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Poetry

From “Aednan”

By Linnea Axelsson
Translated from Swedish by Saskia Vogel
Linnea Axelsson’s August Prize–winning epic traces Sámi history in the twentieth century.
Two people walk through the snow with the sun rising behind mountains in the distance
Tadeáš Gregor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

X

Vass Valley. Fall 1920
(Aslat the dead)

You left me
on the Swede’s farm

alone and wrapped
in my large kolt

I didn’t stay there

One fall and one winter
we cried together

Then you joined
the herd and
left

As for me I spread
my kolt into wings
and flew away

blood drained
from my body and
vanished

I couldn’t stay

Where I had fallen
never to rise
again

Did you feel me Father

blowing across the sea

Didn’t you hear me

Among the sea birds
when you arrived
with your summer-fattened
reindeer

I was the lone
strand from the reindeer’s coat
gliding across the surface of the sea

in the bay by
the reindeer’s swimming spot

And the pretty hill
in the fall-summer sun

Where the herd
had to find its own way
down the rocks

Until thick fog rolled in

And it was
impossible to see
the pitch of the slope

I was the forest
thickening

around the great
forest way
hewn
in olden times

Where your lead reindeer
cleaned its horns

Did you feel it Mother
in your hand

that long while you spent
milking the tame cow
who then disappeared
among the trees

To search for lichen
and mushrooms and lick
urine from the ground

I was the weight
in the stone you brought
back from the coast

to place on
my grave

One stone each summer

you carry home
to the winterland
Nila and you

Mother you caress
that scar on my
brother’s forehead
as though it were a
whisper from me

Because I once
threw a wooden log
at him

that hit right there

Nila when I fell

You continued
to treat me
the same

as though I
hadn’t changed

The same old
slow smile
while my head quietly
wanted to roll back
into place

deep between my shoulders

Nila did you feel that
I was the movement
under the boat

in the mountain lake where
Mother and you
spread the nets

Did you catch
my gaze
in the eye of the storm

I stood on a branch
my legs were like
sticks
When the wind bent
back the yellowing
leaves

I saw strange mountains

with roaring rivers

And I flew over
the boat and called
to you:

There will be rain
there will be rain

 

XI

Dápmotjávri. Aslat’s grave. Karesuando Cemetery.
Fall–Winter 1920
(Ber-Joná)

That fall
the Lapp Bailiff came

The ruling language
ran over us

Swedish words
impossible to pronounce

They pushed in
through our clothes
coated our skin

The needling gaze

a rain through
all that one loves

Dirty were we
living with dogs

half-nomads who
followed after livestock

Bread so tough it
made your teeth fall out
baked by our women

In the midst of the breeding grounds
he appeared
with the darkening sky

To hold forth
among our
cows in heat

He had a message
from the three
countries’ men

Swedes Norwegians
and Finns

Far away from
the reindeer’s world several
families had been selected

We had to start forcing
our herds to graze on
strange lands

We were to be driven
from the forests mountains
and lakes

Migration paths and songs
had to be stifled
stricken from memory

The herd’s memory

the reindeer calves’ legs
that always
led us home

Now they would be born
on other lands

Now each step
homeward in autumn
was a departure from
our lives

My brother and the others

said farewell to the trails
and hillsides

Never again would
we sit on the island’s slope
where the ocean smoothed
the stones

where Aslat once
had learned to walk

With this my stomach
tied itself in dark knots

While winter
as ever
whitened on

from all the colors
around us

And we tried
to scare off wolves
we traveled fast through
frozen forests

Then I was again
at home in the winterland

Watching twilight
dwindle gray between
gray farms

In the birch forest
across the ice
was a group of cots

With pillars of smoke
rising beyond
the graveyard
where you were waiting
Ristin

Beyond
the graveyard walls

by Aslat’s grave

I took your hand

you had an
infected wound above
your eyebrow

Silent you placed
the last stone
from the coast

on his grave

Nila’s fingers
had to be held
like jerking
reins

And the familiar
waves spoke
to me

of a freedom
in the sea

I said that I
hated the reindeer

but needed them
too

We have to leave
Aslat again

For the sake of work
and the herd

Here he would
remain
alone

While we were being driven
from our homes

Then you said:

What kind of home is it
where no one dares say
our son’s name

Aslat is forgotten

Only his fate
is remembered

But you promised me

that his head was resting
safely in his grave

The dead
were not allowed to be
exhumed

And the bells
tolled beyond
the forest

We were called
to a church weekend

One last time
we would
meet our own

Because now it was full

It was full of
people in the village

 

XII

Karesuando church village. Winter 1920
(Ristin)

The Swede’s fingers
all inside my mouth

clothing strewn
across the floor

Me thinking
it was because of my
bad teeth

that the traveling doctor had come

With hard tools
he measured me

learned men
in every nook

With razor-sharp
scratching pens

they went
through me

I could tell that the
short one
was taking shape
on their papers

Using royal ink
to draw
the racial animal

The shackles
of our obedience

unfastened
my home-sewn belt

My breasts hung
their distaste blazed

I saw how they
wrinkled their
slender noses

laughing
all the while

My friend beside me
was quick to help me
on with my kolt

Then she quietly translated
their questions
about what we did
when menstruating

Over the doctor’s shoulder
the minister

And I heard him
say in Finnish:

The way their men drink
makes God cry
and the Devil laugh

And the shame

took root in me

because of my dark hair
and my
dark eyes

Outside the barn
my friend’s daughters
shivering waiting
for their treatment

And my poor Nila
was fished out

from where I don’t know

A camera was pointed
at his
upset face

until he just
sank through the floor

I watched them trample
him
with heavy boots

Tall chairs
were dragged out and they
sat down on him

I noticed how big
he’d gotten
not a child anymore

there he stood lost
and mute among their
bare hands
touching him

He should come
with us to the institution
said the doctor

and finally
my body obeyed

And I went up
to the men
and pulled the weak one
from the Swede’s grip


From
Aednan. © Linnea Axelsson. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Saskia Vogel. All rights reserved.

English Swedish

X

Vass Valley. Fall 1920
(Aslat the dead)

You left me
on the Swede’s farm

alone and wrapped
in my large kolt

I didn’t stay there

One fall and one winter
we cried together

Then you joined
the herd and
left

As for me I spread
my kolt into wings
and flew away

blood drained
from my body and
vanished

I couldn’t stay

Where I had fallen
never to rise
again

Did you feel me Father

blowing across the sea

Didn’t you hear me

Among the sea birds
when you arrived
with your summer-fattened
reindeer

I was the lone
strand from the reindeer’s coat
gliding across the surface of the sea

in the bay by
the reindeer’s swimming spot

And the pretty hill
in the fall-summer sun

Where the herd
had to find its own way
down the rocks

Until thick fog rolled in

And it was
impossible to see
the pitch of the slope

I was the forest
thickening

around the great
forest way
hewn
in olden times

Where your lead reindeer
cleaned its horns

Did you feel it Mother
in your hand

that long while you spent
milking the tame cow
who then disappeared
among the trees

To search for lichen
and mushrooms and lick
urine from the ground

I was the weight
in the stone you brought
back from the coast

to place on
my grave

One stone each summer

you carry home
to the winterland
Nila and you

Mother you caress
that scar on my
brother’s forehead
as though it were a
whisper from me

Because I once
threw a wooden log
at him

that hit right there

Nila when I fell

You continued
to treat me
the same

as though I
hadn’t changed

The same old
slow smile
while my head quietly
wanted to roll back
into place

deep between my shoulders

Nila did you feel that
I was the movement
under the boat

in the mountain lake where
Mother and you
spread the nets

Did you catch
my gaze
in the eye of the storm

I stood on a branch
my legs were like
sticks
When the wind bent
back the yellowing
leaves

I saw strange mountains

with roaring rivers

And I flew over
the boat and called
to you:

There will be rain
there will be rain

 

XI

Dápmotjávri. Aslat’s grave. Karesuando Cemetery.
Fall–Winter 1920
(Ber-Joná)

That fall
the Lapp Bailiff came

The ruling language
ran over us

Swedish words
impossible to pronounce

They pushed in
through our clothes
coated our skin

The needling gaze

a rain through
all that one loves

Dirty were we
living with dogs

half-nomads who
followed after livestock

Bread so tough it
made your teeth fall out
baked by our women

In the midst of the breeding grounds
he appeared
with the darkening sky

To hold forth
among our
cows in heat

He had a message
from the three
countries’ men

Swedes Norwegians
and Finns

Far away from
the reindeer’s world several
families had been selected

We had to start forcing
our herds to graze on
strange lands

We were to be driven
from the forests mountains
and lakes

Migration paths and songs
had to be stifled
stricken from memory

The herd’s memory

the reindeer calves’ legs
that always
led us home

Now they would be born
on other lands

Now each step
homeward in autumn
was a departure from
our lives

My brother and the others

said farewell to the trails
and hillsides

Never again would
we sit on the island’s slope
where the ocean smoothed
the stones

where Aslat once
had learned to walk

With this my stomach
tied itself in dark knots

While winter
as ever
whitened on

from all the colors
around us

And we tried
to scare off wolves
we traveled fast through
frozen forests

Then I was again
at home in the winterland

Watching twilight
dwindle gray between
gray farms

In the birch forest
across the ice
was a group of cots

With pillars of smoke
rising beyond
the graveyard
where you were waiting
Ristin

Beyond
the graveyard walls

by Aslat’s grave

I took your hand

you had an
infected wound above
your eyebrow

Silent you placed
the last stone
from the coast

on his grave

Nila’s fingers
had to be held
like jerking
reins

And the familiar
waves spoke
to me

of a freedom
in the sea

I said that I
hated the reindeer

but needed them
too

We have to leave
Aslat again

For the sake of work
and the herd

Here he would
remain
alone

While we were being driven
from our homes

Then you said:

What kind of home is it
where no one dares say
our son’s name

Aslat is forgotten

Only his fate
is remembered

But you promised me

that his head was resting
safely in his grave

The dead
were not allowed to be
exhumed

And the bells
tolled beyond
the forest

We were called
to a church weekend

One last time
we would
meet our own

Because now it was full

It was full of
people in the village

 

XII

Karesuando church village. Winter 1920
(Ristin)

The Swede’s fingers
all inside my mouth

clothing strewn
across the floor

Me thinking
it was because of my
bad teeth

that the traveling doctor had come

With hard tools
he measured me

learned men
in every nook

With razor-sharp
scratching pens

they went
through me

I could tell that the
short one
was taking shape
on their papers

Using royal ink
to draw
the racial animal

The shackles
of our obedience

unfastened
my home-sewn belt

My breasts hung
their distaste blazed

I saw how they
wrinkled their
slender noses

laughing
all the while

My friend beside me
was quick to help me
on with my kolt

Then she quietly translated
their questions
about what we did
when menstruating

Over the doctor’s shoulder
the minister

And I heard him
say in Finnish:

The way their men drink
makes God cry
and the Devil laugh

And the shame

took root in me

because of my dark hair
and my
dark eyes

Outside the barn
my friend’s daughters
shivering waiting
for their treatment

And my poor Nila
was fished out

from where I don’t know

A camera was pointed
at his
upset face

until he just
sank through the floor

I watched them trample
him
with heavy boots

Tall chairs
were dragged out and they
sat down on him

I noticed how big
he’d gotten
not a child anymore

there he stood lost
and mute among their
bare hands
touching him

He should come
with us to the institution
said the doctor

and finally
my body obeyed

And I went up
to the men
and pulled the weak one
from the Swede’s grip


From
Aednan. © Linnea Axelsson. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Saskia Vogel. All rights reserved.

X

Vassdalen. Hösten 1920 
(den döde Aslat)
Ni lämnade mig på
svenskens gård
Ensam och svept i
min stora kolt
Jag stannade inte där
En höst och en vinter
grät vi tillsammans
Sen slog ni följe med
hjorden igen och
drog bort
Själv vek jag ut
kolten till vingar
och flög min kos
tappade blodet
ur kroppen och
förrsvann
Jag kunde inte stanna
Där jag fallit och
aldrig skulle resa
mig igen
Kände du pappa
jag blåste över havet
Hörde du mig inte
Bland havsfåglarna
när ni kom flyttande
med era sommarfeta
renar
Jag var det ensamma
strået från renens päls som
gled över havsytan
i viken vid
rensimningsstället
Och den fina backen
i höstsommarsol
Där hjorden själv
fick söka sig
nerför klipporna
Tills tjockdimman kom
Och det blev
omöjligt att se hur
stupen låg
Jag var skogen som
tätnade
kring den väldiga
skogsgata
som huggits fram
i gamla tider
Där din ledarren
fejade hornen
Kände du mamma
i din hand
när du länge fick
mjölka den tama vajan
som försvann sen
bland träden
För att söka lavar
och svamp och slicka
urin från marken
Jag var tyngden
i stenen som ni tog
med er från kusten
för att lägga på
min grav
En sten varje sommar
tar ni med hem
till vinterlandet
Nila och du
Mamma du smeker
det där ärret på min
brors panna
som om det vore en
viskning från mig
För att jag en gång
kastade ett vedträ
på honom
som träffade där
Nila när jag föll
Du bara fortsatte
att vara som vanligt
mot mig
som om jag inte
hade förändrats
Samma vanliga
långsamma leende
medan huvudet tyst
ville rulla tillbaka
till sin plats
djupt mellan axlarna
Nila kände du
jag var rörelserna
under båten
i fjällsjön där
mamma och du
la ut nät
Hann du fånga
min blick
i storlommens öga
Jag stod på en kvist
mina ben var som
pinnar
När vinden vek
undan de gulnande
löven
Jag såg främmande fjäll
med dånande älvar
Och jag flög över
båten och ropade
till er:
Det blir regn
det blir regn

 

XI

Dápmotjávri. Aslats grav. Karesuando kyrkogård. 
Höstvintern 1920 
(Ber-Joná)
Den hösten kom
lappfogden
Härskarspråket
dröp över oss
Svenska ord
omöjliga att uttala
De trängde in
genom kläderna
la sig över huden
Den nåliga blicken
ett regn genom
allt man älskar
Smutsiga var vi
bodde med hundar
halvnomader som
gick efter kreatur
Bröd så segt att
tänderna föll ur
bakade kvinnorna
Mitt i parningslandet
trädde han in
med regnskyarna
För att länge tala
bland våra
brunstande vajor
Han hade bud
från de tre
rikenas män:
svenskar norrmän
och finnar
Långt borta från
renens värld hade flera
familjer valts ut
Vi måste börja tvinga
våra hjordar att beta längs
främmande marker
Vi skulle förvisas
från skogarna fjällen
och sjöarna
Flyttleder och sånger
måste förträngas
fördrivas ur minnet
Renhjordens minne
renkalvens ben
som alltid
förde oss hem
Nu skulle de födas
på andra marker
Nu var varje steg
hemåt i hösten
ett avsked från
våra liv
Min bror och de andra
tog farväl av stigarna
och backarna
Aldrig mer skulle
vi sitta på öns sluttning
där havet slipade
stenarna
och Aslat en
gång lärde sig gå
Då knöt sig magen
i mörka knutar
Medan vintern bara
som vanligt
vitnade fram
ur alla färger
omkring oss
Och vi försökte
skrämma bort varg
vi färdades fort genom
frusna skogar
Sen stod jag igen
hemma i vinterlandet
Såg skymningen
sjunka grå mellan
gråa gårdar
I björkskogen
på andra sidan isen
stod en grupp kåtor
Med pelare av rök
som steg bortom
kyrkogården
där du väntade
Ristin
Utanför
kyrkogårdsmuren
vid Aslats grav
Jag tog dig i handen
du hade ett
infekterat sår över
ögonbrynet
Tyst la du ner
den sista stenen
från kusten
på hans grav
Nilas fingrar
fick jag hålla
som ryckande
tömmar
Och de bekanta
vågorna berättade
för mig
om en frihet
i havet
Jag sa att jag
hatade renen
och behövde den
samtidigt
Vi måste lämna
Aslat igen
för arbetets
och hjordens skull
Här skulle han
ligga kvar
ensam
Medan vi förvisades
från vårt hem
Då sa du:
Vad är det för hem
där ingen törs säga
vår sons namn
Aslat är glömd
Bara hans öde
minns de
Men du lovade mig
att hans huvud vilade
tryggt i sin grav
De döda
fick ju inte grävas
ur jorden
Och klockorna
klämtade bortom
skogen
Vi var kallade
till kyrkhelg
En sista gång
skulle vi
träffa de våra
För nu var det fullt
Det var fullt med
folk i byn

 

XII

Karesuando kyrkby. Vintern 1920
(Ristin)
Svenskens fingrar
i hela min mun
kläderna spridda
överallt på golvet
Jag som trodde
det var för mina
onda tänder
reseläkaren kommit
Med hårda redskap
mätte han mig
skriftlärda män
i varje vrå
Med sylvasst
pennskrap
gick de
igenom mig
Jag förstod att en
kortväxt typ
tog gestalt
på deras papper
Med kungligt bläck
tecknades
det rasdjuret
Vår lydnads
bojor
knäppte upp
mitt hemsydda bälte
Mina bröst hängde
deras avsmak lyste
Jag såg hur de
rynkade sina
smala näsor
och skrattade
samtidigt
Min vän intill mig
fick snabbt
på mig kolten
Sen översatte hon tyst
deras fråga
om hur vi gjorde
vid mensen
Bakom läkarens axel
kyrkoherden
Jag hörde honom
säga på finska:
Deras män dricker
så gud gråter och
djävulen skrattar
och skammen
slog rot i mig
för mitt mörka hår
och mina
mörka ögon
Utanför ladan
väntade huttrande
min väns döttrar
på att få sin
behandling
Och min stackars Nila
fiskades fram
jag vet inte varifrån
En kamera riktades
mot hans
upprörda ansikte
tills han bara
sjönk genom golvet
Jag såg dem trampa
på honom
med grova kängor
Höga stolar
drogs fram och de
satte sig på honom
Jag märkte hur stor
han hade blivit
inget barn längre
där han stod vilsen
och stum bland deras
nakna händer som
tog på honom
Han borde följa
med oss till anstalten
sa läkaren
och äntligen
lydde min kropp
Och jag gick fram
till männen
och drog den svage
ur svenskens grepp

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