From the plane we are met by our friends. A limousine with cellular radio. Helsinki airport is tiny. The journey from Gatwick is quicker than the slog by road to Wales!
A first night in the ranch-style Lappio. Fine wood interiors, spacious rooms, suitcases disgorging things for overnight baby needs.
But we do not sleep. Instead we seem to glide through the night on a glacier of half-dream, a momentum of anticipation, a crest of foreknowledge.
We rose like trout
through one of the thin
walls of the night,
at nearly 5 am.
I, with a line – “…not snatched like old
Jews from the streets of Moscow…” –
you with heated legs
writhing in their stride,
she, baby girl, sitting up
before she knew it. An electric
storm, all the needles swinging
on the dials.
Damage of flood and fire,
breakage, wear and tear,
all uninsured losses,
made good, sewn,
in the salving rituals of the night
of nibble and heave,
stretch and sigh,
her hand at your mouth,
my nose behind your ear.
With Tiina and Jyrke straight onto a company-owned launch at Lapeenranta, from where we reach into the whole network of lakes and waterways: Saimaan Vesisto. There are thirty-six thousand islands in the Finnish interior, not to mention many more, sea-islands in the gulfs of Bothnia and Finland. Lake Saimaa is “makea vesi” – sweet water. Our furthest point will be Savonlinna in mid-opera-season with performances in the castle standing over the lakeside.
Depression, as always, at the release from the pressure-pot of work at the start of a holiday.
A nerve of misery, signalling despair.
M., after getting an abnormally large amount of breast while on holiday, is now mad to get at F., pinching and struggling to attain more. That is how the flesh is, as my evangelical friends would say.
To a fishing-cottage on an island. The sand around the door has been combed by the previous occupants, like a Japanese garden.
There are quite a few people secluded on beaches and in coves around here but they scrupulously avoid each other and do nothing to attract the attention which would fracture privacy. Finnish nature. Occasionally we catch sight of a flank of lime-green tent or see an orange triangle of windsurfer’s sail. Reticence is measured in tens of kilometres.
Pale nights of the northern summer. I take a photograph in natural light at 10.45 pm.
Insects fly for the eyes.
After nightfall moths blunder, fall heavily, huddle their wings, totter towards the candle base.
The lingering deaths of flies startle the dark.
Bubbles of poetry falter upwards from inconsolable depths. Focus. A stream of composing.
Reading poetry: decomposing it.
Still lakes, brushed pines.
Lone sail as bare as a curved bone.
A blade of light glides in the steep red
waters of Saimaa lake.
Acres of booms straddle the flat
surface of lake, marshalled for pulp.
Vibrant pine-masts ring to the knock.
A white yacht with double sail,
beautiful as a telephone,
scoops hot air. Evening brims.
Islands fuming after rain
cloud a bandstand sunset.
A boat’s passing furrow leaves
ribbons of water idling.
Evening spreads. We lay our nets
down the flightpath of the sun.
Reeds nod in flocks, all
leaning and pointing the same way.
Nylon fishnets, like old woman’s hair,
spill a rainbow helix.
in the smoky light of spaced pines.
Their pink and ash-grey pools of fine
mottling peel away in scales
from high necks, salmon-grained.
Below are darker trunks and roots.
Our steps spring on coral rock,
spongy with moss. Evening swarms.
Horseflies mothy as owls burn
ridged ulcers into scars:
we bare our bodies to the tiny barbs,
root sea-legs in a rocking sauna.
Then after dark the heart pumps
its waves on the ear’s shore.
Solitude comes into bloom
round a bulb of candle-flame.
The tall pine for the cabin’s whole, straight beams.
The silver birch for the sweet-smelling “vihtas”, leafy twig-bunches for skin-slapping in the sauna.
The “visakoivo”, smaller, rarer silver birch, for the knife-handle with its weaving seams.
Only birch burns with the intense heat for the sauna oven.
The water-lining “leppa” smokes and flavours the fresh fish.
Morning walk through the island.
Clouds in rows, springy as rolled-up blinds.
We walk on silver moss to the beach.
Lift elk’s droppings.
A brown-winged gull, is poised in observation, then plummets to a metre’s depth in the sea after a fish.
Jyrke describes how he waits to feel the thoughts swarming and circling in the minds of the men he does business with, sometimes Russians, just as now he feels how the fish are moving. He seizes and fastens on an opponent’s moment of weakness to clinch a deal. Riding Tiina like that, too, to keep on top. Knowing her moods and ways. A hunter’s animal magic.
“I feel sorry for her because she doesn’t have any parents.”
Smoked reindeer meat for breakfast. White-tailed deer soup for lunch.
Kerlukka-lukka. M. is learning Finnish. It should be kala-kala, says Jyrke. Kala is a fish.
The way to speak a foreign language is as Tiina does: with aplomb!
Handling a boat, a shotgun, sharpening a knife. One fish we catch is the “made”, a snake-fish. It must be hung up and its skin rolled off.
“Like undressing a woman”, says Tiina.
Picking and planning each step with care in the shared small spaces of the boat.
Soon we accumulate a multitude of plastic cups, forks, knives, teaspoons and paper plates.
Nearby appears a flotilla of logs stretching down half the lake, pulled by one tug, herded by another nuzzling deep into an outlying raft.
M. waves to passing boats – with both hands if sufficiently excited.
We now have the gleaming skin of faces restored by sauna, wind, some “jerking”.
English language news is at 11.10 pm. We listen once. Some musicians and horses blown to pieces.
Gypsies in the market at Savonlinna. Women in colourful traditional rig, very Amerindian-looking, with deep harsh voices. Men unshaven, in high boots, waistcoats. Selling us lace, but lace they themselves had just bought.
“Kuinka paljon?” – How much?
The gypsies are traditional horsemen but now they ride big Swedish cows. The government builds them houses but they are not wanted as neighbours. Hordes of relatives arrive on extended visits at a house let only to one family initially. They operate a lot with booze on the black market.
One man, employed by Tiina’s stepfather, took a week off work: “My uncle’s horse was having a foal and we all went there to see what would come out.”
We offer strawberries to a shy and angry gypsy girl, Nina, who passes in her antique pushchair and stares a lot at M. in hers. She thrusts her fists in her eyes but peeps out from behind them.
Wolves came and took eight calves this week here, near Savonlinna, it says in the local paper.
On the jetty at Puumala a little boy, about nine, is fishing in his jaunty white cap, changing his place every few casts. For his efforts a couple of “ahven” (perch) to show the men from the boats.
Germans seem to be universally unpopular. “Don’t give them matches”, the Finns still say, remembering how the Germans burned every house in the land on their passage north to the Ice Sea, where their boats were waiting. The chalets and cabins of timber fired easily.
Finnish children are almost silver-blonde and as babies have little hair at all.
“We have only one colour”, says Tiina.
In marriage the individual features fall away. The sticky business is with the universal woman.
To F.: “What’s a little creature like you doing producing such a big baby?”
“If we’d had the light on we’d have seen better what we were doing.”
Wheeling M.’s pushchair I feel all the eyes of the women we pass drawn to her. M. shamelessly exploits this baby-power of hers and wherever we go she attracts new friends by smiling flirtations. Only once before did I experience anything similar, when I walked down a street just a step or two behind a very beautiful girl. I felt all eyes drawn to us. Perhaps, in the way in which we long for our unknown futures, men look at women and women look at babies.
The radio left on pumps out anything: non-silence.
A round of activities, twitching like a nerve, delays the stilling of the face in the pool.
Fine-eared Naiad with vacant fish-stare
sweeps the open reeds.
Wind sinks her nipples. She is pinned
in a jet of actions issuing like shocks.
Her companion’s gaze
bulges at the flags, long lashes like sparks,
his mouth an unoffending fish-pout.
A straying roach he eyes through a soft lens.
No fine quiver betrays
his neutrally enquiring approach.
Living for days on the island without money, without wristwatches. Concerned instead about fresh water.
Lexicon: palette, keyboard – for sprinkling practice dabs.
My poetry is literally squeezed out from the seams and edges of a tiresome life, all tides pulling away from the pole. Hence its density, concentration.
Dropped in an illicit still.
I tread the measure of my anger, kneading with lips and fingers the bread of the flute.
From tonight, M., no more of Daddy’s storms. No-one emerges from a power-struggle otherwise than withered and evil. The power-ballet distends the family net like Lobachevsky’s planar geometry.
Your hand sleeps like a starfish on the towel that serves as a sheet on your bed on the floor of this boat. The wind that dropped when the sun burst over ladies fragrant for the opera, here where night hardly falls, has pulled your lungs like canvas and lowered your eyelids.
Gone, and sufficient, are the day’s rollercoaster jerks of mummy-coming, mummy-gone. We have clucked in Finnish: WE STOCK LOTS OF COCKLES AND A LOCKED POCKET CLOCK.
In the sauna you crawled and slithered, your naked chubby body large as a child’s, baby no longer, our gene-fusion, the being caused by us, now with a life of its own. You rocked on a firm sauna bench, “a bit boaty”, as you did after your leg-plaster was removed.
Puumula, Savonlinna. Here I make my covenant to venture deeper in love, this point a point to return to, to begin again from the journey that must be begun again.
A revolution is a kind of overwhelming.
The post-revolutionary is the geopolitical equivalent of the schizoid state. The split is finally achieved between reality and abstract ideal but at the same time the two are fatally confused. The continual implicit directive is to the rejection of reality, the reckless embracing of the lie.
Soviet freighters with coals from Leningrad, tankers with oil. Not allowed to stop. An unsupervised wave.
A day overcast – intermittent rain. A sense of doom, of indecision, a succession of small things going wrong.
The water is a wedding-cake iced with diamonds under clusters of tightly-scrolled clouds.
Again an island and deep-water anchorage close to the rock, moored to a pine.
We roast over a fire a perch caught this morning, its two sides opened out, as if on a hinge, and transparent before the flames.
Mainly pink rocks, granite, with spongy moss so that each step springs.
The objectification of the self? Or the subjectification of the world?
My way – scared as hell of the romantic ego -, and also the way of Pasternak, is the second.
Yesterday in an art gallery decor shop I was given a long explanation – seconds after acquaintance and in immaculate English – of the subjective and therapeutic meanings of the superb textile series done by the artist, a friend of my interlocutor and a recent widow, exhibited downstairs, which I then went down, much moved, to look at. This is the first way: it woke me up to the power of the artist’s vision, the singleness of eye, wrung from dedication. Yet I felt eventually that perhaps it was not mine. Mine was less personal, more incidental. Perhaps, chameleon-like still, I must continue to reflect my surroundings.
Lappeenranta, Suur-Saimaan Komakyla, Ristina, Puumala, Savonlinna, Rauhalinna (“peace castle”, where the snowy Varykino scenes in “Zhivago” were filmed).
Finndecor. Pure as air, water, stone, clouds, leaves, bone.
Those who are sceptical about books, who see them only as physical entities (“Haven’t you got enough of them?” – “As if they were ties!”), must also be sceptical about words. Words without meanings belong in books without words. Missing, always, the interior dimension.
A stream leaps from the sudden peace of focus.
And you can write for paper, for the rinsed margin, or speak still within the axial spin of the very dream that woke you.
Mölandet, in Swedish: “virgin land”.
Firs fin through the blue
map of the sky. Cormorants dive
as the boat churns in attack.
Clouds, spilt like skittles, spread
or like water-lilies, broken up,
float apart. The full moon,
its Africas and Newfoundlands complete,
smiles drily on a tideless ocean.
Driving curves of vermilion leap
the boat, refilling on two-stroke,
stalled on the flood. Boats’ lights
come on to wink. And across the night
voices cough in mild thought.
Unmoving triangles of sail
prick at the edges of islands.
A slow gull wags over a floating moon.
The sun waves tin daggers as
the horizon slides to a band of pink.
Lank cranes, defunct, hinged in stooped crooks,
lurk in the sky of a fitters’ yard.
Boats are grilled on hot spikes.
Gulls creak by or veer
in surprise at a motionless figure.
Suns clash. Moons collide.
A fire’s sparks on the beach
light a welcome and gift of fish,
“turska” smoking at the water’s edge
with alder and juniper in a tin oven,
torn trousers, bare feet,
a mouth smiling in a nest of lines.
The sun swings a razor pendulum,
the moon a slow stepladder.
Black arrowheads of pine saw
at the belly of the passing sun,
jag the swirl of spoilt glass
that spills in cooling stripes
through the oily pool. Mosquitoes mew
in the ear like sulky kittens.
A wind mops at pecking reeds.
The sun descends steps. The moon is bent.
We pour salt water and sweat beer
at ninety degrees. Then in the sea
douse, toes nibbling for rocks.
A callow moon blazes over naked feet.
Unearthed, a vanished sun’s steam
has spread in a yellow stain.
A child stirs in her jacket of sleep,
a small tumult under the moon.
July-August 1982; January 1987.