When you tell stories from the years spent in Alaska,
about that sojourn with an Indian tribe you had,
I feel a fraction of my old enthusiasm
for the aboriginal and primeval coming back.
It seems that they had everything a man could ask for:
the most advanced appliances, the latest flat screens.
but as for sanitation…The whole tribe would track
out to the midden situated out in back,
the houses round it in a ring, and stick their asses
out at the pile’s round slope; it wasn’t all that bad
in fall and spring, but the cold stung you like small daggers
in winter and in summer the stench made you gag,
on bright nights that lured the whole local population
of beryl-blue and beer-bottle-glass green metallic
flies to the light of your softly bulbous white lamp.
Forgive me, love, it’s just that I can actually see it
before me, your red lips and nails eleven fast points
of color in that oceanic light’s abstraction.
Backlit, the trash heap glittering with its bottle glass,
with bones the dogs as yet can’t wrench loose sticking out
as if they were the armored horns of a great dragon
that has been slumbering beneath the logged-out forests.
It sighs with exhalations and evening, spasms passing
through it. A wyrm, a tragic creature dreaming half
awake, its green eyes made of bottle-bottoms’ glass,
its body of plastic, car parts, animal cadavers.
The salmon harvest strands here, and mussel shells, perhaps,
if not just chicken nuggets from a gold mine run
by our all-powerful, global conglomerate or one
of its subsidiaries—as here the last Indians
watched cable and drank beer. Though when it comes to that,
all I have actual experience of is the trash pile,
not the canoes by the Pacific Ocean, dragged
up at day’s end and filled with summer daylight practically
undiminished when as evening light it gleams.
The trash pile towers over the surrounding flatlands
following a curved stretch of coastline, and it seems
to me to stretch along with the meridians
from Pole to antipode, at the world’s top from white
calotte to dark blue coast, under an airy sphere.
Your shimmering orb, Lord of this world: Now the earth shines,
and the trash pile, listen how it ferments like wine,
in glory, welfare bound for the celestial port.
It shines: scrap, metal, and bones with muscle fibers
of microchips’ spider veins along the circuit boards.
Our world’s luxurious trash, Lord, to your honor here:
the core industrial waste, soft parts on the outside,
organically composted, smoke and vapors hung
above the trash pile, arching like the planet curves
along the bends of the Pacific’s edge and tongue.
The shadings billowing across the mountain slopes
in late light pass the ocean and the pile, shifting
form and color as if their praises were being sung.
A trash heap in a wasteland, shimmering still
with the pine forests’ phosphor green and sea’s chrome blue,
a tract where evening light is delicately flung
down with the angel to this demarcated dump.
A Zion both of swarming life and of decay,
a motley multiplicity doomed to waste away.
A place where you can see the whole sky at one time,
briskly chill, and widely eye each diamond cut
detail of the globe’s day that hurries on its way.
What can I call you, dismal pile, who sparkle when
a ray of light falls where you show yourself as soiled
as here, in this stench, all our expectations spoiled.
You dream in vain of the cocoon’s emancipation,
for what higher purpose and meaning continuing to live,
with only spasms standing in for the resurrection
deep in the interior’s seething fermentation,
and seeing only with swarms of compound insect eyes
mosquitos and bluebottles in cloud formation circling
around you in a dusk that lasts the whole night through.
Midsummer soon and far up in the blue meridians
A sordid trash pile craves a benediction, too.
Up from the lowest level it perpetually stretches,
Lord, and it lauds unto its last breath your creation.
translated from Swedish by Bill Coyle