Translated by Bill Coyle
from Issue 21
Baku, Azerbaijan 2006
I see you in this church without pews, stationed
along the walls or at the iconostasis, in sparse bunches,
and I describe you as though I were taking dictation:
the girls tall and slim, the old women hunched,
repeating the ritual in your diminishing parish
kissing the icons, and thinly, as with the tongues
of birds, praising the Lord Sabaoth, where you were abandoned
by a retreating empire that suddenly reconsidered,
rinsed and scattered like seashells stranded
on a beach , and I recognize, half sacrilegiously,
the situation for the poet and poetry: the context
is long since gone, but we go on living, persisting.
Though united with cherubim and seraphim, their song
of praise has no earth under it, the severed dream
of the old meets here the young people’s longing
to reverberate with meaning, their blue or green
painted eyelids beneath headscarves, almond eyes bright
by the icon of St. Michael with its stearin IV,
brown and gold with reflected light.
Håkan Sandell was born in 1962 in Malmö, Sweden, but has lived abroad much of his life, since 2000 in Oslo, Norway. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, the most recent of which is 2013’s Ode till Demiurgen (Ode to the Demiurge). He has received a number of awards including Kallebergerstipendiet from the Swedish Academy, the Essay Prize from the Organization of Swedish Cultural Journals, and a writer’s pension for life from the Writers Union and the Swedish government. Selections of his work have been published in Hungarian and German.
Bill Coyle’s poems and translations have appeared in magazines including Hudson Review, The New Criterion, The New Republic, Poetry, and PN Review. His poetry collection The God of This World to His Prophet (2006) won the New Criterion Poetry Prize, and he has received a translation fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Original text: Håkan Sandell. “Anteckning,” from Gyllene Dagar. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 2009.