Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
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translation from Danish by Marilyn Nelson

That’s How It Goes Here
from Vejen går gennem luften (The path leads through the air)
Denmark: Gladiator, 2017


I leaped out of bed, Why!?

Bjorn didn’t answer.

And for two years! I was almost shouting, and why didn’t you tell me before now?!

He lay on his back and stared at the ceiling.

It was Sunday morning, a gray light seeped in through the windows and I rushed around the room and started straightening it up, I rattled and clattered with bottles and glasses and plates. I gathered everything on a tray I tossed Bjorn’s backpack in a corner, I draped his jacket and pants and sweater on a chair, yes, but why?


A silence so the tears flowed from my eyes, and what the hell, I cried, all the way to Australia, I just don’t get it!

Bjorn sat up and swung his legs out of bed. His face was pale under dark stubble, his lips parted, but no sound came out of him. He stayed sitting on the edge of the bed and looked down at his feet.

Yes, and what are you going to do in Australia, I cried despairingly, white-hot with rage.

He took a deep breath. Then he mumbled, I’ve been invited to join a gymnastics team.

What? A gymnastics team?

That’s actually wrong, he said.

I said, Wrong?!

I said, So you’re not really going?

I said, So you’ll send your regrets?

He looked up. He looked straight into my eyes.

No, he said.

I sweated, I froze, I sobbed, you haven’t said a word about it before now, and now it’s not just about Australia, but New Zealand, Japan! It’s not just wrong, it’s evil!

The possibility came like a lightning bolt from a clear sky, I’ve only known for a couple of weeks, and I certainly don’t want to do anything evil to you!

No! And what do you call this, then?

He lowered his head. His nostrils flared, his shoulders drooped, and he finally said, what’s wrong about it is that I didn’t tell you before now.

Yeah, you sure didn’t!

I’m sorry about that.

The postal service does exist, I hissed.

He sighed, it’s not two years, only twenty months.

Only! Why didn’t you write to me? When are you supposed to leave?

He stood up. He came closer to me. He stretched out his arms; he pulled me close and whispered, but we’ll see each other before then, you’ll come to see me in Copenhagen, and for sure I’ll write you more than one letter.

Yes, but the evening you got here, I wept clinging to him, you could have said something then. I opened my eyes and looked up at him through the tears’ trembling, white bars. Or why didn’t you tell me yesterday? You’ve had lots of time!

And he had.

We both had.

Even though the weekend had been a whirlwind. That first evening when I’d picked him up at the bus stop and we had walked up the stairs and come into my room, and he’d tossed his backpack on the floor, we had turned to each other. His eyes had been full of light. And then I had taken a long, dizzy step and fallen into his arms. What time do you have to get up tomorrow morning, he had whispered into my hair.

We can sleep late, I had whispered.

Are you playing hooky?

Classes will be cancelled because of the prom, but now you need to have some food.

His big, warm hands lay on my shoulders, his mouth touched my ear with a whisper, oh yeah . . . the prom . . . but did you say something about food?

Yes . . . I laid my cheek, forehead, nose against his neck, I closed my eyes, and with the thought that in the meantime I had pulled myself together and seen a doctor, my hips became wider, warmer, softer . . .

And you said sleep? He bent down his head, his hands burned, slipped down my back.

Yes . . . I smiled into his hair and thought, that, with the prevention I had now, I didn’t need to be afraid, nothing bad could happen.

Eat, drink, he whispered, is that what we’re going to do?

No . . . no . . . I breathed into his collarbone, into his cheek, into his mouth . . . 

And then we reached the point where there was no stopping.

Afterward, late in the night, as we sat close together on the divan and ate, Bjorn noticed my violin. It lay as usual in its case next to my desk and looked at me with longing. I’d completely forgotten that, he said with his mouth full of spaghetti and tomato sauce, how’s your playing coming along?

Oh . . . It’s not coming at all.

Why not? All the time I’ve known you, you’ve wanted to learn.

Yeah . . .

So what’s wrong?

The teacher’s nuts, he shouts and screams and swears, but you can hear about that later, I said and passed him the bread.

On Saturday I woke up in the morning and without waking Bjorn I got up and went to the bakery. When I came back with rolls, butter, and milk, he was awake, and while I boiled water in the electric kettle and made coffee, he sat at the desk and looked at my books. The History of Israel, he said, do you have to read that?

It’s not exactly something I would have chosen myself, I said, but I’ll have an exam on it just before Christmas.

Oh . . . and how’s the teacher?

Very religious, his name is Thrane and he belongs to some kind of sect, we have him for history, too, but come on, now it’s time to eat.

Bjorn sat at the table and took a roll. A sect, he said, what kind of sect?

It’s called Moral Re-Armament. Something about absolute love, absolute purity . . . I said and poured coffee into his cup, and two more absolutes, there are four altogether . . . but I don’t remember the other two, do you want milk?

So, four commandments instead of ten, he said, and picked up the bottle and poured milk into his glass.


Yes, but what’s the difference?

Well . . . I don’t know either, but what’s weird about Thrane is. . .


I can’t explain it, I said.

After breakfast we cycled to the beach. The sky was full of clouds, but the wind had died down overnight, and as we cycled past the shoemaker’s workshop and Petrea’s Guest House and the dairy shopkeeper who stood in wooden clogs in front of his shop and clattered a case of glass bottles, there came a sunbeam. It glinted on the empty bottles, and just around the corner before the hardware store and the butcher shop, a horse-drawn wagon came toward us with a load of sugar beets. The horse was tall and bony. As it passed us it lifted its tail. The man on the wagon bench raised his whip and laughed out of the stink of the steaming horse-apples that came vaulting out of the horse’s black, silk-smooth rump. And the wheels’ iron rims rumbled deeply against the paving stones and left a trail of mud and wet beet leaves and horse-apples. Just after Tatol and the post office and the inn with a poster advertising The Red Horse we were out of the village and our tires whirred against asphalt. The grass in the ditches was pulled to tiptoe by the suck of the bicycle wheels, and when, after a few kilometers, we turned onto a field path, Bjorn turned around. Look at the sky, he shouted, pointing.

Blue, blue, blue, I shouted.

He stopped on a high hill, and I had to jump off my bike so I wouldn’t run into him. You can tell by the air that we’re close to the water, he said, it’s quivering. And after the next hill the sea really did appear, and we threw our bikes on the grass on top of a high clay bank as the sun broke through the clouds. The water lay below us, deep blue and rippled by the wind; it pushed me so I got dizzy and grabbed Bjorn’s hand and had to take a few steps back. A bit later we ran down a ravine and were on the beach.

It’s kind of small, I said.

And stone after stone, as far as you can see, said Bjorn.

Stone after stone, way out into the water, I said.

How come you know that?

I was in the water here in August, right after I got here.

Oh . . . he said, who with?

Who wants to know?

I do!

Wouldn’t you like to know, I said. I slapped his hand and set off running down the beach.

Yes, I would! And he ran after me, and when he caught up with me, he threw me on my back on the sand and held my shoulders. Now out with it, who were you with?

It’s not good for you to know everything, I panted.

What did you say? Now I’ll . . . and he lay on top of me with skin and hair and held my hands tight, while he kissed me.

I’ll only tell you if you let me go, I gasped.

But he didn’t let go of me. And I gasped in love, lost in his body’s wilderness and sloping forest floors.

A bunch of us from my class came out to swim one evening, I said, when we were sitting on the beach a while later, and have you seen the water? It’s completely clear and the difference between it and the beach back home is that here there are no cars.

But when I turned my head he was looking out into space. He suddenly looked dark and serious and he didn’t answer.

What’s wrong, I said.


Yes, tell me, I said.

No, no, he said and squeezed my hand.

Come on, what is it?

No, nothing. It’s nice here, and we’re alone.

And the sun shone. The beach lay there. We walked on it.

There was algae and seaweed and black splotches of spilled oil lay spread between the stones. The sun came blazing in from the south. And the beach smelled of water’s innards, salt and seaweed from the creation of the world. The horizon was shiny, clear as honey. The ocean smiled.

And we smiled.

We walked on the edge of the beach. We looked at each other. We couldn’t stop smiling.

Later, when we came back to my room and had lunch and an afternoon nap or whatever you call it, it was dark outside and Bjorn mumbled into his pillow, there’s something I should tell you . . . something about gymnastics . . .

I had gotten up and was on my knees in front of the desk, rummaging in a drawer for my dress. Does it have to be right now, I said, we have to be ready soon, and I don’t know what to wear.

Yeah, but . . . said Bjorn.

Well, turn on the light, I can’t see anything, I said, and we want to get there in good time, before the play starts.

The play? He turned on the switch near the divan, what are we going to see?

Actually, it’s two plays. After an intermission it will be No, I said, and . . .

Heiberg, said Bjorn, how original.

You may think that, I said, but Jytte from my class is playing the role of Sofie, I have to see that. And Lars is playing in Days on a Cloud. I’ve borrowed a red dress from Lisbeth, shall I wear it? Or is a skirt better?

Kjeld Abell, said Bjorn, that already sounds better.

Not everyone thinks so.


That’s why they’re doing two plays. Well, what shall it be, dress or skirt?

Dress, he said, and sat up.

Both students and teachers have complained about it, I said. Some would rather sit and swill beer than see a play, and Staehr and Clasen are against taking the whole thing so seriously, but Mrs. Kranow has had a theater group for a couple of years, and they are doing the Kjeld Abell piece.

Yeah, Staehr, the math teacher . . . but who is Clasen?

I have him for physics, I said, and stuck my arms and head into the red dress. He has nothing but ciphers and numbers in his head, but have you seen Days on a Cloud?

No, only read it, and seen the reviews when it played in Copenhagen. Has Mrs. Kranow done something to annoy them?

Nothing more, I think, than being just as smart as a man and on top of that a Copenhagener. What is the play about, I said, out of the lining of the dress.

It takes place in the clouds, some Greek gods have a visit from a pilot from earth.

How innocent, who can have anything against that? Just zip me up in back, I said, I wonder if it’s Lars who’s playing the pilot?

It’s very poetic, said Bjorn and got up from the divan, but not all that innocent. It’s about the atom bomb. And the pilot is really a scientist, who has jumped out of a plane to commit suicide.

But why?

Out of shame. Over himself . . . and because science won’t accept the moral responsibility for the atom bomb.

Oh . . . now I understand it better.


Why they object. . . I can just imagine that Clasen and Staehr would only want to see something people can laugh at.

Well . . . said Bjorn, but can you force someone to take a stand on a moral issue, if they’d rather just have a couple of beers?

Nah . . .

Bjorn gave me a kiss on my back before he zipped up my dress. As he sat down again he said, but what’s the problem with the violin?

I stood and put on the new nylons. Oh . . . I said, it’s just some rubbish.

The stockings? I’ll be glad to come over and help you.

That’s nice of you. Not the stockings, the violin.


The violin teacher is aggressive, everything starts to vibrate as soon as the man enters a room.

That doesn’t sound nice.

I think his opinion of himself is that he’s far too musical to be a teacher.

There’s murder in your eyes, said Bjorn, he should definitely watch out.

Just thinking about playing gives me a pain in my left collarbone. And the only thing I’ve learned from that hysterical beast is how to hold the violin. As correctly as a Russian concert violinist, would you like to see that?

Yes, thanks, said Bjorn.

I went over and picked up the violin case and opened its lock. I took out the violin and pushed it in place under my chin. I sank my shoulders and carefully placed the fingers of my right hand on the bow and raised my arm. Then I straightened my neck, pulled my left elbow in and held myself in that posture. What do you think?

You look very Russian, said Bjorn, in red and everything, so play!

No! I lowered the bow and sighed. And inside my sigh trembled a melody which only I could hear. I dreamed it could fly up and sound like a storm, I dreamed it could fall like a soft, gentle rain at night, I imagined that it was inside of me, but that something kept me from being able to let it out. No, I said again.

Can’t you drop the course? said Bjorn.

I don’t want to.

Yes, but you’re afraid of him, said Bjorn.

I laid the violin down and looked at him. And all of a sudden, my arms were so long that my hands touched the floor. I think he’s afraid, I said, and he has infected me. And then I put my beautiful, unhappy beloved back in its case, I stroked its curved, shining belly. Yes, I said again, when he stands there with his black, bushy eyebrows and stabs his black eyes in me and my violin, I do get scared. And that makes me furious because I want to play.

Bjorn emptied his glass and laughed, stubborn as always.

And I want to sing!

Should I feel sorry for you?

Yes, you should!

But then I started to laugh, too. No, actually, you shouldn’t, it’s all so deadly comical.

My father has a violin, too, said Bjorn suddenly.

Really? You’ve never mentioned that.

He hardly ever plays it.

But can he play?

You can bet he can, and he can do lots of other things, but he was born a bastard, said Bjorn.

Hey, that’s not a nice word to use!

On the West Coast people don’t have another word for that kind of thing. Sent out to earn money as a fourteen-year-old with no education. He can never come past that. Shame lies deep in him, it lies deep in my whole family, that we aren’t good enough, said Bjorn.

But you are . . . I said, and stroked his cheek.

Maybe, he said.

Maybe? You’ve just taken a sky-high student exam.

He suddenly looked tired. But how will I go further? he said. I still have to work twice as hard and get better grades than all the others, just to get by, he said.

You can do it all, I said. But what time is it?

Yeah, but how?

I’m sure of it, you can do it all.

Well, I can’t, and that’s why I have to grab a chance when it comes my way.

What do you mean by that? Have you seen what time it is?

I don’t mean anything, forget it, he said.

So I forgot it, because suddenly time had run away from us. Bjorn changed his shirt and socks in hurry and haste. We rushed around in the room to get ready and even so we got there late. But we managed to see most of Principal Hoeg’s speech. We saw Days on a Cloud; we saw No. And I laughed and had fun and danced with Bjorn, while the hours, the assembly hall, the clarinets, moved us around in one dizzy swirl.

That was it, that was what happened.

Again and again.

And now?

Now it was Sunday morning.

The light was gray. We were still standing with bare feet and holding each other. The cold came creeping up through the floor and I was beside myself, I was desperate.

And so, all the way to Australia, I hissed into his shoulder.

Try to understand . . . the fantastically clever teacher I’ve told you about, it was he who got me accepted.


Yes, into the tournament.

You’ve never told me about a tournament.

It was so long ago, I nearly forgot it. I never thought it would be anything serious.

And it was?

It was a world tournament with gymnasts from all over Denmark, he said guiltily. But deep in his voice vibrated a firm little kernel of happiness and pride, and I could see in his eyes that he was looking far away, all the way to Australia.

Well, I said.

And now we stood here.

He said: It’s a great opportunity . . . 

I didn’t answer.

. . . I’ll get financial support from a foundation, and you’ll come to visit me in Copenhagen before I leave. It’s a whole month away, and I will be coming back.

Yeah, I said. Breathed out.

Twenty months will pass quickly, he said.

Argh . . . Stop it! And I was hoping . . . I thought you’d come back to Jutland soon . . . I thought, we’d . . . I believed, I thought . . . I wept without a sound.

But you’ll wait for me?

I didn’t answer.

He held me, he wiped my tears, he pulled me close. Now listen here, he said, I want to be something, and it’s not as if I’ve found another girl!

No, but you will! I clung to him.

Find another girl? Never!

In all that time? In Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Haiti, a thousand exotic places, you will! Will there be girls on the team?

Yes, he whispered, but this is you and me!

Is it?

You know it is. So will you wait for me?

Yes . . . I said. A very little yes.

And before I go, he said, we’ll see each other in Copenhagen, right?

Yes . . . An even smaller yes.

We’ll go to the theater, he said.

Yes . . . I said. Three times yes, almost inaudibly, my head drowning in tears.

Later I walked with Bjorn to the bus stop. Before we left, I looked at my mouth, my eyes, in the mirror. My face shone like a peony’s rain-softened petals. And the evening was little. The street was little. The houses stood and sank together with closed eyes, as if they were asleep. The new moon lay on the sky like the bitten-off sliver of a fingernail.

And Bjorn said: When you come, maybe there will be another piece by Kjeld Abell in one of the theaters.

I said, yes.

Bjorn said: Considering that they are amateurs, they did very well last night. The individual’s responsibility for the whole was made clear.

I said, yes.

Bjorn said: The pilot was fantastic, especially in the part where he was dreaming as the plane went down. And now I’ll keep an eye out for the repertory when I get home to Copenhagen.

I said: Yes. And thought: He said home to Copenhagen.

Bjorn said: Maybe you can come in two weeks?

I said: Yes. And thought: The summer is past. Now come the snowstorms.

As we heard the bus out on the hills, Bjorn put his arms around me and said: Take good care of yourself. I’ll write to you, and you write to me and tell me what else you want to see in Copenhagen.

I said: Yes.

And thought: Nothing.  

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

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