Another in the "Autumn Poem" series: Out in the Open by the Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer.
This translation is from The Half-Finished Heaven, published by Graywolf Press. Translated into English by Robert Bly. It's easily in the top twenty of my frequent go-to books of poetry.
Bly and Tranströmer were friends and translated each other's poetry throughout the sixties and seventies. The letter received in the second section of the poem is from Robert Bly in the mid-sixties - probably there were references to civil unrest, Vietnam War resistance, and government crackdowns.
There is a book available of their selected correspondence over a twenty-five year period called Airmail. Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011.
Out in the Open
Late autumn labyrinth.
At the entry to the woods a thrown-away bottle.
Go in. Woods are silent abandoned houses this time of year.
Just a few sounds now: as if someone were moving twigs around
carefully with pincers
or as if an iron hinge were whining feebly inside a thick trunk.
Frost has breathed on the mushrooms and they have shriveled
They look like objects and clothing left behind by people who’ve
It will be dark soon. The thing to do now is to get out
and find the landmarks again: the rusty machine out in the field
and the house on the other side of the lake, a reddish square in-
A letter from America drove me out again, started me walking
through the luminous June night in the empty suburban streets
among newborn districts without memories, cool as blueprints.
Letter in my pocket. Half-mad, lost walking, it is a kind of prayer.
Over there evil and good actually have faces.
For the most part with us it’s a fight between roots, numbers,
shades of light.
The people who run death’s errands for him don’t shy from
They rule from glass offices. They mill about in the bright sun.
They lean forward over a desk and throw a look to the side.
Far off I found myself standing in front of one of the new
Many windows flowed together there into a single window.
In it the luminous night sky was caught, and the walking trees.
It was a mirrorlike lake with no waves, turned on edge in the
Violence seemed unreal
Sun burning. The plane comes in low
throwing a shadow shaped like a giant cross that rushes over the
A man is sitting in the field poking at something.
The shadow arrives.
For a fractions of a second he is right in the center of the cross.
I have seen the cross hanging in the cool church vaults.
at times it resembles a split-second snapshot of something
moving at tremendous speed.