Gunnar Harding
translated by Anselm Hollo
from Modern Swedish Poetry in Translation
edited by Gunnar Harding and Anselm Hollo


Lasse-Maja in Carlsten Prison


                    Lasse-Maja, nickname of the notorious thief Lars
                    Molin, acknowledging the fact that he frequently,
                    and over extended periods of time, operated in
                    female disguise. In 1813 he was given a life sentence
                    and incarcerated in the fortress of Carlsten.
                    He received a pardon in 1838 and died at Arboga
                    in 1845, at an estimated age of 60. Stories about
                    his exploits became popular reading matter, and
                    tradition has it that his redeeming social value
                    consisted in "taking from the rich and giving to
                    the poor."

       Every night
              the water rises again, every night
he is flooded by his own blood
              infusing him with darkness, every night
      the rough beard stubble pushes through
the pores of virginal cheeks. Where can you escape
      when all passages lead back into yourself,
lead only farther into the mountain, into grey walls
                               grown out of the rocks, grey cliffs
                         grown out of the sea, grey stone walls
                  grey stone clouds, waves of grey stone.

      Every night, the whole bloody island is immersed
in the sea, like a mousetrap, every night
                    the convicts crowded together
              too tight in their own stench, no one knows
whose fear it is keeps him awake. Their chains
      hold them together, the chains
              and the sea and the rocks of Bohuslän
                    out of which, every day, in the daytime
                          they quarry new stone
                                 for new prison walls.

Hellyes!, there had been times
      when he too had accomplished sea-change
             from man to woman, times
                   he sallied forth in gladness
             in a blue gown, trimmed with lace.
       Yes, once he stole
the entire world
       and stuffed it in his mouth
             and swallowed it. Ate up
       the entire world
until it started shining bottle-green
             out of both his eyes.

                   Ran, as one possessed,
              holding his skirts
       through the forests by Hjälmare
ran through the sloe thickets, noisy with sparrows
       white legs flashing across the stream
              & down into the beds of maids and hired men,
spilling his seed with the silver candlesticks
       under the mattress, then flying away
              through back doors, chimneys, outhouse shitholes.
       See, it was all there inside him: the woods
the stream, the man, the woman, the fire, the excrement.

Stopped, at last
      by a wall, a stone wall
            not permitting metamorphosis
                  or only the final one: the turning
            into stone. And imperceptibly
      life shades into the fossil,
into xylography, so gently, though
      one cannot tell
             if those one addresses
                 are of the quick, or the dead.

       High up on the walls the rookies in blue
stride back and forth. Lasse-Maja expels
             a long, brown stream from his mouth
the very same mouth even the Vkar wanted to kiss
       once upon a time. Lasse-Maja
             dictates his "Memoirs"
                    to the seagulls
             and if their laughter is strident,
                          it still is appreciative.

             He found a tree, its crown
       more like a huge green skirt
to climb and crawl under. The dogs found it too
       and him. Sheriff and ruddy peasants
congregated at the foot of the tree
       and slowly he began
             the long descent

Groaning, in chains
       at the bottom of the black prison cart
             gliding away
                   down a darkling lane
        the treetops flowing backward
                          across his face.

        the chains, even the chains
he contained, and the stone. Every night
                                 they pull him down into the dark,
                          and every day
                   and every night: iron and stone.
Slowly he sinks into himself, into iron and stone
       while the world, little by little,
             steals back everything else.