Jan Oskar Hansen,
for old Men
I have been into
town bought a paper and drank a beer,
in the café where the old men sit in the afternoon shade.
I feel more at ease here amongst other wrinklies.
On the other side of the road, near the pharmacy,
the big clock on the wall tells us it’s five and the temp is
41 Celsius, but in the shade and with a breeze blowing
it feels fine. In a few years the big clock will tell us that
time is up, but others will come and take our place.
There is a vast pool of us in death's ante room; we are
but tiny ants on a window pane so easily squashed by
a child’s thumb. I sit in the shed, see how cigarette smoke
spirals up and out before dissipating in still hot air, and
thought of the silent sighs I heard when a beautiful girl
walked past our café. We shall never possess anything
as lovely again.
(memory of a
In the small
park with gloomy trees, near
where the factories used to be,
was a bust of a man’s image
on a plinth. I think it was made
the head was brown when not striped white
Mother said he had been a Mesèn;
she liked using odd words,
desperately trying to keep afloat
in a world of tinned
sardines in oil and mackerel
in tomato sauce. I took it to mean a rich man
kind to working people and had donated this sad little park
surrounded by damp factory walls; a place where the workers
could sit and enjoy the sun. The park was only open
one couldn’t have people sitting there
during work week. A child climbed over its fence
and drowned in a tarn of green algae.
The park was eradicated, just as the grim factories
were thirty years later. Life was bleak in my town,
one neon lit advert, on the night sky “Jesus Saves.”
Competing with the stars, and a persistent rumour
that the man in the suit shop wore ladies underwear.
Night in Blue
The house key was on
the same ring as my car key, couldn’t find
them I had locked myself out. Car neatly parked I never drink
the bar is nearby. I broke a window in the back, got in.
outside: police telling me to open the door, I did, was wrestled
the ground. At the station they came to their senses, let me go,
but refused to drive me back, since I smelled of booze and only
myself to blame. Long walk home, bars had shut. Climbed through,
the same broken window, the keys, on the kitchen table. I
a bottle of wine, opened the front door, just in case, no one
I went to bed at dawn.
The Field of
On a field, not far
from here, I see millions of lit candles
in long rows, but only at night; in daylight it is a potato
A man, you may call him god if you like, walks among the candles—
every so often he stops and with his thumb and index finger
snuffs out light; the skin on his fingers are corned
from this arduous work. Behind him new candles spring up,
sometimes he turns and goes back to waste some of them too.
He is heading for the part where the candles have been burned
only the wick flickers. He uses his thumb to bump them off;
a spiral of grey smoke in still air. He is old as time,
sometimes he misses candles that keep on burning,
although they have no wick.
As dawn begins, behind the easterly mountain,
the field of mortality turns into a potato patch again,
where an old man is harvesting spuds.
How to write a
I like to write
a book, any book as long as it has my name on the cover.
A one day course, how to write a novel. The course leader, a
writer, wore a long dress but I could see her ankles, they
and much younger than the rest of her. Dyed, red hair, face
presumably from sitting in all day writing how-to books.
Beginning, middle and an end, yes, like life, capricious in
the ending tends to write itself. Sudden endings are best,
run over by
a bus, or a train crash, where cell phones go on ringing in
interior. Then silence. Long endings are best being avoided,
pages after pages, endless days, exhausted relatives.
Lovely ankles, did she paint her toenails red? She wore flat
sensible for any woman over fifty. Classroom empty, they had
out for lunch, I went to the pub and stayed there.
Beginning, middle and an ending, what more is there to know?
The Fado Singer
Our visitor was
ninety two and could see far into the past
and into a future that held no trepidation.
Unaided she got up and sang us a Fado about love that
never lasts and the sorrow of defeat...
Melancholy, that’s Fado for you, but it’s also about how
sweet love is, and the art of acceptance
She lives in the shadow land of an impending ending
and what is new and timeless.
When she left she beckoned for me to kiss her, I bent down
to touch her cheek, but she kissed my loveless lips.
I was enamoured, and her eyes was clear as heaven;
a woman is forever a woman even at ninety two.
and a Chinese Lady
ocean, there is no difference between the vast blue sky
and the sea. I’m in a bubble, there is no escape. I walk on
a rusty deck
knowing this voyage will never end. Time is reduced to a
The ship is bound for Nagasaki but we will never get there.
I feel a wave of dread, the disparity between sunset and
is but a whisper. Magazines, books and old newspapers have
and reread a thousand times, the playing cards are filthy by
I have fallen in love with the print of the green Chinese
lady in the salon.
When voices are still I sit and watch her and will her to
but she’s inscrutable. Seagulls, the sea has changed colour,
grey and foamy, the air is no longer pure.
Nagasaki has come to our rescue and saved us from mortal
The city will dock alongside us in the afternoon.
My shirt is torn I’m
bloodied by thorns of anger.
The bushes by the narrow track are almost covering It,
I tried to fight my way trough, the maze but lost.
I have to leave this territory to its own device;
it will not listen to my 3% growth rate as they expand at will.
Born free, just like the Taliban. I could have made a nice
suburban garden here, one with rules, respect for law & order
with democratic trimmed hedges, soft lawn and palm trees—
palms tend to decorate resorts, they lend dignity to places
that charge a lot of money so city dwellers can enjoy tame
with their Martinis. Palm trees have good genes,
perfect education, Eton, the rest of us are trained apes,
we pick the coco nuts stand in awe, we admire our exploiters.
I walk in our town’s park now, gardeners keep, it trim,
it’s as lovely as unwritten postcards bought at a tourist route
that has a growth rate of 3 %.
The Fur Coat
During the Cuban
missile crises (remember?) mother came home
with a few white rabbits. For breeding, she said and put them in
a box under the bed. In case of war we’re not going to starve as
in the last one. Rabbits breed fast mother—had to move
of the bedroom. The cat ran off, I couldn’t go to school
spending the whole day finding fodder for them.
When the crisis blew over we had 300 rabbits indoors.
Luckily a lady, the wife of a shipping mogul and dedicated to
welfare, took them to an island she had in the stream.
And all was well, our cat returned and I could go back to school
The following winter was cold, the stream froze solid;
foxes could cross over—when spring came there were no
rabbits left. Well, that’s what we were told. Later, standing
outside the opera house ogling as the loaded, cultured, and
hangers on left the building,
I saw the mogul’s wife too—she wore a beautiful white fur
which we, plebs, greatly admired.
Where the track
narrows and overhanging trees makes it spooky
I usually hesitate, there is here a profound melancholy unseen
in the eyes of reformed drunks. I hear a rider coming up behind
I give way. On a white stallion, sits a thin woman—
she looks straight ahead and sees me not. T
horns from trees have scared her face, blood drips
like rose petals on her blouse. In the soft underground
I see no hooves mark. Legend has it an Englishwoman
had tried to cross the river a day when it was deep,
horse and human was never seen again.
I know where they are, the stallion is the white crested wave
that slams on to sandy shore and tried to get a hoof hold,
solid enough for the dolphin nearby to ride it.
If they succeed they will be able to ride east where dawn
and a Brazilian Café
The hotel where I
stayed served lousy coffee, insipid and milky.
I knew there was a Brazilian café nearby—on my way there I
past the closed down city hospital—grey walls dripping of
diseases, graffiti and dead windows. Convert it into an office
but who wants to work there, a place haunted by cynical doctors
and indifferent nurses who stalk the halls at night waiting for
to end so they can get out from this place of horror, and
they have lost interest in and can do nothing for. Tear it down
and throw the debris down a gully. At the Brazilian café the
was strong and healthy; the staff, young, moved as dancers
to the music in the background. There is much of Africa in the
Brazilian soul, passionate, courageous; yet, sometimes,
The girl who served me coffee, smiled with lips and eyes, her
dark, glowing… fit. And the sad hospital faded into oblivion.
Summer and a
Pure sunlight on a
forever blue sky, wasn’t there a song by
Cliff Richard about “Happy Summer Holiday?” Beaches full
of laughing people. Yes, I remember it well. Out of the sun
came an emaciated dog, lost, it must have walked for weeks,
but in the summer light no one had seen it. Near the houses
it collapsed under a bush, I brought some water, left it alone.
When the shadows got longer I brought food for it too,
butit didn’t need food anymore. The villagers came, no, no one
had seen this dog; an untold suffering had come to an end.
Wrapped the dog in a plastic bag, put it in the bin by the road.
The sun was blood orange now and shadows so deep that we
could see again. Too much sunlight is blinding.
A Tin of
Mother by an
assembly line putting tiny sardines into tins,
a machine did the rest, a squirt of oil and a lid stamped on.
Sardines side by side, in total darkness, wait to be eaten.
But first of all the sardines had to be smoked, the smoker
my mother’s lover, he visited her every Sunday afternoon,
and I was sent out to find a place that sold ice cream,
even when it rained. Rusting sardine cans, littering the
don’t walk barefoot in the grass at summer time.
Mother by an assembly line, putting sardines into tins, the
had another girlfriend now and I got no Sunday ice cream.
Brings utter indolence
An August day.
in the wind of dead heat
The only sign of life.
a white wall
Bluebottles drop ready fried
On the terrace.
The wind too has died.
Sun takes cruel revenge
Curled up pale leaves
My first wife’s
house was very small.
She wouldn’t let me sleep in her bed—
said I could sleep in her bathtub.
In the night I woke up—I
thought I was in a coffin,
got up, opened the bathroom window and saw the moon washed sea.
I have seen the same sea from many portholes always enchanting,
And my cabin was a pool of stillness.
I walked out of the sleeping house—by
the steps, my old dog,
I patted its head it wagged its tail, but refused to come with
Under a lamppost, in a circle of light, I stood waiting for a
I knew would never come.
Like the ghost of a schooner
Sails through our town
We fear and want her banned
A Muslim woman shopping.
Ruled by the
social welfare, and banks--
If you are poor
the state doesn’t want to know.
Find a soup kitchen, my friend.
*toffs: In British
English slang, a toff is a mildly derogatory term for someone
with an aristocratic background, particularly someone who exudes
an air of superiority.
He gave her
unclean as coagulated blood
that looked like stones—
rocks should come in a nice box...
she gave them to an orphanage
in the suit tailor Cohen sews?
Do anti semitics
buy their suits off the rack
or find Muslim outfitters?
Faces of Love
Two faces become one
face and I cannot tell the difference.
And from a distance I hear a murmur, Anne Margret. But it
can’t be possible her name goes back 40 years, why should
I think of her now? In my wife’s face I see Anne’s, her smile
and warm brown eyes. Perhaps I have been sleep walking
all those years, just woke up and realize that my Anne never
left me. No, it can’t be like this, I look at my wife’s picture,
she is now different from Anne’s, but she has brown eyes too
and a secret smile in her eyes. Could it be I have transferred
my love for Anne to all the women I have loved? There is but
one love and her name is Anne? I look at my wife’s picture
and say:” Darling I will never leave you.”
Hallo, Ann let
me tell you about your mother, she was much younger than me
and a dancer. She got a job dancing in Madrid, but she was
It wouldn’t do. Late pregnancy, but a doctor was paid well
and your life ended
before you had dreams. I never saw your mother again, her
name was Maria,
perhaps she is still dancing somewhere in Iberia. I never
forgot you and think
of you as a girl, hence the name Ann. I nursed you through
changed nappies and loved you. Remember the first day at
let go of my hand until I promise to sit outside and wait
for you. It dawn on you
when you where about twelve, that your dad didn’t cope well
with life and you
became rather bossy berating me for swearing and drinking
too much. I wanted
you to go to university and become a doctor in a white coat
or a lawyer defending the poor. I never went to university.
But if you wanted
to be a hairdresser or a nanny, I wouldn’t have loved you
less. Dear Ann my love
for you is endless, if I live to be very old do not let me
forget you; and as I hoist
anchor to start my voyage across endless seas, hold my hand
and let me gently go.