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The Knife-Thrower’s Woman

May 2, 2014 by Kerstin Ekman | Selected and Introduced by Dorthe Nors

Lie down.
You must have trust.
Still more trust.
Lie down.
Bare yourself to the knives.

The big Dog has peed.
He has scrubbed his paws
and approaches calmly.
The knives are on the tray.

He will open you
and take life out of you.
There is no danger.
It will be done according to proven scientific method
and in consultation with several
small and medium sized Dogs.

You have life in you.
A soul throbs inside chorion
it listens to the murmur from the amnion.
A soul is becoming body
inside your membranes.
It moves towards the silt on the bottom
in that light which penetrates from the innermost
to the outermost
not yet hooked and gibbed
not yet cut apart. washed away
not yet.
You still have visits from the spirit world.
/- - -/

He took the life out of me.

My dear, you ought to be grateful for that.
have some grapes.
A hundred years ago you would have died yourself.
Don't you want them?
Blue Grass
that's an eau de toilette.
What's that on the ceiling? A burst appendix?
Dark blue grapes
l- - -/

Don't touch me.
Let me be.
Don't come too close.
I don't want to inhale the air
that has inhabited your lungs.
It is musty and stale
and acrid is the odor of your seed.
/- - -/

Hard are your kneecaps.
You have dipped your organ
in putrid wells.
I itch from you
and ache.
/- - -/

I wear a face.
When I try to pull it off
you turn away.
I wear a face like the others’.
You are enchanted by us.
Life is sweet for you
and at dawn you sleep.
I am one of your putrid wells.
A bundle of myrrh
where spiders and wood lice
have begun building nests.
/- - -/

Haven't you seen the trust
of the knife-thrower’s woman?
But the lady at the shooting gallery
she who moves in the line of fire
ducking. half running
she has no faith
neither in her living
nor her dying.

She is at a shore line
and life is a sluggish movement of waves
that tips out rotten seaweed
death is a lazy heaving
with a dead bird's body as its cargo.

She sees no longer.
She inserts rigid images into her brain
keeps them in white light.

In the evening she comes home
her shoes have earth on them.
That night she is taken to the hospital.

As she lies there
she has cost tenderness, tears
head shakes
and money
oh yes money.

Skillful surgeons
have opened her belly
a second time.
They have cleaned her
and gutted her.
Her wrists bandaged
she is now prepared
to start descending.
/- - -/

She is not home, not in her home
not in herself, she is not there.
/- - -/

She is now nameless.
On the wall a white rectangle
without a picture.

Go down, go down into this sea
go slowly
to life or death.
Let one wave take you
or the other.
You are on your way home
to your name.
/- - -/

Every human being has a system of mirrors
She arranges the world's pieces.
Shake her. The picture changes
but each piece finds its place.
A pattern is formed.
Every human being has a system of minors inside
except she who has been harmed.
She is a paper tube, loose seams of glue
and a small heap of world scraps

At night healthy and sick are the same.
At night the images whirl out of the mirrors.
Then comet tails of world
are on their way in. They cross each other.
Wander across the inner heavens
and take off in the morning
diverging crashing
fleeing away from each other
from healthy and sick alike.
/- - -/

Every human
must find a point where she is within herself at home.
Every human
who does not want the world to cut her to pieces
must find that point
where she cannot be set upon
the burrow under the breastbone
or a piece of desert
inside her own heart.
/- - -/

Now you are well.
Yesterday you were sick.
Now you are well.
It says so on paper.
Just step out.
May I go to the newsstand?
Nobody can prevent you.

Just step out.
very carefully.
The air is cold.
Just put one foot
in front of the other.
Wait for green light.
Go again.
Do like the others.

Sign out your life.
The coat.
Keys to a barrack.
Here students live.

Then just wait.
March light. Spots of snow.
/- - -/

Single educated body
snipped from its soul and severed.
Body in the lower salary grades,
well groomed (but a bit constipated);
its bathwater hardly cloudy
when it is poured out in Lethe.
Puts one foot
in front of the other,
cries seldom and with dry tears,
puts days one on top of the other
like ironed sheets in a closet.

But at night
when the body has crawled into its hut
the soul comes prowling.
The vagrant’s grin
flickering in the uncertain light,
the body shakes.

Sleeping with someone is impossible.
Sleeping is what we do alone
like vipers under a stone.

We can light all lanterns for each other
until the body glows like our garden
a night in August.
Sleeping though is what we do alone,
turned towards our internal winternight.
/- - -/
/- - -/
Here you have been before.
Come closer to the shore.
come closer to the land
whose laws you do not know.
The waves roll
your death
and your life.
Now you have come to the shore
of the sea,
now you stand at the gate
of the land that is.

She has vacuumed the apartment
and washed all the dirty laundry.
She has returned
the books to the library
and cleaned the inside of the refrigerator.

It is evening. She is nauseous
and afraid.
She has undressed
and hung up her clothes.
A faucet in the bathroom is dripping.
Now you are at the shore.

Now she takes the pills,
the blue ones and the white ones
and the big white ones.
She drinks water.
Her heart is racing.

She lies down on the bed
on her back.
Here is the first gate.
It is opening.

She is underground. It smells of whitewash.
A hand hits her in the face.
A voice calls out her name.
What did you take?
What did you take?
She is led into the darkness of the earth.

Here is the second gate.
It is opening.

They have stretched out her body.
They take off her nightgown
with the spots of urine.

Here is the third gate.
It is opening.
She is in darkness.
Voices. Steps.

Here is the fifth gate.
It is opening.

Her body aches.
Her tongue is stiff.
She wants to answer
but no one calls.

Here is the sixth gate.
It is opening.
They pry her eyes open.

Here is the seventh gate.
It is opening
and she sees
through a film
with erratic black dots
a wall.

/- - -/
Your body aches.
Your eyes ache
when you try to see.
Who did this to you?

I did this to me.

It is Tuesday morning. After Easter.
Cats drive by on the street.
You can hear their tires
roll over wet asphalt.
How did you get here?
I was brought here by ambulance.
The first time I came
from a military training ground.
I felt shame and hatred.

What was your shame?

My shame was
that my uterus and my ovaries
were cut out of my body.

What was your hatred?

My hatred was
against myself.

Why did you come back?

I came because I wanted to live.

It is early summer when I am telling this.
The air is fluttering over silky waters.
The morning light is touching leaves of ash and rowan trees.
I write not about a distant friend of mine.
I write about myself. I want to tell
about an evening last winter. I had just come off the ferry.
It was dark, the street was slippery and full of holes.
A wind accosted me uphill towards the house
piercing to the bone right through my clothes.
Then in the play between the street lamp’s light and darkness
and between the stains of ice and gravel on the street.
and in the skeletons of lilacs up against the iron fence
I saw:

how wondrous it is that we can live here in this darkness.
manage in the cold, hold out against all that ugliness and death.

How wondrous it is that some want to get up early,
drink instant coffee, take the bus and soothe
or try to soothe the pain, to heal.

Already the key was in my hand
I was about to go into the warmth
that someone, more than one, had prepared for me.

It is now over. The snow has melted.
Under its darkened scabs
water has found its way through to the sea.
The fog that the raw thrusts of the ferry could hardly penetrate
has now lifted.
Air now moves across the water,
gently fluttering in leaves of ash and rowan tree.
/- - -/

It is a still morning.
The water soft as skin, its membranes
naked, its breathing calm.
Just now a stem out through it,
upright. stomping as if the water were
an enemy to be violated
and defeated. A motor roared.
Erect the stem cleaved water's skin.
and left its membranes pried apart
so that they fell on both sides down
in shreds. The water though. took in
its waters. Wave fell into wave.
In long breakers
towards the familiar even stone slabs
of the shoreline
the water broke and fell anew
in towards water. Healing.

It is a still morning.
The sea is breathing calmly.

One day it happens. The water heals.
The air is purified. The fire is burned out
and in a crevice
earth begins to gather.

The dollgods with their rigid eyes,
adorned limbs,
idols in uniform
do not rule the earth.
Alone they do not have the power of destruction.
Someone must place it
within their reach.
Alone we do not have the power of healing.
Someone must want it.
More than we.

I stand on a jetty.
The seagulls throw
their winged knives against my body.
They mind me.

The grebes' young, soft bodies
beaten patiently against the stones
when waves came surging
swim out again.
Tiny systems made of down and feathers,
bone, membranes, cartilage and blood.

The water treats them
with respect.
It carries them in safety
there where they belong.

They are within themselves, at home.

Translated from the Swedish by Rose-Marie Oster, who won the American-Scandinavian Foundation Prize for this rendition. Reproduced by permission of Bonnier Rights, Sweden.

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