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Letters of Blood and other works in English

Göran Printz-Påhlson

Letters of Blood: Poems


Texte intégral

Aelius Lamia: Tankas for Robert Hass

1Autumn: Stapleford.
The fine badge of air between
the branches of trees:
a squirrel jumping from one
to the other one, bending,

2reminded me at once
of other squirrels in the parks
of my own childhood
in the cold winters of war.
They were red, like foxes tails,

3Not grey, American,
silver-speckled tanderfoots.
Memories are eggs,
spotted, in colours, numbers
as in poems by John Clare.

4But this is their true
significance: transience
in the permanent;
when blown, enduring as shell:
The man Aelius Lamia

5(vide Suetonius
who loved idle gossip)
was put to death by
the Emperor Domitian
‘on account of certain jests’

6of which the one is self-
explanatory, but not
funny, the other—of his
silence when exhorted to sing:

7heu taceo:—has
to this day never been
explained nor understood.
There is, as you so well know,
comfort in silence, sadness.


8for Bo Cavefors

9Es klingt etwa so wie das Rascheln in gefallenen Blattern

10Their cases are locative or instrumental.
Here, in this place, I see the leaves falling
on the fabulously stayed crosses and inscriptions,
as they fell on the Homeric simile of generations.
You have heard them, the little dissuaders,
whispering in the attics, or from behind the creaking stairs,
with their busy spools and laughter, seemingly
from no human lungs. You proceed to ask:
What’s your name? Answers: Odradek.
Where do you live? Unbestimmter Wohnsitz.
They cannot die but cease to exist
when you do not listen. In another place,
in Paris, a car is stopped: a little dog
in the lap of a young girl exploding
like a ripe autumnal fruit in her hands. Her
lover is already carved in half by bullets.
There are cleaner cases, more winsome
uses for the accusative. Do not heed them anymore.
Here we all die, in bits and pieces.

Turing Machine

11It’s their humility we can never imitate,
obsequious servants of more durable material: Unassuming
they live in complex relays of electric circuits.

12Rapidity, docility is their advantage.
You may ask:
What is 2 × 2? Or Are you a machine?
They answer or
refuse to answer, all according to demand.

13It’s however true that other kinds of machines exist,
more abstract automata, stolidly intrepid and inaccessible,
eating their tape in mathematical formulae.

14They imitate within the language. In infinite
paragraph loops, further and further back in their retreat towards more subtle
algorithms, in pursuit of more recursive functions.

15They appear consistent and yet auto-descriptive.
As when a man, pressing a hand-mirror straight to his nose, facing the mirror,
sees in due succession the same picture repeated

16in a sad, shrinking, darkening corridor of glass.
That’s a Gödel-theorem fully as good as any.
Looking at in-
finity, but never getting to see his own face.


17Raining no longer. (Water like a mirror)
The words are all bright in your mouth.
White light on the wet pavement. Language a mirror
Or another way of breathing outside your mouth?

18We are speaking and the words are all white.
The wind speaks to the rain and the rain to the sea
And the wind is blowing, though just a bit.
Do you think language is anything like the sea?

19The rain is wholly adequate and one can see
That the wind is precise. Words rain into the sea
And no words are drowning.
We gather here in groups. In the blowing
Wind words whistle pure and tender:
The sea forgets what everyone cannot remember.

20Note: Viggo Broendal was a Danish speculative linguist of the early twentieth century.

Two Prose Poems


21In what way is the stone a world? Not in the same way as dandelions are canaries which do not fly or waves are knives scraping across the beach. The stone is a world: note the wolf-like spider stalking lambs, the small tired flies which leave the edge of seaweed at closing time and listlessly drift homewards, in swarms. Can anyone endure that much? The stone in your hand is one thing, incredible and grotesque with large holes and its ridiculous appendix of dry seaweed; it leaves the hand and flies in its partial ellipse, like a comet, out and down towards the waiting splash, with its tail waving wearily as the last we handkerchief at the stern of an emigrant ship.


22On sunny days the sea is divided into differently colored areas, partly according to the nature of the bottom, partly according to the direction of the wind. But today the sea is gray as the sky and without any visible boundary between air and water, between the bluish milk and the porridge. No sharp boundaries: even the shoreline is ugly and rugged today. It annoys me. By keeping constantly on the move, constantly changing my vantage points and by alternately closing and opening my eyes, by using piers and jutting headlands and by covering the parts that don’t fit with my hand, I try to produce increasingly pure configurations. Is that of no use? In fact I know it is in here (indicates his breast) where all the theorems are found, not only the solution of the equation but the equation itself. Once I may have believed that I would be able to find a form beneath this wet licentiousness, this criminal indifference to our laws.

Sir Charles Babbage Returns to Trinity College

23After having commissioned the Swedish mechanic Scheutz to build a difference engine. On the bank of the River Cam he gazes at the Bridge of Sighs and contemplates the life of the dragonfly.

24No man can add an inch to his height, says the Bible. Yet once I saw the detective Vidocq change his height by circa an inch and a half. It has always been my experience that one ought to maintain the greatest accuracy even in small things.

25No one has taught me more than my machine. I know that a law of nature is a miracle. When I see the dragonfly, I see its nymph contained in its glittering flight. How much more probable is it that any one law will prove to be invalid than it will prove to be sound. It must happen in the end: that wheels and levers move accurately but that the other number will appear, the unexpected, the incalculable, when the nymph bursts into a dragonfly. I see a hand in life, the unchanging hand of The Great Effacer.

26Therefore be scrupulous and guard your reason, in order that you may recognize the miracle when it occurs. I wrote to Tennyson that his information was incorrect when he sang ‘Every minute dies a man, / Every minute one is born.’ In fact every minute one and one-sixteenth of a man is born. I refuse to abandon this one-sixteenth of a man.

Man-Made Monster Surreptitiously Regarding Idyllic Scene

27…in Swiss hermitage, a copy of Goethe’s Werther resting in his lap.

28It is sometimes considered to be an advantage to start from scratch. I myself would be the first to admit that my maker did a good job when he constructed my brain, although it must be said that he was unsuccessful with my outer appearance: my ongoing program of self-education has provided me with many a happy hour of intellectual satisfaction. Spying on these touching family tableaux unobserved makes me nevertheless both excited and dejected. I suspect that only with the greatest of difficulties shall I myself be able to establish meaningful relationships with other beings. It is not so much my disfigured countenance which distresses me—I have accustomed myself to that by gazing at it in a nearby tarn and now find it, if not immediately attractive, then, at least, captivating: in particular the big screws just under my ears which my maker insisted on putting there for God knows what purpose, accentuate my expression of virile gravity and ennui—as rather a certain lack of elegance and animal charm. It seems for instance to be almost impossible for me to find a suit that fits as it should. One of my more casual acquaintances, a certain Count Dracula, whom I vaguely remember having encountered in some circumstances or other—regrettably I cannot remember where or when—is in this respect much more fortunate: I envy him his relaxed manner of deporting himself in evening dress, but I have to admit that I cannot understand the reason for his negative (and extremely selfish) attitude to his environment. For myself, it seems as if my background and construction limit the possibilities for the successful development of my personality in socially acceptable forms. Evidently, I must choose between two possible careers: either to seek self-expression in the pursuit of crime—within which vast and varied field of activity sexual murder ought to offer unsurpassed opportunities for a creature of my disposition—or during my remaining years quietly to warm my hands at the not altogether fantastically blazing but nonetheless never entirely extinguished fires of scholarship.

Joe Hill in Prison

29Memory: slapping sails in the harbor.
Skipper in calfskin gloves, his spyglass
pressed against a watery eye. Haze over Gävle’s port.
Winter-gray days of refusal to thaw.
Then cannonades of ice-breaking and jubilation.
Spring with a song in its arms.

30Work heavy as sodden clothes.
Tramping the Dust Bowl toward the Rockies.
Tramping with pocketfuls of borrowed years
over territory where only the water leaves tracks,
where the heat is a faded gold-brown in color
and the birds speak with leathery tongues.

31Looking through the bars (like a brother
from other centuries he never heard of
transported far off into the Finnish mountains) Writing a song.
Waiting and thinking, while the time idles along
like a night shift, over that which never happened,
the futility in these methods

32of taking, hating, and giving. Once life was
hard and clean as a handshake. Then
it became a mask with a stiffened grimace.
Waiting in the morning chill for the bolt to be
drawn from the door. Deadly fear blinking sleepily even now
in the bright lair of freedom. It is done.

33Translated by Richard B. Vowles

34Note: Joe Hill was a Swedish-American song-writer and labor organizer, executed in Salt Lake City in 1916.

Remember the Rosenbergs

35They have almost disappeared in the near-history.

36Theirs are no substantial ghosts—
Wraiths like half-forgotten memories—
No palpable phantoms like the children of Hiroshima,
The contortionist dolls of our blackened dreams.

37They lived for a short while in something that approximated reality,
Before others’ fears blotted out their fate.

38It has been said that they lost their identity.
So we deprived them of even this.

39How could they ever haunt their dreary cells
With all emotions spent as dialectic smallchange,
Stripped as spirits to their bonewhite cores?
Even their children know them from a brief.

40So this we did to them before and after
They sang their treacley songs and lost their lives.

41Still their poverty, as our guilt, was real.

When Beaumont and Tocqueville First Visited Sing-Sing

42When Beaumont and Tocqueville first visited Sing-Sing
To gather material for a treatise on American penitentiaries,
They saw something like a vision of a future world.

43The convicts who, unfettered, labored side by side
In dour silence, united in hatred,
The guards, as if on the brink of a crater,
Propping their panic with perfunctory brutality,
The dark houses, halfway finished cellblocks.


44So was corrupted before their eyes throughout the decades of the American Dream,
Hot-dog stands mushroomed like tracks on a dirtroad,
Billboards crowded in admiration among the scenic views,
The Indian sold his smirking souvenirs from Woolworth’s.

45And Natty Bumppo, returning at night from the office,
In vague desperation that he has no more vistas to conquer,
Checks that no trespassers have stepped in on his property,
Looks in the closet for Russians or Jews and flicks on the TV,
Opens a flip-top can and drafts a letter of hate to the paper.


46The silent unfettered convicts: this is a dream
That will haunt Europeans in nameless nights,
Worse than the horror of chaos, more real.

Three Baroque Arias from Gradiva

I. Gradiva: Hanold Sings

47Such milky mildness shines forth only from the mouth of an archaic goddess
Such living limbs can, stonebound, shimmer only in the telescope of history reversed
Such eloquent temples can be taciturn only in terracotta colored face against a freer firmament.
Freer than Medea of Pompeii in motherpain, in motherpride against
sirocco-mutilated skies,
Her sorcerer’s wand pressed against an empty uterus,
Prouder than Prospero who gelded his own weapon of desire, denying
All his children the common act of freedom, the killing of the old king.

48Seen against more sacred skies, in more limpid light, rather like Greek Helen,
Reflected not in language but in old men’s bursting eyeballs
In convex catatonia preserved through snowing centuries in the apocryphal times of conception,
Even in Teutonic Tannhäuser-woods, in the glimpse of shadow in the mirror of the

49Such pride in her pace can only a goddess display, with perpendicular uplifted foot,
Arrested in her movement, immovable and traveling through the whirling fall of centuries.

II. Hanold’s Last Dream

50She sat in the sun, with a snare
of grass, in the door of waiting.

51Still, observe fluttering floundering things,
hold to the dream which tosses in your hand.

52A bird fell to the deceitful
floor of the dream. The lizard fled.

53Colleague, hunter, who then hunts?

III. Vertumnus: His Sestina

54When I am changed the young bud turns to leaf.
When I am changed the bare hills turn to vale
And when I breathe I turn to cotton cloud
The heavens which are mirrored in my eye,
And when I wander, I wander deep in woods
And when I close my eyes there is no sun.

55At one time on the world there was no sun
And every soul was an unwritten leaf
In the middle of the dark Unchanging Woods.
On the Tiber’s banks and in the Tuscan vale
I flew in every downy seed for I
Was born of wind and wind-begotten cloud.

56A Warrior who went prancing round the cloud,
A sower with his basket in the sun:
So was born this metamorphosis, this I;
Along the sunburned thighs there grew green leaves
And toes flowed like water in a vale
To take quick root in some vast wonderous woods.

57There went an apple-selling lady in the woods
Whose ancient features were as fuzzy as a cloud.
She reached the boundaries of fair Pomona’s vale
And smiled at Beauty there as at a gallant sun.
She wished to kiss each green and dew-fresh leaf
Among the fruit. She loved and she was I.

58A frightened girl—and also she was I—
Ran panting and pursued through darkening woods.
She stumbled and observed among the leaves
A black and curly head against the cloud—
Beneath the god surrendered to a violent sun
And then bark covered up her chaste womb’s vale.

59I remember once in a Thessalian vale
How straying lost in that strange province I
Perceived a glimpse as from a naked sun:
It was a crowd of women in the woods
Who in a panic clustered like a cloud—
Pale waiting chrysalis beneath the leaf.

60On mountains, in the vale, at sea and in the woods,
There consumed am I as when a summer cloud
Annihilates a sun and closes all the leaves.

61Note: Gradiva is a novella by Wilhelm Jensen, analyzed by Freud in a celebrated essay. Vertumnus was a Roman deity, referred to by Ovid and Propertius.


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