The Sun’s Taste

[translated poetry]

i must go back
to the smell of my childhood
back to the story
of blood and milk
of dresses
hanging silently in the wardrobe

i remember the morning
the last time i went
to sunday service
it had become a nightmare
to wear stockings, patent-leather shoes
and shivery sunday clothes
the words from the podium
pressed their crown of thorns
down on my fresh-combed head
so that i got a bloodtaste in my mouth
and hell burned beneath my dress

solitary children
knock on
gapped openings
like snipped ovaries
what was it
ringing in the silence
a cleft moon
a violin bow
a string of a contrabass
a harmonica in C major
for a paralyzed hand
a ribbon
a pair of mary janes
a milk tooth

little Shulammite
eyelids
gray with ashes
with the last octave
of the minarets in Raqqa
hanging from your ear
in your eyelids
horror
and broken dreams
your golden neck
still smells of dates
little Shulammite
your blue lips
get the last word

words
bodily fragments
in them
live high tide and low tide
the knot in the chest
and the grenade in the hand
the bells ringing Angelus
at five o’clock in the morning
the agony
of shattered icicles
and the skulls of small birds
as chaste
as Gaudi’s turrets
over-brimming with fruit
and praise

let us breed
womanly words
that shoot forth vegetation

a brand new
Jesus bleeds
onto my dress
and you pull my hair
in your thirst

trees
have green voices
the sun animates
every window
sheep and cattle
fly off to the heaven
and this profound longing
my blood
is the sea
every wave
my sister
my uterus
a doll
that opens its eyes
when you set it down
i drag the sun with me to bed
to better warm
the beast of the night

once in Lisbon
i stumbled
onto a doll hospital
from the windows
stared long queues
of dolls faces
androgynous limbs
of alabaster
with pastel colors
rustling dolls dresses
laces
hemstitches
and miniature porcelain teacups
there were shelves with glass eyes
and tiny instruments
used for mending
broken childdreams
small lamps shining
in colorful playhouses
inside time had stopped
its grinding mill stopped
pinched off by dollfingers

so much green
in the blue
The Golden Proportion
embraces your thigh
my beloved
my hands are bound
my blood is dripping
over every threshold
echos of ravencroaks
ruthless changes
no mercy
i am walking on skulls
a soughing
of female bodies
beneath the vault of heaven
they’re flying high tonight
their grave words light the darkness
their laughter tames the world

your life lengthens
in small notches
carved into the bookshelf
a dream
is left hanging from the fingertips

haze
blue horses in the twilight
with flickering manes
white stockings
in rumbling horsestrides

short shank
red stalk
and always wrinkled stockings

raucous childfingers
toss ruddy grasses
an echo
in the horse’s glassy eye

to be conceived of
by the holy spirit
controlling the silence
on the white canvas
half-dressed in the middle of the night
nail it down
give your hand over to the paintbrush
for a fresh start

maybe
the painting will break
every boundary
and reach beyond its frames
so that mothers will be allowed
to stretch further
to reach their children
and fish will swim
unknown routes
lost into parallel worlds
the surface is endless
tempting
breeding ground
for a determined flight from reality

what lies
beneath this immense whiteness
a calm ocean
a mysterious desert
like your face
when there’s nothing left to say
and the silence
strips us bare

i find
the right paintbrush
the palette is green
my arm so pale
i can feel the scent
of burning feathers
in my nose
to be
a being
is no small thing

i clothe myself with the ocean
my sex swells
opens and closes
like a marine animal
my breasts
swell like jellyfish
soft and transparent
with blue veins
my uterus
a spiny sea urchin
my eyes
sultry

my armpits
full of mysterious shadows
hold seaweed and salt crystal
my mouth
a suction cup
my hair
wild sea lace with shades of brown
twined
with sea lice and algae

my ears
fine shells
hear limpet language and wave whispers
my nostrils
hold
the scent of sweet roe
and burnt kelp forests
my teeth
quite human
in their blue gums
my skin
shining green fish scales
i put on the night
and phosphorescence adorns my hair

i put on
armor
and contend
with each breaking wave
grapple the endless blue
the fresh salty taste
the brittle crystals
the colors
the smells
the sounds
the magical world

sediment
pigment
bright eggshells
viscosity
oil murmur

a single paintbrush
searching
pastel winds lifting
purple sheets from beneath
cadmiumred pawprints in a thin layer of snow
green eyes
like razor blades
slice a cross section of night
dragging columns
into lingering landscapes
sepiatone firmness
skin inside out
rusty soles

heartblood in jars
liver samples in tubes
a meek childhand found
primal time
the present time at the wrong time
rooster claw in the calf
sharp fish teeth
sudden beach
blue cords
straining between heartbeats

the white horse
lay its sweaty head
in my arms
the painting
is nearly complete

we spend half our lives
as moonchildren
full round moon
glassy lighthouse
nightlight
my upturned palms
cup a bowl of darkness

you and i sleep
close together
two teaspoons
in a locked drawer
it’s getting so late
and my tears
run backwards toward their source

Sólsmakkur

seg má aftur
til luktin frá mínum barndómi
aftur til søguna
av blóði og mjólk
kjólarnir
hanga tigandi í klædnaskápinum

minnist tann seinnapartin
tá eg ongantíð aftur
fór í sunnudagsskúla+
tá tað gjørdist ein marra
at vera í hálvsokkum,lakkskóm
og skelvandi sunnudagskjóla
orðini av talarastólinum
sum trýstu sína tornakrúnu
niður á mítt nýgreidda høvd
so eg fekk blóðsmakk í munnin
og helviti brann undir mínum kjóla

einsamøll børn
banka uppá
gapandi op
sum avkappaðar eggrøtur
hvat var tað
sum ringlaði í tøgnini
ein kloyvdur máni
ein violinbogi
ein kontrabassstrongur
ein munnharpa í C-dur
til ta lammaðu hondina
eitt hárband
ein reyður gummistivli
ein barnatonn

lítla Sulamit
eygnalokini
grá av øsku
í oyrunum hongur
seinasti oktavurin
úr minaretunum í Raqqa
í eygnahárunum
ræðsla
og rapaðir dreymir
tín gylti hálsur
angar enn av dadlum
lítla Sulamit
tínar bláu varrar
forma seinasta orðið

orð
eru kropslig brotpettir
í teimum
liva flóð og fjørða
sloyfan á bringuni
og granatin í hondini
klokkurnar ringja Angelus
klokkan fimm á morgni
pínan
í sprongdum glerpípum
smáu fuglahøvdini
líka so fullkomin
sum tornini hjá Gaudi
við yvirflóð av fruktum
og lovprísan

lat okkum ala
fram tey kvinnuligu orðini
sum skjóta gróðurin ígongd

av nýggjum
bløðir Jesus
á mín kjóla
og tú hálar mítt hár
inn yvir tín tosta

trøini
hava grønar røddir
sólin livir
í hvørjum vindeyga
seyðir og neyt
flúgva til himmals
hesin ómetaligi longsulin
mítt blóð
er havið
hvør alda
mín systir
mín lívmóðir
er ein dukka
sum letur eyguni upp
tá hon verður løgd niður
háli sólina við mær niður í songina
so eg betur kann verma
náttarinnar ránsdjór

einaferð í Lissabon
gekk eg meg fram á
eitt dukkuhospital
í vindeygunum
langar bíðirøðir
av starandi dukkuandlitum
androgynir limir
úr alabastri
við pastelliti
skróvandi dukkukjólar
blondur
holseymir
og skærir pinkukoppar
hillar við glaseygum
og fínum amboðum
til at lekja
løstaðar barnadreymar við
smáar lampur lýsa
í litføgrum ævintýrhúsum
her inni er tíðin steðgað
tíðarkvørnin typtist
av kleimdum dukkufingrum

meiri grønt
í tað bláa
Tann Gylti Skurðurin
fevnir um títt lær
elskaði
mínar hendur innbundnar
blóðið dryppar
á hvørja gátt
bergmál av ravnagorri
fyrilitsleysar broytingar
eingin miskunn
eg gangi á skøltum

suð
av kvinnukroppum
undir hválvinum
tær flúgva høgt í kvøld
grava ljósgeirar fram í myrkrið
ljóðið spekir verøld

tínar lívslongdir
í smáum rykkum
skornar inn í bókreolina
ein dreymur
hongur eftir í fingrasnippunum

mjørkatám
bláir hestar í skýmingini
við bleiktrandi faksi
hvítum hálvsokkum
í dundrandi hestalongdum

stuttan langlegg
reyðan blómulegg
altíð smokkulegg

rópandi barnafingrar
tveita reytt gras
ekkó hoyrist
í blonkum hestaeyga

at vera gitin
av heilagum skaparaanda
ráða yvir tøgnini
á hvíta løriftinum
mitt á nátt berklødd
negla tað fast
geva penslinum hondina
til eina nýggja byrjan

kanska
spreingir málningurin
øll mørk
og fer út um sínar rammur
so mammur sleppa
at toyggja seg longur
eftir sínum børnum
og fiskurin
svimur ókendar leiðir
villist út í parallellar heimar
flatin er endaleysur
tølandi
gróðrarbotnur
fyri miðvísa tilveruflýggjan

hvat býr
undir øllum hesum hvíta
eitt kyrt hav
ein loyndarfull oyðimørk
sum títt andlit
tá eingi orð eru eftir
og tøgnin
leggur alt í oyði

finni
rætta pensilin
palettin er grøn
mín armur so bleikur
í nøsini
kenni eg svidnaroykin
av brendum fjaðrum
at vera
ein vera
er ikki ein lítil stødd

eg klæði meg í havið
mítt kyn aldar
opnast og læsist
sum eitt havdjór
míni bróst
fløða sum hvalspýggj
bleyt og gjøgnumskygd
við bláum træðrum
mín lívmóðir
eitt prikandi igulker
míni eygu
ylur

mínar armholur
loyndarfullir skuggar
goyma tara og saltkrystall
mín muður
ein súgvikoppur
mítt hár
villur marleggur við brúnum litbrigdum
flættast
við havlýs og algur

míni oyru
fínar skeljar
skilja fliðumál og aldutesk
mínir næsagluggar
hylkið
tevjar søt rogn
og brunnar taraskógir
mínar tenn
heilt menniskjaligar
í tí bláa tannkjøtinum
mín húð
lýsandi grøn roðsla

eg klæði meg í náttina
og mureldur prýðir mítt hár
eg klæði meg
í brynju
fari í hernað
fyri hvørt aldubrot
tvíhaldi um alt tað bláa
fríska saltrákan
broysknu krystallini
litirnar
luktirnar
ljóðini
gandaða heimin

grugg
pigment
skærir eggjakoppar
viskosa
oljutesk

einsemispenslar
leitandi
pastellvindar lyfta
uppundir purpurløk
kadmiumreytt kettuspor í følvi
grøn eygu
sum baberbløð
skera tvørskurð í náttina
sleipandi ryggsúlur
í húkandi landsløgum
sepialittur fastleiki
húðan á ranguni
rustaðar yljar

hjartablóð í krukkum
livratøl í tupum
mild barnahond funnin
frumtíð
nútíð í úrtíð
hanaspori í tjúkkan
spískar fiskatenn
knapplig landgongd
bláir snórar
uppspentir ímillum hjartasløgini

tann hvíti hesturin
legði sín sveitta høvur
í mítt fang
mín málningur
er um at vera liðugur

vit eru mánabørn
helvtin av okkara lívið
fullmáni
glasklárur viti
náttarlampa
mínir lógvar
tvíhalda myrkrinum í síni skál

tú og eg sovandi
tætt saman
tvær teskeiðir
í stongdari skuffu
tað er vorðið so seint
og tárini
renna aftur í sínar keldur

Translator’s Statement:

Cadmium red horse shanks, eggshell gesso, brittle salt white, alabaster doll limbs, blue lips—Rannvá Holm Mortensen’s career as a painter and mixed media artist shows through in every line of her book. I took on this piece as a job for FarLit, the Faroese government literary promotion agency and fell in love with its visceral textures and vibrant shades. They told me it was her first book and that they’d like a sample. I didn’t realize how new Mortensen was to poetry until I invited her to do a bilingual reading at a Sirkus Bar in the harbor of Torshavn. She wrote back that it would be her first poetry reading. You would have never known it. She read to a packed house. I followed her performance with this translation. Reading it aloud highlighted how many parts of the poem are outside my immediate experience—being Faroese, being female, the sexual awakenings, and coming of age in a conservative society. I am lucky to work with Rakul Í Gerðinum, my co-translator, and I appreciated our discussions on her understanding of the poem as a Faroese woman. But within and through those specifics, this poem speaks of universals. It’s connected to the rocky shores of the Faroe Islands and to the ether of vision, equally at home in identifying with the sea and with describing the moment of the artistic leap—“half-dressed in the middle of the night / nail it down / give your hand over to the paintbrush.” The poem mixes memory and desire not in Eliot’s dead land but in a vital land of horses and sea-changes and hair pulled in desire. For me, it’s a captivating vision. I’ve tried to capture it.

After the reading, I asked Rannvá if I’d made any mistakes. She said, “Yes, there are mistakes, Matthew, but I won’t tell you what they are. The translation becomes its own poem. It must stand.”

 

Special Guest Judge, Dick Cluster:

“Childhood memory of being cooped up in church clothes. . .a violin bow . . . a harmonica in C major / for a paralyzed hand . . . the sea enveloping the voice and the body . . . blue horses in the twilight . . . the Song of Solomon . . . a doll hospital in Lisbon . . . a young girl in Syria today.” The images just keep coming in Rannvá Holm Mortensen’s poem, and Matthew Landrum brings them to us in English with a deft, sure hand. And “hand” is key, because the poet is a painter, the speaker wields a brush and a palette knife, and “maybe / the painting will break every boundary / and reach beyond its frames,” but it has to be done in words — “womanly words / that shoot forth vegetation,” in a voice that the translator inhabits with confidence, grace, and barely ever a false note. Congratulations to Landrum for bringing us Mortensen’s poem from Faroese, a language we almost never hear.

—Dick Cluster’s most recent book translations are Gabriela Alemán’s Poso Wells and Carme Chaparro’s I Am Not a Monster. He edited and translated Kill the Ámpaya! The best Latin American baseball fiction (winner of a 2018 Northern California Book Award) and is currently at work on the poetry cycle Fíat Lux by Mexican poet and translator Paula Abramo. He has translated fiction and poetry by the Cuban writers Mylene Fernández, Aida Bahr, Pedro de Jesús, Abel Prieto, and Antonio José Ponte. He is the author of a detective novel series and, with Rafael Hernández, of the nonfiction History of Havana.

 

Matthew Landrum holds an MFA from Bennington College. His translations have appeared in Image, Michigan Quarterly Review, RHINO, Modern Poetry in Translation, and Asymptote Journal. He is the author of Berlin Poems (A Midsummer Night’s Press) and The Lonesome Savior, Translations from the Faroese of Agnar Artúvertin (Cold Hub). He lives in Detroit, Michigan.

Career artist Rannvá Holm Mortensen is a multi-media artist and painter living in the Faroe Islands. Her debut poetry collection Sólsmakkur was published in 2018. She is currently working on a second collection.