Tuesday, June 19, 2018

the lemon-yellow tints

Topeliusesplanaden, Nykarleby, Finland

[Image source: https://leifsfoton.blogspot.com/2015/10/esplanaden-i-nykarleby.html. Photograph by Leif Sjöholm.]

Nykarleby's main street. Here, as in many other northern towns where the buildings were principally of wood, a double row of birches down the middle of the main street was designed to prevent house-fires spreading right across the town. A fire on 25th  June 1888 burnt down much of the city of Umeå, now famed as  the "city of birches". I remember noticing these double lines of birches when I stayed in Jokkmokk.


the ones that do not separate
the guffaws the derision  the invective
the tricks
'us lot' the proof of those fit for existence
that they are within their rights

they have made it up and are plucking
withered flowers out of the rubbish bins
and I see before me a funeral procession
as I saw it more than twenty years ago
when I was reading Bellman
I see again the lemon-yellow tints
in the black and the white
and perceive again
the eternal recurrence
with fresh recognition as though it were for the first time
I realize
that it is that yellow colour
that constitutes the streak of the macabre
forms tone and foundation in this whole
even though it is the black and the white
that dominate
while the yellow exists as dwindling
distant flecks

'Moses, you that killed our Jesus'
scream further back in time
the flax-fringed boys to the Jewish boy
in front of the staircase in the inward-turned crescent
a primordial cavern
that the sun found
and the most prickly cactus
they beat him
and his eyes accept more and more the suffering
slightly contemptuous and very reticent expression
I thought was Christ's


Watteau's L'Indifferent in shimmering yellow
Bellman's funeral cortège
Mozart's C and D
Villon's 'The Ballad of the Hanged'
which without the least waste of time
with the cool delight of the spring
serves up truth
self-evident birdsong
even though pecked and eaten by birds
with the rope dangling around his neck
jester in green and yellow
the unique the solitary
which a few seconds centuries earlier
was the spring's oblation
sometimes ready for mutual death
a few seconds centuries later
the child's dismayed smile
when it died of wounds this morning in Korea
its sudden indifference
as its face turned pale
yellow against the black hair
so indifferent was the encounter
with the knowledge of the powerful
in a land where the many cultures have met together
in order to liberate enrich teach cure
penetrate     with violence    cause    illness    and     splitting

but then also cure
civilise help
but with knowledge for death
lemon-yellow skin against black wisps
'they say what does not need to be said
they make visible what does not need to be made visible'
eyes so turned-away that only the whites are prepared to meet

experience of mutilation of the irreconcilable
and yet capacity for reconciliation
if not with .....


Extracts from "Retrospect", published in I tunga hängen mognar bären  (In Heavy Clusters The Berries Ripen, 1959). English translation by David McDuff.

The complete poem "Retrospect", along with various other Tuominen pieces, is available online on David's own website:  http://www.halldor.demon.co.uk/tuompage.htm


Mirjam Irene Tuominen 1913 - 1967

Mirjam Tuominen in Nykarleby, memoir by her daughter Tuva Korsström (in Swedish):


She lived there, especially in the 1940s (the time of her marriage, the birth of her two daughters, and the publication of her well-received short stories); thereafter more sporadically, leaving the town finally in the mid-1950s.  The small town didn't make her happy. She was remembered as causing outrage by smoking cigarettes while walking down the middle of the main street -- I suppose the birch trees were not there then.

Tuva Korsström: "Dark gods: on the prose and poetry of Mirjam Tuominen" (in English):


David McDuff on Mirjam Tuominen:


Mirjam Tuominen's Selected Writings, translated by David McDuff, was published by Bloodaxe in 1994. The jacket uses one of her own pastel drawings, from 1958.


Nykarleby is a town in Finland  more or less directly opposite Umeå in Sweden. The gulf of Bothnia (Sw: Bottenviken) lies between, and is quite narrow at this point. Nearly 90% of Nykarleby's inhabitants still speak Swedish rather than Finnish.

The poet Gösta Ågren also has Nykarleby connections, as did the nineteenth-century author Zachris Topelius, after whom its main street is named.

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