Saturday, March 25, 2017

Kristen de Kline - #75 - lighting candles

lighting candles (for Johannes Siim, 1910-1945)

half a world      away     they're lighting
candles     twenty thousand     across Tallinn Tartu Pärnu  
one for each Estonian manwomanchild 25 March 1949 deported to Siberia    
on You Tube, colour images of multiplying number of candles clash
against bleached out sepia shots of gridded track lines smoking trains
deportation lists with double vowel surnames you recognise but wish you didn't
Johannes went in an earlier 'wave' but there's something about candles
bursting out light    flashing across the sepia news reels      saying
we remember you      we have little left     your photograph     the last
heavily photocopied letter    from Siberia     what can you write    
you miss your family love them     you want your son, my uncle
to be strong     to look after the family       what can you write
there's a certain weight crushing down     the Nordic gloom    
can you cut it out surgically remove it, attack the heartstrings with serrated knives?

you listen to the testimony with tenses, changing in every line:    
people get tired    there was no food    
they dropped     he crawled around    a frozen person  
looks awful  
you know how a person crawls     like this  
then they brought him back     he was white and dead
and white and

From the Gulags     some returned
their families say they were: "not the same"
I like that turn of phrase    but never the weight
of living with it     that one letter     what can you write
one remaining photograph     a memory you start to think you made up

the ones who didn't make it back    were left to
wrestle tangle bargain with the heaviness     crushing inwards,
eating away at their inner organs     savagely
how does a person crawl     I don't want to ask
can burning a candle achieve     anything
was Hitler right when he said     I don't want to say  
the Russians were sub-human     I told you I didn't want to say it
can anything melt through the strains of Sybelius and Dvorák    
political cynicism    melancholia      hardened beyond .... words? poetry?
concrete slabs     that featured somewhere in the family history
maybe I should delete them

Kurat: first Estonian swear word I learnt      this was meant to be a quick post    
Damn it     half a lifetime world countries removed    the lines I falter over     languish
awkwardly     in a foreign tongue       uncomfortably long they chatter
amongst themselves in the wrong places     they wrestle with questions about candles
and symbolism     what sort of person Johannes was     how different life, everything, madness
would have been     had he lived     can darkness ever be a beautiful space
how do you translate "not the same"
from Siberia     what can you write
just throw me the Redheads and I'll light the bloody candle


  1. That's right Kit - lest we forget... Very hard to write on this sort of thing and avoid clichés!

  2. So powerful. What happened. Stories told. How tales work. Brought closer so we can smell and touch it.

    1. Thanks Rob - appreciate your response about the re-telling of history and stories being brought 'alive' - even when they're dealing with tragic deaths...


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