Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2020  Vol. 19 No. 2
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translation from Danish by Marilyn Nelson

from Vejen går gennem luften (The path leads through the air)
Denmark: Gladiator, 2017

Bjorn, dearest—

It’s Sunday morning, and from the window here I can see down into Kranow’s yard. It has rained every day for a long time, but right now there’s a sunbeam. The trees shake and push themselves farther down into the ground, because they are starting to lose their leaves. They lie and flame everywhere in the wet grass together with fallen apples, and today the tree outside my window is full of those little gray birds with the sweet voices that we heard one time in the forest at home in Vendsyssel, what are they called? Are they some kind of thrush? You can tell me when you come on Friday.

And it will go like this here: Thursday night I’ll sleep in a green meadow. Because you’ve taken Friday off, both from your job and from gymnastics training, and so . . . so I imagine it’s finally Friday evening. And that it’s windy, once in a while there’s still a little rain. It’s dark, it’s ten fifteen, and I’m standing at the bus stop between the hardware store and the bicycle shop and I’m waiting for the bus from Aalborg. I’m staring out at the empty main street, the village’s shining, rain-heavy backbone, and I’m counting the streetlights, you probably think I’m lying, but I’ve made a practice of counting everything. I add things together, subtract, I multiply and divide by every possible number, because we’ll have a math exam in the summer. But even though Staehr, our math teacher, does all kinds of back springs to push it into our noggins, I’ll be lucky if I manage to pass. But anyway, I’m a thousand times better at it than I used to be. Back then time was a dusty, unmovable boulder; now it flies, with comrades, noise and ballads, singing and music and lots of books. And gymnastics by the way, at least as good as the classes we went to after school at home. Some of the others say that nothing’s happening here. I don’t understand that. For me there are so many fun things happening that I don’t have time to miss home. I also can’t understand that I’ve already been here over two months, and as I stand here looking down the long road, I count the twelve streetlights again. They give off a lonely screaming sound, as they swing back and forth in the wind. There must be a couple of screws that need to be oiled, but the light reflects back from the puddles like small, living suns. But oh, why doesn’t the damned bus get here, I’m freezing. Miss Ravn, our handwork teacher, is a virago, we have so many lessons, pattern cutting, buttonholes, French knots, and on top of that a minimum of ten meters of stitching a week. As if the sewing machine wasn’t invented. Therefore, the five of us who are in the handwork class together, drink tea while we sew, and read Rilke and Martin A. Hansen and Winnie-the-Pooh out loud to each other. But Rilke . . . he pulls at something in me, he pulls me to him. I have to hold tight, I could almost pull my skin off just to get into his sentences; it’s like trying to put on a blouse whose sleeves are too narrow. You’ve often suggested I should read him, but just between us, I think he’s a little bit anemic. And the same goes sometimes for Martin A. Hansen. But when we can’t deal with more big, serious talk to the ignorant, we luckily have Winnie-the-Pooh. He takes us along into the wood to the enchanted place with pots of honey. I feel he’s saying the same things as the other two, only in a different way. Unfortunately, my handwork is always clumsy and grubby, but luckily I have my mother. Last month, while I was at home for a visit, she knitted a pair of socks for me. With hourglass heels and kitchen stitch toes, what do you say! But don’t expect too much from my cooking art. In Kranow’s house we have only one pan and one pot and a gas burner on a wobbly table in the loft. Behind the table is the propane tank, and what would the fire marshal say about that? That’s a sentence we’ve read in religion, I forget who it comes from. Do you think it’s Soren Kierkegaard? When I read it, I came to think of my father, you remember he’s a fireman, right? Luckily he didn’t notice the fire danger out on the loft, when he drove me down here in August. There are five of us here sharing the gas burner, and sometimes there’s no light out in the loft under the lightbulb, you never know when the electricity’s working. You don’t know either whether the bus will come on time. I’m still standing here in the rain, and waiting. It’s pouring down over my face, and my feet in my tall boots are cold as ice. If you have forgotten what I look like, you can recognize me by my boots. They have lightning bolts around the shank the whole way up and were bought at Engelbrecht in Aalborg. My mother almost came unglued because they cost all of the last paycheck I got at the office, “and if they at least were black,” she said, “but bright red!” Actually I should have worn rubber boots tonight, but the hell with it, because . . . now it’s happening! Through the gray drizzle out over the hills to the south I can make out from far away two small, yellow dim pinpricks that little by little become the headlights of the bus. As it finally drives in on the main street and at last stops here at the pavement’s corner, I imagine that I can’t catch sight of you, I bite my knuckles and think, No, no! You aren’t on it, have you forgotten me? What will I do now?! But it’s because I’m seeing wrong, because suddenly your smile is there behind the raindrops that are trickling down the windshield of the bus. You’ve just gotten out of your seat and as soon as the driver opens the door, you jump out with your backpack on your shoulder and your sleeping bag under your arm. As the driver starts again, and the bus’ back lights disappear toward the north, we stand in the darkness and don’t say anything. But then you turn. You raise your hand and touch my cheek, your fingertips are warm. And a little while later, after you’ve kissed me, we walk hand in hand down the street. I’m still freezing, my feet are ice-cold, but as always, you put my hand down into your warm jacket pocket with your own hand. The bike shop and the dry goods store closed hours ago, but in the black shop windows we see ourselves as two fluttering, gesticulating shadows. I show you which direction leads to the college, and I remind you that we’re going to a prom on Saturday. I’ve heard the teachers will come in gowns and white ties, and with honorary insignia. That is, those who have them, isn’t that wild? And what will we wear? It’s really funny, all I have here are two skirts, one gray, pleated, and the other dark blue. I’m sure I had a dress, it was red. But the hell with it, anyway, I don’t feel like wearing pleats; I’ll wear the blue and roll it at the waist, so it will be shorter, and I’ve bought a pair of nylons in Gerda’s Lingerie, because I imagine the two of us will dance together all night. As we turn the corner with the furniture store and go farther up past Bolette’s Hair Salon, I tell you the names of the streets. At the corner of my street we stand still, as I point up at the houses around us. There’s still light in most of the windows and I tell you who lives in the many little seminary student rooms: ten windows divided in two floors over the bakery, three in the house on the corner, and five in Kranow’s house. The street up there is muddy, and as we come in the front door and go up the stairs to my room, we lower our voices, begin to whisper. My window isn’t tight, the room can be cold, especially at night when I’ve had a dream and need to jump out of bed to write a few lines before I forget them. Afterward, I always hurry to close the notebook so the letters won’t slip out. When it’s windy, the wind whistles in along the window frame, but I have wadded the cracks with an old sweater that I’ve cut into pieces. Maybe we’ll get cold after we’ve eaten, but then we’ll creep in under my quilt, you’ll warm my feet, as you always do, and we’ll keep all our clothes on until the bedclothes smile. Then I’ll kiss your throat, and as I think about how much I love you, I’ll start to feel afraid of losing you. Afraid of death. But when I look into your eyes I can’t imagine that either of us will ever die, that everything can go on without us. Kranow has never said that his renters can’t have overnight guests. But he’s never said the opposite, either, and anyway they already have enough to think about. Mrs. Kranow’s parental leave has come to an end, she’s just started teaching again, and I’ve decided to act like nothing’s happening, like it’s the most natural thing in the world to have you sleep with me. And I’ve also decided that the thrushes will come back. They’ll be sitting in the tree outside my window and wake us up on Saturday morning.

Your . . .


There’s actually no longer something called a “seminary student.” The word has gone out of favor, now it’s a “student of education,” but I can’t find my eraser, so when I read this letter through again later I’ll just cross the word out.


I would have wished I could push a button and have this letter arrive in your hands, but now I hope it won’t reach you until Friday. And I hope you’ll soon have earned enough money to maybe be able to come back to Jutland and go to university? But I’ve been writing and writing, you must be getting spoiled. Are you sure you deserve such a long letter?


Be prepared for the fact that my so-called sofa is very narrow, there’s almost not enough room for two. But we’ve agreed that we’ll be careful so nothing will happen, right? And excuse me for writing so much about myself. In not too many more hours everything will be about you.

That’s how it will go, won’t you come soon?  

   Contributor’s notes: Inge Pedersen
   Contributor’s notes: Marilyn Nelson

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