Translated by Anne Bo
the shine of the calm sea that my gaze
throws out over my journey´s
I gather in myself
the current that vibrates my nerves
to a field of dark love
I hone to a blade´s
where I painfully balance
fall back in the dusk
faintly lit by memory
the last scap
of clouds flying
into the siesta´s uneasy
in the speed of the years´ bygone
I set off
in the gleam of the light
that strikes into me like a
as I´m pushed out into
Out there, the Hyades
the rainstars that drip
their shining death
over my life
so I can
turn a circle around
that is my secret
where I am to be lost
Translated by Patricia Crampton
They Sing of Fleas
Where is it then, the place where I can merge
together with my steps and my steps with my
shadow, the shadow with the echo
where I become the one I saw in the light of an
After all it is simply a trial
a whipping from spot to spot, from second to
where the permanent values are everything that is
Might it be there, the place, on the top of the
there, in the sonorous strokes of the bells
and coming to the sombre passage end, there where an
unexpected summer starts
the bottom of an alley in the deepest degradation
that always called to one of us
the cross of the heart´s blind glow when it stuck
its point in through the trellis of sterility?
For this is simply demolition
a withering without rest
a chatter and fear of the gaping ravine that
will in the end split the mountains of paper like flakes
of snow under the hammering piston of the ultimate
I cast my mind towards the fixed place, that
harshly threw the bright beams off
that in which life was not
and yet whose movements ended in a near
so distant from our fall
I have become strangely primitive, a monstrous
and unruly fluteplayer
looking for the luminous bone
on the edge of the assembly´s murmuring
too embarrassed to dress myself up
and too conceited not to toss out words
I would have liked to cruise across
Throw myself overboard
And see the seagulls´ dazzling flight
Shaping my flighty thoughts
And coasts are laced with vessels
grotesque caravans of words
and rubbish, fugitives´ goods travelling
over ramshackle bridges
and loneliness that knows itself in shaking
blown glass bells
an earthly fools´ dance jingling in the distant
tinkle of bells
or else who was the cloud that went sailing past
into another´s life
a deceptive dot that moved away
a flea that first bit and then jumped?
Translated by Verne Moberg
Letter from a tourist
the perfect place in the house
running incessantly around the block
after the white room with the cool wind
I´ve been hunting for my whole life.
I am free to board a barrel
and get smashed up under the bloom of the Southern Cross against
plundered guano isle in the ember-beaming ocean.
Bound thus in a dilemma
that merely augments the tension of the sphere
between the basic conditions of the cell
and the blue space of the bird;
and with all we know today silence
naturally comes closest.
If the arrow doesn´t
aim at the farthest point,
and there is no center
but air and earth, essences, water
and moreover people
when someone learns he has a cut above the brow
and a sentence between the bars and infinity
the fall is hardly avoided
down in a spectacular drawing of the shoulders
just as it wasn´t worth it
for the shame would survive us?
and the swans when they float past The French Cafe,
and the elephant on the way out of the picture, the impala, the giraffe,
and the word
when it no longer airs our unbelief?
Someplace in Zimbabwe there is a person about to
rouse a sleeping spirit.
A whirl of banshees over the Kalahari of catatonia
dancing dust devils
and the rhinoceros rises in a swami of egrets,
while the air is pierced by bullets
the baobab tree rips itself up by the roots,
for now it wants to leave.
But I am also an alien
and you in your own land fleeing something evil on earth
under the sun
that every morning squanders its letters of light
seen from freedom´s high view
and all day through
in under the iron doors
making the tin bowls warp in the heat.
we begin dreaming
especially when twilight comes creeping
especially we fantasize about winter
especially when it gets later
and we notice it is too late for all the fantasizing
here with the rope around our neck
and the bag over our head
and the earth in a moment
being heaved away beneath our feet.
Translated by Barbara Haveland
At the entrance to Tiwanaku, the half excavated and partially reconstructed pre-Inca ruin several hours´ drive from La Paz across the barren plateau, I promptly found myself ensnared in the brawny arms of a sun-baked mountain woman.
The idea was for me to buy some of her ceramic miniatures. There they were, arrayed on the table, in front of me.
- Cómprame, cómprame, señor. You buy, mister. Buy my figurines... El Chasqui, El Sol, Huiracocha, El Amuleto del Amor.
There were plenty to choose from. Fine workmanship too. This zealous saleswoman would happily have sold me the lot for next to nothing.
- See, here is the sun god, and here is a little model of the Gate of the Moon which you will find over there , at the back, muy bonito señor... very beautiful señor; oh, and you can´t go without this, a little amulet for your wife señor, your friends, your family señor...
A soft breeze set the dust swirling over El Altiplano; the sun glowed above the crests of the mountains, searing its way into face and retina.
- You buy, senor, another, only one boliviano ...
Such breathtaking desolation; a clear view for miles around. The remains of Kalasasaya lay sprawled across the centre of the plain, like some magic square. On all sides, though almost farther than the eye could see, loomed the mountains encircling the plateau.
How on earth did they manage to haul those immense blocks of stone down to this spot? Under the fierce gaze of which gods? Stone columns carved out of solid blocks, El Fraile and El Ponce, might they not put one in mind of Polynesia?
In the underground temple, set alongside the big temple and shaped like a square swimming pool, the walls were adorned with mouldering stone faces that looked to have been stricken by some disease. Penetratingly they studied one from the depths of a forgotten age. In the centre a monolith, called Kon-Tiki. Thor Heyerdal crossed the ocean on the raft Kon-Tiki.
He wanted to prove a theory regarding the link between Easter Island and certain pre-Incan civilizations in the Andes mountains.
Suddenly a tiny, underfed boy swathed in rags was standing right next to me.
He wanted to sell me a pottery figure and a potsherd he claimed had come to light during the excavation of the temple.
- I have plenty already. See for yourself; my bag´s full.
- A trade then, señor? You give me your pencil, I give you the figure.
- I´ll be needing this pencil myself, but I´ll give you some money. I ended up with the figure anyway. He obviously wanted rid of it, or simply had no idea what it was worth.
- The pencil, señor, the pencil?
- Here, have a mint.
- Gracias, señor, gracias, he stuffed the boiled sweet in his mouth and off he went.
Now, with the day drawing to a close, only the stones remained. Great ponderous rectangular lumps of rock, hewn out with care then buffed up; decorated with exquisite and mysterious geometrical patterns. Still there, half-buried. Work was under way to free from the clutches of oblivion and the earth Pumapunku the vast, constructed once upon a time out of 132 massive blocks of stone.
Half a kilometre from the ruins the little hamlet that now goes by the name of Tiwanaku turned out to be a veritable ghost town. Only at its centre, around the church, did some parts appear to be inhabited. The surrounding town consisted entirely of long since abandoned adobe houses, gradually being washed away.
- Can I get something to eat here? I asked in a deserted and dust-ridden establishment, its peeling walls hung with row upon row of shelves carrying a stock of bottles inches thick in the stuff. The sole wall decoration: that scantily clad calendar girl who is nothing if not well-travelled.
- There´s nothing here to get your teeth into, came the answer from some dim corner.
Outside, in the last of the sun I repeated my question. There was a kid slouching against a wall. No reply. No reply whatsoever. They sell us ceramic miniatures, stone figurines, and other than that they leave us alone, do not interfere. A kind of dumbness etched into their faces.
I sat down on a stone bench in the empty square and regarded the church. This church, a notice told me, dated from the sixteenth century and had been built out of stone from the old Tiwanaku. A doorway flanked by two monoliths similar in style to El Fraile and El Ponce. The same gravity. The same quiet mystique. Some iron railings had been driven in round about them, apparently in order to protect them. Or was it that people feared they might one day break out and go walkabout through the town?
There they stood, staring out of their absurd prisons, through one and beyond one. I had seen that same look before: in the figure of a man, just twenty inches tall, seen once long ago in a museum in Cairo.
Out from the church eaves jutted a number of stone monkey heads.
This Christian house of God, all but defying comprehension, risen out of the ruins of Tiwanaku.
The living had become the dead, and the dead the living. An Indian woman with a bundle on her back wending her way across the plain.
A silent boy with tough lips slouched against a wall.
A secret. An abyss of stone.
And the wind from the mountains driving all of us on our separate ways amid dust and silence.
The image of two snakes intertwining could be said to constitute the visualized mantra for Boberg´s novel Americas. Two snakes, standing as a metaphor for the meeting of two cultures or states of consciousness. Or the two snakes which this memoir rediscovers in the gene, the foundation of all living things. Snakes that might for that matter go on intertwining to infinity. And while there are certainly plenty of snakes, insects and creepy-crawlies in these tales from South America, the scheme of Boberg´s travel memoir also twines this way and that. No educational journey this, no questing after departure or arrival, instead there is the cosmopolitan´s constant craving for experience and perception which, in Boberg´s literary hands, turns to absorption. Absorption in the journey. And it is not only the body that is on the move, the mind, too, is sent off on its travels by the psychoactive substance ayahuasca - a consciousness-expanding drug used in shamanistic rituals and extracted from, among other things, a plant whose stems just happen to twine themselves around one another, like snakes.
Americas is a collection of 30 tales, each of which is allowed to stand as a one-off experience, with no overall narrative thread linking them together. It tells of journeys that range, in geographical terms, from the USA in the north to Peru in the south, with these points representing not only the opposite poles of his journey, but also the opposite poles of those cultural contrasts which shed light on one another and in so doing, help give the book its perspective.
In the opening chapters the narrator reveals himself as young, naive and seduced by the frenetic pace of American society and the pursuit of fresh highs. In the city, the narrator´s own sense of being dissolves - here travel equals escape. But when he is confronted with the truth-seeking shamanism that he comes across in Ecuador, Guatemala and Bolivia, as well as in Peru, his journey takes on a new dimension. Becoming an inner journey, in the course of which the narrator must face up to his fears.
Americas describes an inward as well as an outward prospect, a journey that demonstrates the power of myth, a world of wonders. But above all else, this journey is a literary project which contemplates the relationship between words, travel and life: a relationship that proves to be a constant paradox, since here the narrator is travelling, not in order to reach journey´s end full of enlightenment and a new understanding of the world, but in order to write. And it is Boberg the poet´s highly visual prose that weaves together these travel memoirs of his - with a rhythmic, melodic verve.
Gunvor Ganer Krejberg
in Danish Literary Magazine 16
Extract from Americas:
I could see a little fish in a brook three thousand feet below. No, I was not about to fly off, not that there wasn´t plenty of space. What if I didn´t come back? I struggled with that eagle for some time, I had to work really hard to hold it down. Each time a bird crossed the heavens it strained inside me, wanting to follow. There was a pigeon on the wing right above me and I flapped my arms and jumped up and down, filled with the uncontrollable urge to dig my claws into it.
At last the eagle glided out of my body and joined another that had apparently been waiting by a clump of brushwood, then they both flew away. Soon they looked to be no more than shadows on the convex mirror of the sky. And I was myself again, more or less, the sun on the brink of slipping down behind the mountains.
A tawny-gold eagle soared over the ravine, I watched it for a while, all at once thinking of everything that I had lost. It occurred to me that I could have flown like that if I had not held back, if I had not been so bloody scared.
By Neal Ashley Conrad, 1999
Thomas Boberg is the poet of restlessness. Right from the beginning, with the volume of poetry Hv?sende p? mit ?jekast (The Hissing on my Glance) in 1984, his poems have thematicized fragmentation and restlessness. Fragmentation as a state has often been the taking-off point, while the restlessness has been the spot-welding, vigilant eye in the poems, the creative third take which penetrates things, works down in the crevices and out into present time and the world. Boberg moreover, in all of his books of poetry, fashions this fragmentation into a poetic language and a means of taking your bearings. In the course of time Thomas Boberg has, in his mode of life, made fragmentation into something very concrete for himself personally by dividing his time between two worlds: one in Peru and one in Denmark.
Boberg the cosmopolite left Denmark at the early age of seventeen, going first to the United States, and then to India, Italy, and Spain - to Barcelona, where he met his Peruvian wife. The two then moved to Lima, the capital of Peru, which has been their home since the beginning of the 90s.
To write - poems, articles and essays - is for Boberg the same as to travel on both the inner and outer planes simultaneously. This is detected unmistakably in volumes such as Slaggedyret (The Slag Animal) from 1988 and Vor tids historie (History of our Time) from 1989, where there is a traveller constantly journeying in desolate urban landscapes, boxed in in one of the world´s megalopolises or as an anonymous arrivee to a new, unfamiliar place. But regardless of how unacclimatized and alien the poet might feel, language is a place to be. It is his inner exile.
The typical Boberg poem is a state in and transformation, a polysemous space in which the I and its limits are explored. The background on which all of this takes place is a consciousness of death: "How many times must you die / in order to feel that you are alive" (from Ud af mit liv (Out of My Life) 1985). Death is a precondition for the creation of nearness, and for presence being possible.
Thomas Boberg has an assured sense of language and an image-generating ability to establish immediate presence with what is forgotten and repressed. In a condensed, image-breeding poetic, a plastic and musical lyricism, which is at times not only physical but sculptural in its materiality, he interprets states of mind and conditions of life, and shows what it is to carry off a life-space and a self-constituted being-in-the-world. Boberg systematically settles accounts with habits of thinking, going from the idea that existence is an eternal restless journeying guided by a homeless unease. A consequence of this is that neither can love be believed entirely, for it is a coin with two sides. Love´s joy and contact with it, like everything else, is subject to the laws of change, and is regarded as being only half the truth. The other half is turned toward the darkness, despair and loneliness. It is this other side to existence, life´s reverse, which Boberg focuses on in particular.
Many of Boberg´s poems unfold a cutting critique of civilization which in the last couple of years has spread to his running articles from Peru, in which he has zeroed in on the poor and their abject and demeaning state of existence, ravaged by every kind of exploitation. This appears distinctly in S?lvtr?den (The Silver Thread), Boberg´s first collection of essays from 1996, which deals with his many travels in South America and Sudan. In these essays he shows aspects of his talent that are concerned and committed to the world.
What is pivotal and inevitable in Thomas Boberg´s poetry is its consistent disquiet over the conditions of life - as in his tenth and latest volume, Under hundestjernen (Under the Dog Star) from 1997, which constantly asks: Where are we? Who are we? Where are we going? Are we here at all?
Everything indicates that the work of lyric poet and essayist Thomas Boberg also in coming years will be a hizzing glance keeping a cutting eye on the world, the conditions of life, and on its paradoxes and how we are managing.
Neal Ashley Conrad, born 1963, MA in Nordic literature from the University of Copenhagen, co-editor, writer and reviewer.