Herbert Lomas on the poetry of Risto Ahti



Poems from Vain tahallaan voi rakastaa
('You can only love deliberately', WSOY, 2001)

The musicians of Bremen
(Self-portrait as a five animals)


People say man's above all the other beasts.
I decided to prove that – and first turned poet
and then painfully became a flying horse, celebrating its freedom
on great shivering brawn. They captured me and put me to pulling
loads, and, seeing I endured everything docilely, they said,
He's like the Giant Atlas, or Hanuman, the upholder of the world.
And they whipped me and sat on my back and finally
buried me alive. I became a pig and gorged my bellyful and my senses full
and it horrified people, who said: He's a disease, an epidemic, Death itself.
And they cut my ears and blinded me and sliced my belly in two.
And I turned into a dog and learned everything I was taught and they said,
He's completely without a will, like the angels, like an ascetic, and a prophet.
And they drove me out to wander the streets and the wildernesses. And in the desert
I turned into a tiger and people shouted in terror
What on earth
has God done – look, he's Satan himself. And they shot me
from an elephant's back. And I died into a cock and people woke up and shouted,
The healer of the world! And whenever I sing, because I only sing untold-to,
People wring my neck.



Personally I can't do anything Publicly except laugh Joyfully Astonished on the sandy beach of Farshore

Ten years ago Dostoevsky came my way and said, 'Everyone's responsible for everything that happens in the world.'
My Russian's poor (a mere four-letter word: USSR), yet I argued no. How could I cause desertification, the cupidity of a businessman, the cruelties the President's wife encountered in childhood?
Dostoevsky said: 'One could try to put it another way but, all he same,
it's no use contradicting. Responsibility's not the same as causation.'
'Anyway,' I said in German, 'I'm not responsible for what I don't know.'
Dostoevsky said: 'If you can't do anything, you reject yourself and you forget – and if you can, you do what you do, and then say with satisfaction you did all a man and a human being could do and reject your responsibility, your memory and the world.'
'I know,' I laughed & we went off to play roulette, as advised in the Mahabharata and The Gambler, and we played absolutely irresponsibly and lost everything a human being can own.



Three women

Young and happy, I walked naked
in the walnut forests of Farshore
and met three women.

The first woman gave way to shrieks
and ran away in terror (and her I run
after in my dreams),

the second wrapped her scarf around my loins,
whispering, 'I don't want anyone else to see your will,'
(and her I married),

but the third one won my heart –
not noticing I was naked at all.



Many eyes

As the hand's eyes see skin and the mouth's eyes
the sweet roundness of a breast and other eyes naked hips,
so my heart's eyes see a sick heart
and the eyes of my insight the darkness of a mind and the soul's eyes
the joy of freedom in an arcane cache,
so, to this person, the world's transparent, to this one clothed,
and to this one dim in outline, and to this one sharp and clear,
and a Forest's flowering which this eye can't use but this one
uses for sweet purposes,
which this eye petrifies and this eye infects – and this
turns into a shout of joy.



Vivat academia

This girl's hopeless at English,
but she wants to be a milkmaid, needs good marks
from the high school, and the cows think she's pretty good at languages,
I give her ten out of ten.

I've been a teacher, but teachers fiddle things for the academy.
A boy wants to be a metalworker and speaks to the steel with an oxyacetylene flame,
let him have ten in English.
A girl wants to get into the sixth form, she's excellent at her studies,
but perfection in the sixth is nothing but a bind,
give her nine.

Children flattened at school can only speak as pages of a book.
Teachers don't smooth the way for children,
they smooth the way with children.

Vivat academia! In old books
you find photographs of dead children.



You can only love deliberately I

If you want to have words that portray thoughts
you have to believe deliberately. Everyone here's going their own way to somewhere puzzling, astonishing.
If you want to portray thoughts you have to believe the human.

If you want to have words that portray feelings, you have to falsify the feelings!
Perhaps there are no feelings – and you, like the artist, create them yourself, such as Whirl Randiness Storm Moon Horror.
If you want words of feeling, you must trust the human deliberately.

If you're looking for words that portray the senses,
you have to love deliberately. You, yourself, must open the door into the garden
where life's possible and vanishing,
where nothing can be proved,
where thousands of thoughts, touches and tastes that have
turned into scents and colours die into extinction.
The only words you'll get there are from the human.
If you want these words you must love death deliberately.



You can only love deliberately II

I saw her for the first time
though I'd seen her a thousand.
I said, The sun must have struck her face
so strangely I remembered my own face's light.

The sun remembers nothing...
but a butterfly collector may suddenly
remember he's a butterfly collector, & he lights
his lamp in the August evening!

No, no, but a lighthouse keeper in the sea of space,
realising his total loneliness,
lights his own lonely light!



You can only love deliberately III

'What are they talking about?'
What's everyone talking about?
The rights of refugees in a land of refugees?

I try to drown myself in a memory of being present
like a bee in a roseblossom.

How is it possible that another person is
always someone else, a stranger,
in this company, in this strange land!

I said hello to you, because I thought you were someone else,
and you were wrong about me as well:
Oh! Since neither of us is here,
couldn't we just do as we like and kiss each other!



A botanical observation

I thought the tulips were flowering but they ripen
in the sun like tomatoes, and it's only then
that they open. I looked for my heart's g-spot as if
for pi's endless decimals. Finally I caught
myself simultaneously in many places:

brains can't open the breast, feeling ripens the knees
and the shoulders, children do grow in the world's winds,
but what will come of adults
if nothing wounds their side and makes it love mankind.



Notes

A moralist's moral duty is to be wrong. Moralists who are right destroy realms.

Because he managed to empty himself completely he immediately filled with joy.

Supposing I shed a little light?
Won't the other immediately light his own lamp?

The sciences and arts create no truths, only teach a language for the prophet within us to reveal his truth.

The treasures of the poor!
Much has been put to my name, but even my own
name I don't own before you pronounce it.


Translated by Herbert Lomas
 
 
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