:: Article

Three Poems

By Gunnar Harding.

from the Series “Years”


My brother’s sitting high in the linden tree, the tall one
near the wall. He can’t get down.
My sister has blond braids and a pink ribbon in her hair.
A girl arrives from Germany.
She has dark braids. She’s crying.
My father puts on his bicycle clips.
He rides to Odengatan 9 with his hat and his briefcase.
Something dark that’s happened somewhere else must be understood.
When the streetlights come on we have to run home.
I stand panting in the foyer.
My mother’s in the kitchen. She looks sad.
She’s dicing carrots.
My brother’s lying in bed eating gooseberry fool with a teaspoon
to make it last longer.
He lies in bed for a year and eats and eats
but only gets skinnier.
I lie on my stomach on the floor and draw a war that never ends.
Something dark that must be understood
is between the lampposts. Something dark seeps into me
and becomes a spirited lifelong despair.
There are orange cubes to be eaten cooked.
There is a man in a dark overcoat and a fur hat.
He goes out skating in the evening darkness.
His path would be hidden from me
if it weren’t for the graceful movements of his glowing cigar.
There’s white smoke above his head.
Columns of smoke from chimneys rise straight up over the roofs.
They are the houses’ frozen souls,
visible perhaps because of the moonlight,
perhaps because of something else
that will never be revealed to me.


It isn’t everyone who grew up in a psychiatric house
with a green sofa that reeked of neuroses
though the place was forever being aired out
even on cold winter days when the bullfinches
sat bleeding in the bare apple trees.
It isn’t everyone who knows what it means
to sit on a parapet
high up and without a flyboard
although you can see others flying by,
some of them even sitting up in their beds.

The fear of falling gives rise to such fantasies.
Nonetheless you fall each night into the cellar,
that little room full of cells inside your forehead
where murmuring voices are constantly drowned out
by the ventilation system that hums and whirs
but never gets serious about dispersing
the deep feeling of guilt,
stronger than all visual impressions.

Was the only salvation to live in reverse?
The psychiatrist himself sat lost in thought
behind his desk.
You quickly learned never to tell your dreams.
They only deepened his pondering and made him
walk in circles with his hands folded on his back.

The fragments of dream that ended up in sketchbooks
were filed in stacks in the attic,
waiting for what? Waiting for the day
when they would merge
into a decipherable whole, and when the guilt
whose surface tension was increasing all the time
would explode and I would rocket up backwards
from the deep end like a high diver
and stand there, brightly lit,
completely dry and completely true,
for the truth is almost always naked.
This scared me more
than the voices murmuring below.

1962 (K4 in Umeå)

We were here to defend this forest
and become a part of this green
that our tents and uniforms clumsily mimicked.
The forest would not be fooled.
Spruce branches slapped us in the face when we rode past,
tree trunks scraped against our knees.
If someone fell out of the saddle he inevitably landed
with his back on a pine root.

In the winter we dressed up as snow.
To be invisible and then deadly
was the point.
To obliterate ourselves
so we could later obliterate others.
The green forest wouldn’t acknowledge us.
The white snow did not love us.
We were Norrland’s last dragoons.
Dressed in white, snowblind, camouflaged as snow
we guarded a whiteness
we would never be part of
in the country from Tavelsjö to Täfteå.

Translated from the Swedish by Roger Greenwald


Gunnar Harding (born 1940) started as a jazz musician, studied painting in Stockholm, and made his literary debut in 1967. He has published – in addition to translations and non-fiction – seventeen volumes of poetry. He was co-editor of the prestigious Swedish literary quarterly ARTES and of the English-language annual ARTES INTERNATIONAL. In 1992 he was awarded the Bellman Prize by the Swedish Academy; 2007 saw publication of the third comprehensive selection of his poetry, covering the years 1965-2003. In 1995 he was awarded Svenska Dagbladets Literature Prize in recognition of his important role in Sweden’s literary life since the 1960s, and in 2001 he won the prestigious Övralid Prize.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, April 15th, 2012.