foretold to flash
in a spherical cranium where mile-long
vocal cords called me by
different names:

I became the memory
of a better life, the sound
of playing cards tumbling
since 1421, became
the private eye’s search for
his own gloom, became heavy water
lashed to the fish’s back, became the alley
where people sat like frost in sunshine, became a
book of fairy tales thumbed through
by future children, a red-and-white
dress, a school bag
with a shoulder strap of tears, I was the steam engine’s
lost metatablet, the bone cancer
in the long arm of the law and a man far too many
had loved to pieces, I was
a missing date in the calendar, a buried
telescope full of dirt, poetic
images no one understood, the ice-cold liquor
hitting a drunk’s liver, I was
handshakes never given, the butcher
who shortened his life with
each blow, I was moon, blue gold, and
the felled oak’s crown where small bark boats
had towed some wind, I was
first aid for
the last human alive and foretold to show
a way out of here, foretold to
be foretold, foretold to deal with things
like the flickering of white sheets
stretched from pole to pole

I was gasoline
in the engine of darkness, the ticking meter
between your ribs, a negative response
to the millionaire’s question, a dead
heat between love and sex, the frightened
rabbit’s eye inside the magician’s hat, I
became the river you burned behind you,
a treasure map trying to erase its X,
a flame where no moths gathered, a scraped
knee hurled through a scoured
castle, I was a leaf of grass surviving
the drought, a match box
held tight by a child afraid of the dark, the mannequin
who stepped through the bullet-proof glass and followed
you home, I was the red-hot years
gone cold in our ashtray, a bluebell
tattooed on the dictator’s cheek, striped
straws in a shady café, was
the heart and the arrow and
the graffiti of born losers, was the track
walking behind the train like an old
friend, was the rain-spiced bite you took
of yourself, I was the headphones of death
where life hummed falsely
and out of tune, I was a razor blade factory
with walls of skin and foretold to show a way
out of here, foretold to be
foretold, foretold to deal with things
like the flickering of white sheets
stretched from pole to pole

I was the black dots
on the dice, the sickness
in the doctor’s head, the roof that had rested
on your floor, the burning
log that kept the lake warm, I was
dimples drilled into the granite
of fear, the rocking horse’s prairie, the occult
snowflake on the shoulder of a forest, I was
the bullet holes in the statesman’s
limousines, the raspberry flavor that fell
from a wheat-picker’s hand, was the man who dated
himself for lack of someone better, I
became l as in longing, became
the lying eight lying down and the master
of the linen cupboard, became worms under
the skyscrapers, the invisible ball
that the juggler dropped and the down of the ghost in
the baby’s pillow, I was the taxi line to
paradise with no passenger in sight, the soaking wet
house that knocked on your door and stepped inside,
the woman crushed by Sundays and
space junk, I was an antique world
with porcelain cigarettes, the combination
to the other side
in the safecracker’s eyes, I was
the end of a boring movie, a landscape painting
with all its luster slowly flaking off, I was
a man who took Solitude for
his first and last name and foretold to show a way
out of here, foretold to
be foretold, foretold to deal with things
like the flickering of white sheets
draped from pole to pole

I was serum
taken from the Evil Eye, slices of pear
and burned Bakelite in the mother’s
arms, I was green
in your hairbrush, summer solstice in
your bunker, the psychopath’s flashlight aimed
at the jet of Nothingness, I became shares
in the firm of grief, became an angel’s
bartender, the bucket and spade
left in a sandbox, sewing needles through a broken
dream, became grains of salt on the ocean steamer’s
railing, the cellar darkness around
the old jam jar, the cracks along
the mahogany of power, I was the sound of
heels where every sign of life went barefoot, I was
the murderer’s skin lotion, the punch below
the savior’s belt, the humiliated cloud
in a tourist’s photo, I was
existence bolting between the jockey’s
thighs, the clock dial’s glue where
time got stuck, I was traces of ice cream
in the victim’s mouth, a kingdom of birds
melted down into the brooch on
your chest, I was a heavy load
of beauty and peace moved within
sight, the black figure
condemned by the all-white jury and someone you
stared at on every bus
and workplace, I was a distant
relative of an absent
emotion, the tip of your tongue paralyzed in a glass of
cold shadow, I was the one
who came to rule, I was the compass
around the wrists of the deceased and foretold
to show a way out of here, foretold to
be foretold, foretold to deal with things
like the flickering of white sheets
stretched from pole to pole

Photo of Bruno K. Oijer
Bruno K. Öijer has been one of the most popular and influential Swedish poets for decades, much like Tomas Tranströmer. As a member of the rebellious poetry group Vesuvius, Öijer published his first book, Song for Anarchism, in 1973. His now-classic Trilogy includes Medan Giftet Verkar (While the Poison Acts, 1990), Det Förlorade Ordet (The Lost Word, 1995), and Dimman av Allt (The Fog of Everything, 2001). He continues to publish books, as well as offer sold-out readings around Sweden.

Victoria Häggblom is a writer and translator with an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. She has received grants and awards from Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, Santa Fe Art Institute, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, PEN America Center, and Swedish Institute and was awarded the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Poetry Translation Prize for her translation of Bruno K. Öijer’s The Trilogy, which will be published by Action Books in 2019.