Nightfall in the Harbour
He is reading, he is trembling.
The book is open, its pages fluttering
in the wind like the wedding dance of merlins.
Nothing can be changed, he believes,
and sometimes it all makes most sense
when you stop trying to make any sense of it..
As the last boat pulls out of the quiet harbour,
and darkness sets in on him,
he sits there listening to his mind,
as it silently rummages through rubbish. Everything
is rubbish, he believes, or almost everything,
but something in this lowering light
that lends its warmth to the ever-lengthening
shadows tells him of another silence,
a silence other than the silence of the screen,
other than the silence of the dying,
a silence that lingers deep in the pockets of
his own tweed jacket.
‘It’s all easy on paper,’ he still says, ‘but try
making it real.’ He sees how at the harbour exit
cars pass swiftly and in their windows, for a second,
everybody sees their own reflection.
He sees how in the slowly descending nightfall,
shop windows close the curtains
on their displays shying away and put the lights out.
People pass, and keep on passing by,
as he sits there, gazing at them,
but mostly gazing at the sea,
almost feeling like one, wandering, waiting,
until he’s no longer disturbed
by the all-impending silence,
and no longer anxious about his
ever emptier and ever scarcer
first and final page.
There are no roads
or if there is one,
it’s to Kingdom Come.
A new dawn,
rising from the lake and the river,
asserts the same old borderlines:
no warning before shooting,
or being sent back,
the catch goes
to where the fish swim.
And brothers and grandfathers
for there are no roads
Or if there is one,
it’s to Kingdom Come –
a faint high wall
surrounds a green-domed cathedral,
and further still
there’s a graveyard too,
for all the saints
and sinners who have come here
and gone from here,
from a tarred boat
or the bright pine grove,
from a cobbled home
or a feral garden,
from a windless dusty road
or the untrodden marsh.
‘Was born here and grew
up here. There’s nowhere
better,’ an old gent gasps,
a smile on his ruddy cheeks.
‘Was born here and
grew up here.
Where would I want to go?
I no longer want to.
To the city least of all…’
these villages are different,
homely and yet hardly
anyone’s home, too far
from stock and order.
Karoli, and King’s Village,
Station Village, Permisküla,
Gorodenka or Red Hill –
midsummer fires here, too,
high, short summer, too,
and goings in the grassy lanes,
near the bombed bog
a virgin forest,
a fox pup by the roadside
scratching its snout,
a willow grouse strolling
and looking for the right spot,
orchids for goutworts.
Say here, too,
that we hate to share,
we hate each other
and ever more often.
Life is tough,
for day after day we enter ourselves
into the Red Book.
Notes on this poem
Nightfall in the Harbour’ stems from my time in Sweden where I lived, on and off, for about two years at the end of the 1990s, and from my impressions of Swedish society and landscape. It combines them with a reference to Ingmar Bergman, whose aesthetics I appreciated greatly, in the idea that this is the scene, if any, that I would have written for him – of a man finding answers on an empty page.
‘Vasknarva’ deals with the question of identity, Vasknarva being an isolated village in the Eastern part of Estonia, right at the beginning of the River Narva (at Lake Peipus) which marks the border between Estonia and Russia. The village is almost exclusively Russian-speaking, yet despite its strong Russian flavour, it is not quite like Russia. The narrow river separates not only the two countries, but the members of bigger families as well. By road, the nearest border point is over 100 km away. Karoli, Permisküla, Jaamaküla (Station Village), Kuningaküla (King’s Village) and Punamäe (Red Hill) are nearby locations.