Translated from Swedish by Patty Crane
In the evening darkness at a place outside New York, an overlook where in a single glance you can take in the homes of eight million people.
The giant city over there is a long flickering snow drift, a spiral galaxy seen from the side.
Within the galaxy, coffee cups are slid across the counter, storefront windows beg from passers-by, a swarm of shoes that leave no tracks.
The climbing fire escapes, elevator doors gliding together, and behind doors bolted with police locks, a steady flow of voices.
Slouched bodies doze in subway cars, the rushing catacombs.
I also know—without statistics—that right now Schubert is being played in some room over there and that for someone those notes are more real than anything else.
The human brain’s infinite expanses are crumpled to the size of a fist.
In April, the swallow comes back to last year’s nest under the gutter on that exact barn in that exact parish.
She flies from Transvaal, passes the equator, flying for six weeks over two continents, homing in on that exact vanishing dot on the landmass.
And he who captures the signals from an entire life in some rather ordinary chords for five strings,
he who gets a river to flow through a needle’s eye,
is a plump young gentleman from Vienna, called “The Little Mushroom” by his friends, who slept with his glasses on
and punctually each morning stood at his writing desk.
Where the wonderful millipedes of his musical notations were set into motion.
The string quintet plays on. I walk home through the balmy woods with the ground springing under me,
curl up like a fetus, fall asleep, roll weightless into the future, suddenly knowing that the plants have thoughts.
So much faith we must have just to live our daily lives without sinking through the earth!
Faith in the masses of snow clinging to the mountain slopes over the village.
Faith in the promises to keep silent and the smile of accord, faith that the fateful telegram doesn’t concern us, and that the sudden axe-blow from within never comes.
Faith in the axles that carry us down the highway in the midst of the three-hundred-times-magnified swarm of steel bees.
But none of this is actually worthy of our trust.
The string quintet says we can have faith in something else.
In what? In something else, and it follows us for a while on our way there.
Like when the light goes out in the stairwell and your hand follows—with trust—the blind railing that finds its way in the darkness.
We cram together at the piano and play with four hands in F-minor, two drivers for the same carriage, it looks a little ridiculous.
Our hands appear to be pushing resonant weights back and forth, as if we were moving counterweights
in an effort to shift the frightening equilibrium of the scale’s balance arm: happiness and suffering weigh exactly the same.
Annie said “this music is so heroic,” and that’s true.
But those who keep an envious eye on men of action, those who deep down despise themselves for not being murderers,
they don’t recognize themselves here.
And the many who buy and sell people, believing everyone can be bought, don’t recognize themselves here.
Not their music. The long melody that remains itself in all its transformations, sometimes glittering and tender, sometimes harsh and strong, snail trails and steel wire.
The persistent humming that’s right now following us
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Acclaimed Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer (1931 – 2015), balanced his career as a psychologist working with disenfranchised populations with his active writing life. His first book was published when he was just 23 years old. His poetry has been translated into over 60 languages and received many prestigious literary honors. He was an accomplished pianist, and after suffering a stroke in 1990, trained himself to play with his left hand. In 2011, Tranströmer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Patty Crane’s translations of Tomas Tranströmer’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Blackbird, Guernica, the New York Times Magazine, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. Bright Scythe, a bilingual selection of her translations, was published in 2015. Crane is the author of the poetry collection Bell I Wake To (Zone 3 Press First Book Award, 2019) and the chapbook something flown (Concrete Wolf Chapbook Award Series, 2018). Her poems have recently appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Poetry East, and Verse Daily.