BY TIFFANY SCIACCA
The fourth poet in this series is Karin Boye, a Swedish poet born in Gothenburg in 1900. Her first collection of poems, entitled Clouds came out on 1922. In 1931 founded the poetry magazine Spektrum with Erik Mesterton and Josef Riwkin, translating many of T.S. Eliot’s poems. Boye was a member of the Swedish Clarté League and a member of Swedish literary institution Samfundet De Nio (The Nine Society) for ten years. From 1929 until 1932, she was in a friendship union and later entered a relationship with Gunnel Bergström, the wife of another poet. In the end she spent the rest of her life with Margot Hanel. Her novel, Kris (Cris) written in 1931, documented religious crisis and lesbianism outside of her native country she is known for Kallocain and portrayed a dystopian society à la George Orwell’s 1984, though written years before.
Deceit, deceit -
other was never my life.
All my shame,
pen, poor thing, write.
Write of roads far, far
from my truth away,
write of a wall round all that was best...
Threat of unfathomed darkness
fills my mind.
thunder-oppressive budding time
is still mine.
I want to be still,
wait and see a while,
wait for the sun,
What is happening in the darkness,
as I smile in vain?
Is my soul dying?
Will I never come home again?
only keep secure
a glint of my intention
THE UNKNOWN ONE
I have never seen your healing hand.
You come in the dark, when no one knows.
I wait in silence and reliance shy
You my sister and mother, you and I and not I,
your name is night, an enigma's dark sun,
I sense you immense and mighty and blind
and soundlessly dumb.
You know depths of horrors I have not seen,
I tremble to break your law's secret way,
But you know a solace mild denied to me
by sunbright day.
I have silently hidden in you my wound
and ached among thorns till my soul was bare.
In the darkness you touched the bush - it leapt
into wild roses there.
The sated day is never first.
The best day is a day of thirst.
Yes, there is goal and meaning in our path -
but it's the way that is the labour's worth.
The best goal is a night-long rest,
fire lit, and bread broken in haste.
In places where one sleeps but once,
sleep is secure, dreams full of songs.
Strike camp, strike camp! The new day shows its light.
Our great adventure has no end in sight.
YOU CALL FOR PEOPLE
You call for people of great stature. What gives great stature
to a person?
To become nothing and forget oneself for that which is
greater than she.
The unrepentant call out. They themselves would grow
the moment they bowed their knees in the shadow of
the immense things.
But raise your voices until the gods awake, until new gods
rise up and answer!
When no one asks for people any more, then your
people will be here.
No breathless summer night sky
reaches so far into eternity,
no lake, when the mists lighten,
mirrors such stillness
as that hour -
when loneliness's limits are effaced
and the eyes become transparent
and the voices become simple as winds
and there is nothing more to hide.
How can I now be afraid?
I shall never lose you.
Around me float terrible mouths.
The suburban train is thudding.
These are mothers.
Mouths of predatory fish,
locked and tensed in greedy fear:
to eat or be eaten.
Themselves eaten away (no one has noticed)
they lug their entrails in string bags.
Dead eyes, dead fear,
mouths of predatory fish.
This is the lover.
Paint-swollen mushroom mouth
sucks for prey.
The shame of having given herself, the shame of the cheated
sucks for revenge of a thousand triumphs,
is never sated,
settles in layers of tortured impudence
around a wet mushroom mouth.
This is the pious man,
who with holy pursing
hides and denies his lips.
They cannot be seen, do not exist -
God himself cannot see them.
Why is he afraid of his lips?
What do they look like when he is asleep?
This is the happy woman,
she who became a possessor.
Among all those who struggle
she is the one who prevailed.
No lever will ever force open those jaws,
screwed tight around life's prize.
But over there by the window,
flowers a mouth that captures nothing.
What do you breathe over the wide world,
When will you be scared down there into the deep
to predatory fish
and sucking mouths,
snatch wildly after hunted prey,
slash desperately at the others?
if you want to live.
So I will take my staff and wander
and seek another world for you,
a world where mouths are allowed to be flowers
and breathe like flowers
their life's breath
and flow like flowers
from deep sources
and stand like flowers
Around you snap our deep-sea mouths.
The suburban train is thudding.
AT THE BOTTOM OF THINGS
I read in the newspaper that someone had died, someone
I knew by name.
She lived, like me, wrote books, like me, grew old,
and now she is dead.
Think, to be dead and have left everything behind;
dread, terror and loneliness, and the unforgiving guilt.
But a great justice lies hidden at the bottom of things.
We all have a grace to expect - a gift of which no one
can rob us.
If you cannot manage one step more,
cannot lift your head,
if you are sinking wearily under hopeless greyness -
then be thankful for the kind, small things,
You have an apple in your pocket,
a book of stories there at home -
small, small things, despised
at the time, that radiated living
but gentle footholds during the dead hours.
In the first poem, Anxiety she writes of deception, which I think is the self-doubt. We are our worst critics, as they say. Boye implores her poor pen to write her away, to a distance from her reality. Which is funny; as we always hear, "write what you know," or what I like to say, "write what you are." It is as if you are riding out an attack with her. In the end, she does not want the distance but she does want to be still and wait it out. Wait for the sun, wonders what is happening inside, while she fakes calm.
In The Unknown One, we have a direct reach to God. She has never seen God, for he comes when we are unaware and this God is family is us, is not us and is big and great but as helpless as a baby. This of course, is nothing new…now. But this was written in 1924 when she was 24. The last line is full of pain; I have silently hidden you in my wound—ached among thorns.
The Mouths could have been written today. The suburban train is thudding. Mother’s mouths locked and tense in greedy fear. The pious man with "holy pursing," "hides and denies his lips." I do not know why, but "holy pursing" really made me uncomfortable, well the visual. More so than the lover’s paint-swollen, mushroom mouth. I suppose this was intentional on Boye’s part, showing how one word can make a difference. I actually double-checked that line to make sure it was not a typo! The happiest woman who though the victor: no lever will ever force open those jaws. This reads like she has still has lost or if nothing else is losing out. Finally, the voice in the poem wants to take the woman with the mouth that is pure in wont of nothing, to a world where mouths can be flowers, not wounds, nor vices, nor traps.
Small Things is short and sweet. For a moment, I thought of R.E.M.’s "Everybody Hurts." Sometimes, it is not about the landscape but the still-life that grounds us when we are frantic, The small, kind things.
Karin Boye published poems in the confessional style reflecting her inner demons, doubts, loves and questions. Her earlier poems definitely leaned towards the more spiritual in a clear straightforward tone. When reading and re-reading her poems, I felt as if she was reaching out, working through some question, or acting as guide and seer of sorts. Her last book of poems, De sju dödssynderna (The Seven Deadly Sins), considered her strongest work, was printed posthumously as Karin Boye died by her own hand at the age 40.
Tiffany Sciacca is a writer who has recently moved to Sicily from the Midwest. Her work has appeared in the Silver Birch Press, SOFTBLOW and DNA Magazine UK. When she is not learning a new language or trying to blend in, she is reading horror anthologies, binging on Nordic Noir or plugging away at her first Giallo screenplay. @EustaceChisholm