Rika Lesser

A Child Is Not a Knife: Selected Poems of Göran Sonnevi

Whose life? you asked
And I answered
my life, and yours
There are no other lives
But aren't all people
There's nothing
but difference
It makes no difference!
People live in different conditions:
internal, external
I can hold no one
in contempt, for then
you have the instrument
What about those
who don’t want to change their conditions,
those who believe
is impossible?
It makes no difference
There's nothing but
you, and you
Only when you become explicit,
when you
question me, and I
answer, when there's
an exchange   Only then is there language
only then are we human . . .
And this doesn’t happen
very often?
No, most everything
remains difference, without seeing
the difference
Will we talk again some time?

Do you believe change is possible?
Yes, that too

-Göran Sonnevi, translation © 1993 Rika Lesser

Summer has turned now   And I go
deeper inside my mother   She who
bears me, ceaselessly, all
the more deeply into the motion of growth
Wild roses bloom on the mountain
The birds’ voices have changed, cry warnings,
the voices of their young, more delicate   Mary
’s keys blossom, along-
side night-scented orchids, there
in the narrow glade   In the lake
girls bathe in white suits   I
walk by in wooden shoes, my footing uncertain
I think about the unfinished, the construction
of what is, which is also
the world, as an aspect of this building
that also is born from my mother, as she too
is a part of the growing, and
of the dying; for if death were not
everything soon would be finished
Storeys, structures, in all directions, from
all directions   Direction there is none
To describe the four-dimensional ball of the wavering
orders requires many more than four dimensions
The first small chanterelles are here   Perhaps I can’t
finish anything, but I reason:
that is not for me to decide
but for her, mother of the orders of growth   I
am born from her cry   The foliage, still light, is fragrant
I pick flowers, midsummer flowers, hawkweed,
two kinds of clover, vetch
buttercups, oxtongue, corn mayweed   Hell and Paradise
are only limited aspects of the large construct
we chance to pass through only for a time
Even the huge cosmic man, whose spin is
the axis of the universe, also shall pass
I don’t know how Gödel imagined the larger construct
All I know is that his image won’t be the last
In my mother are no contradictions   She looks at me
I can’t speak with her   She never answers   She
cannot answer   But every part of my voice
is born from her   And is part of the world in its growth
Each little splinter of voice   Address alone is possible
Because if we did not speak, if all creation—each being
and thing in existence—did not speak, neither would she
exist   She would not know of her own existence
For she sees her child   When her dark eyes see her child
even her invisibility quickens   I know that
she also looks at us with the eyes of judgment, straight through
the underworld down to the bottom of Hell   To that which under-
lies Hell   She prays for us, the doomed   She alone and no
other   The luminous night fills with the night orchid’s scent   Moths
are still awake, while the birds sleep, a short time
In deepest Hell all are awake   The stars spiral, turn,
join in dance   The great eyes are dark now, and still

-Göran Sonnevi, translation © 1993 Rika Lesser

This was the first poem by Göran Sonnevi I translated, see p. xxii of my Introduction to A Child Is Not a Knife. An account of the translation of the poem appeared in Translating Poetry: The Double Labyrinth edited by Daniel Weissbort, University of Iowa Press, 1989.

The Sheep Meadow Press, 2008            
University of South Carolina Press, 1997   
University of North Texas Press, 1995    
Braziller Series of Poetry, 1983; Sheep Meadow Press, 2010
Poetry in Translation
Yale University Press, 2009 Margellos World Republic of Letters
Princeton University Press, 1993     Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation     
Barnes & Noble Classics, 2007     
by Gunnar Ekelöf University of Massachusetts Press, 1980 (out of print)
Princeton University Press, 1986    Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation           (out of print)
Retold with Pictures
First by the Grimms, then by Lesser & Paul O. Zelinksy
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