Three Danish Poems

Now what if

Now what if it were
like in a real mystery
where the guilty parties would not be sought out

where the strongest suspicion fell
but a place no one had thought of
and yet obvious to people with hindsight

Now what if the ringleaders
were only ringleaders in their own
and all others’ imagination

Now what if “the big fish”
when it came down to it only were
small fry, trash fish, bait?

 

Now what if those places
where all evidence points:
arms cartels narcotics syndicates

multinational corporations
various banks and governments
KGB CIA

The mafia
exile- and neo-nazi
terrorist groups

secret lodges
crypto-this and -that
etcetera etcetera

only were small misleading glimpses
from outside the visible tip
of an iceberg of unknown dimensions

 

This would not exempt them from complicity
but now what if it were
like in a real mystery

that the obvious ringleaders only were
front men for an extensive
network of real ringleaders

Now what if the real ringleaders
turned out to look like the victims
felt like victims

Now what if the ringleaders were the victims
honest workers and unemployed
sensible schoolteachers

conscientious researchers
worried housewives
jovial truck drivers

 

hardworking farmers
people at factories and offices
people out on the ocean

people in mines or hospitals
people that never would do
harm to anyone

now what if these guilty parties
were perfectly ordinary people
who haven’t done anything

who can’t do anything about it
for example people
like you and me

Now what if it were
like in a real mystery
and in the end we were found out

How would we react
and how would we be punished
for something we didn’t do

and how would we be forgiven
because we didn’t know what we were doing
when we didn’t even do it

Anyway it isn’t
a real mystery
because who would ever

find us out?

 

Someplace in Europe

Stillness woven together with little sounds
wind through branches
a distant bird
a faraway train
or the ocean
little sounds the size of
released sighs

Laundry is taken down from the line
the woman with clothespins between her lips
seems to want to say something
but she goes into her house
to have someone to say it to

A single airplane high up
howling of dogs
and with a bit of patience
sooner or later you get to hear laughter
a couple of children’s voices
maybe one that bursts into song
it would seem natural here

But rarely screams
no gunfire
or grenade explosions
where would they come from

Children are playing
and they look both ways
before crossing the street
scented with the cooking from the houses
a man comes riding a bicycle
another one comes driving a small car
honk honk says the car
ding ding says the bicycle
the driver has a cigarette in his mouth
the bicyclist does not
they nod to one another
and continue on their separate ways
none of them get hit by gunshots
where would the gunshots even come from
People can disagree
start shouting
once in a while it even comes to blows
but for the time being let’s go home for dinner

And the stillness blends with the darkness
a deeper fuller tone
except for a meticulous crackling
perhaps from an insect
or steps in gravel
or a constellation
that is shuddering slightly
Before long you don’t know
whether what you’re hearing
are the little sounds of the ocean far away
or your own smaller inner ocean
breaking on the coast of your temples

It must have been as peaceful as this in Bosnia once.

 

The real people

To travel
away from the hot water bottle and pork sausage
out to the real places
where the real people eat real food
live in real houses with real balconies
speak real, walk real
stop real
really get in trouble
have real children with real eyes
far from pork sausage and the hot water bottle
down south
in the south there’s colors, atmosphere
all the houses resemble famous old paintings
all the people can sing and look like famous statues
often substitute for them
in the south you drink wine
in the south you’re excitable all year round
in the south you do everything out in the open
love, fight, live, whistle, die
really
it’s inborn

in the north you have runny noses cancer envy
in the north you walk around the puddles
around the statues
around one another
in the north you drink milk
in the north you have to think about your health
in the north you’re stiff with health
in the north you’re right
in the north you don’t budge an inch
in the north
in the north
you go south
where the real people have real cats
real lice
real teeth, sores, contrasts
you meet at the real places and hold real parties
where the real blood rushes
everyone knows one another
far from the hot water bottle and pork sausage.

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Hvad nu hvis

Hvad nu hvis det var
som i en rigtig krimi
at den skyldige ikke skulle søges

hvor den stærkeste mistanke faldt
men et sted som ingen havde tænkte på
og alligevel indlysende for bagkloge

Hvad nu hivs bagmændene
bare var bagmænd i egen
og alle andres indbildning

Hvad nu hvis “de store fisk”
når det kom til sykket kun var
småfisk, skidtfisk, agn?

Hvad nu hvis de punkter
som alle peger hen imod
våbentruster narkosyndikater

multinationale selskaber
diverse banker og regeringer
KGB CIA

Mafiaen
eksil- og nynazister
terrororganisationer

hemmelige loger
krypto-dit og dat
etcetera etcetera

kun var små vildledende glimt
fra ydersiden af den synlige top
af et isbjerg af ukendte dimensioner

Det ville ikke fritage dem for medskyld
men hvad nu hvis det var
som i en rigtig krimi

 

at de oplagte bagmænd kun var
stråmænd for et vidtforgrenet
net af virkelige bagmænd?

Hvad nu hvis de egentlige bagmænd
viste sig at ligne ofrene
følte sig som ofre

Hvad nu hvis bagmændene var ofrene
hæderlige arbejdere og arbejdsløse
fornuftige skolelærere

samvittighedsfulde forskere
bekymrede husmødre
gemytlige lastbilchauffører

hårdarbejdende landmænd
folk på fabrikker og kontorer
folk på søen

 

folk i miner eller syghuse
folk der aldrig ville gøre
nogen noget ondt

Hvad nu hvis de skyldige
var ganske almindelige mennesker
som ikke har gjort noget

som ikke kan gøre for det
som for eksempel folk
som dig og mig

Hvad nu hvis det var
som i en rigtig krimi
og til sidst blev opdaget

hvordan ville vi reagere
og hvordan skulle vi straffes
for noget vi ikke har gjort

 

og hvordan skulle vi få tilgivelse
fordi vi ikke vidste hvad vi gjorde
når vi end ikke har gjort det

Det er nok alligevel
ikke en rigtig krimi
for hvem ville nogensinde

opdage os?

 

Et sted i Europa

Stilhed vævet sammen af små lyde
vind gennem grene
en fjern fugl
et afsides tog
eller havet
små lyde på størrelse
med lettede suk

Vasketøjet tages ned fra snoren
kvinden med tøjklemmer mellem læberne
har nok lyst til at sige noget
men går ind i sit hus
for at have nogen at sige det til

En enkelt flyvemaskine højt oppe
hundeglam
og med en smule tålmodighed
får man før eller senere en latter at høre
et par børnestemme
måske en der bryder ud i sang
det ville forekomme naturligt her

Men sjældent skrig
ikke skudsalver
eller granateksplosioner
hvor skulle de komme fra

Børn leger
og ser sig for til begge sider
før de går over vejen
der dufter af madlavning fra husene
en mand kommer kørende på cykel
en anden mand kommer kørende i en lille bil
dyt dyt siger bilen
ding ding siger cyklen
bilisten har en cigar i munden
det har cyklisten ikke
de nikker til hinanden
og kører videre hver sin vej
ingen af dem bliver ramt af skud
hvor skulle de skud dog komme fra

Folk kan blive uenige
begynde at råbe op
indimellem vanker der sikkert et par flade
men lige nu vil man hjem til aftensmaden

Og stilheden blandes med mørket
en dybere mættere tone
borthørt fra en sirlig knitren
måske fra et insekt
eller trin i grus
eller et stjernebillede
der skutter sig lidt
Inden længe ved man ikke
om den smule man hører
er den svage lyd fra havet langt borte
eller ens eget mindre indre hav
der slår mod tindingens kyst

Så fredfyldt har der sikkert også været
i Bosnien engang.

 

De rigtige mennesker

At rejse
bort fra varmedunk og medisterpølse
rejse ud til de rigtige steder
hvor de rigtige mennesker spiser rigtig mad
bor i rigtige huse med rigtige balkoner
taler rigtigt, går rigtigt
går rigtigt i stå
kommer rigtig galt af sted
får rigtige børn med rigtige øjne
fjernt fra medisterpølse og varmedunke
sydpå
i syden er der farver, atmosfære
alle huse forestiller kendte famle malerier
alle folk kan synge og ligner berømte stuer
vikarierer ofte for dem
i syden drikker man vin
i syden har man temperament året rundt
i syden gør man alt for åbent tæppe
elsker, skændes, lever, fløjter, dør
rigtigt
der er medfødt

i norden har man snue kræft misundelse
i norden går man uden om pytterne
uden om statuerne
uden om hinanden
i norden drikker man mælk
i norden må man tænke på sin sundhed
i norden er man stiv af sundhed
i norden har man ret
i norden viger man ikke en tomme
i norden
i norden
tar man til syden
hvor de rigtige mennesker har rigtige katte
rigtige lus
rigitige tænder, sår, modsætninger
man mødes de rigtige steder og holder rigtige fester
hvor det rigtige blod bruser
alle kender hinanden
fjernt fra varmedunk og medisterpølse.

Translator’s Note

Poetry can get on people’s nerves.  I have repeatedly experienced unnerving moments when I have been reading an exquisite piece of Danish literature, and then the page suddenly turned into a mirror, and there I sat, staring into my inner world, noticing parts of myself that I had forgotten, or never had seen before. These epiphanic moments are my recurrent falling in love with literature. And I feel inspired to share these works so they might enrich the lives of others as well. The Danish language is spoken by less than 6 million people. As an English speaker who has been reading Danish literature for 30 years, I am in a unique position as a kind of medium who can lovingly re-create these stories and poems so they may be received by a global audience.

Part of the beauty of reading Benny Andersen is how easily the poems go in. His language is not overstrained or scholarly. What Andersen does is pluck a few commonplace thoughts or moments out of a given day and put them under his own quirky magnifier. There in his poems we encounter his flair for illuminating irony and we soon realize that our lives are full of it. Andersen has won a multitude of major literary prizes including the 2011 Danish Arts Foundation Award for Lifetime Achievement. His collected poems, a tome of 1,200 pages has sold over 150,000 copies in a country with fewer people than Maryland. An accomplished musician and songwriter, one of his CD’s sold over a half million copies. Danes see him as a genuine literary hero, able to authentically represent their national culture, regarding him as Americans might a cross between Robert Frost and Bob Dylan.

Michael GoldmanBy translating a Danish copy of Catcher in the Rye word for word, Michael Goldman taught himself Danish over twenty-five years ago to help him win the heart of a lovely Danish girl—and they have been married ever since. He has received seven translation grants for his work with distinguished Danish writers, among them Denmark’s most popular, all-time best-selling poet Benny Andersen. Over fifty of Michael’s translations have appeared in eighteen literary journals including Rattle, International Poetry Review, and World Literature Today. And his original poetry appeared in Poet Lore and The Fourth River. He lives in Florence, Mass. www.hammerandhorn.net

 

Benny AndersonBenny Andersen is the foremost living poet and lyricist in Denmark. First published in 1960, he has produced twenty-one volumes of poetry along with numerous records, stories, screenplays and children’s books. Parts of his work have been translated into twenty-four languages. Now eighty-five, he continues to write and to perform to sold-out audiences in Denmark. He lives near Copenhagen.