Laura Wideburg, Translator

Poetry in Translation


Toni Pinto ©2017

Laura A. Wideburg




The following poem by Niklas Rådström first appeared in issue 29 of Fine Madness. Translation © 2004 Laura Wideburg.


Like a drift-anchor in a sleeping world

I am lying moored to the gulf stream of dreams

where the swallows are flying through the black veils of night

covering the eyes of the stars again and again with their wings

asking the question: Guess who? Guess who?


Here is where I have disembarked, in this rust-red province

where time lives in days turned inside out:

the seconds cover the hours in the same sweep of sorrow

as mold covers week-old bread


In the line to passport control at the airport a man

was waiting whose profession was washing the dead

His cheerful eyes seemed already to know something

about the inside of the empty masks we wear


Even the room in which I drift has been turned inside out

-- all of its inhabitants live outside the walls

From there they speak through cracks and keyholes

Their voices weave a cloth without warp or woof,

a cloth light as the sweep of the night where the swallows fly


Make light speed, say the billboards

to the sleepy headlights of the old taxicabs

A place full of inhabitants


In the room I thought a door had opened,

but it was a book which revealed its naked pages

In it I could read how the stones pressed oil from the footsteps of the Prophet,

how music in its quarrel with time never repeats

and how Saladin’s doctor rushed to the bed of King Richard


Also something about the name which time had taken

to travel incognito as a shy monarch

who wanted more time by himself

But no matter how the shadows fall in that name’s ornamentation

it was still impossible for the sand of the underworld to interpret

as it came up through the stones to wash it clean

Just a feeling of uncertainty, no names and no answers,

and so the whole room is filled with people

They stand in agitated surprise with open faces,

all those who wait in wildly billowing crowds

For origin and dissolution to come back to life


A thought has come to a halt by the wall,

a forgotten suitcase in the arrival hall,

while the band at baggage claim continues its rosary-fingering mutter

Into that thought has been packed that one word which we need

in order to explain who we really are


That word has a freedom that no one can approach


That word is an errand boy who hustles through the crowds,

who dallies in the cry of the bread-seller and drives a donkey cart

around a corner while history in embarrassment makes its apology

for having been mistaken for centuries, as when an older person catching his breath

captures a tone whose echo lives at home among all those who were younger

and yet has already been smuggled over the border to the other world


This word throws itself from person to person

only to rush off in the end through the constellation

on the uniformed police officer’s shoulder-strap

back to the sleeping world where I am drifting

between dream and waking, an obol in the dark mouth of the night


Damascus-Aleppo, March 2000


The following three poems by Niklas Rådström first appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of The Willow Review. Translations © 2002 Laura Wideburg.


Through the tall framing of the windows

from the tree tops outside

the spring sun is lifting containers of light

and is turning the whole church

to a storage room for departure

Someone is always changing the tags

and the destinations of the goods

and shifts the moving containers

until we no longer know

which memories are our own

and which belong

to the grown-wild group

on the other side

Only that the moving goods of light

keep changing places all the time

until everything is reunited

with the greenery outside



Yes, my son, I inhabit our little house

as if nothing exists, because nothing exists

One room is of your breathing, another is of mine

There are other rooms as well, but we don’t hear them

My son, my father, my child, my self

Now it is evening, the moon is shrinking,

the snow is collecting itself into winter

That weapon of cardboard which I cut out,

that grip around the scissors and the butt of the revolver

And your breathing, my son, when we slept

Continuously in another room in this little house

which does not exist, because nothing exists

Everything can be water and hate, and possibly

everything can be night and love, or even just sleep,

that gift of God which he himself receives least

That nothing can be is my greatest fear,

and so I can be nothing, just this little surge

of what I am, of what I was, of what you are becoming

I remember a trundlebed full of books

and a puzzle you made and the table at which you sat

And now night is here, this night where I am alone

This night where pirates hide their treasure and forget

where they made their invisible mark

Darkness, darkness – there is something else in the night

something which is more than a question of light

My son, my child, my father, my self, we live in this little house

Which does not exist, because nothing exists



Dawdling at the beach –

that a boat without sail can be so captured and carried by wind!

Sorrow, loneliness and fear

Can drive a life through decades of stagnation

Your handshake with the god of the sea

Whirlpools which eat your smiles

The white sail and the black one

The red sun and the white one

The light stands silent –

glowing and glimmering in burning letters

on the newly ironed line of the horizon

I beg you to write me,

To not abandon me,

To drown myself in you

To not abandon me to the free air

breathing the silence of the death by drowning

In such a way I long for the sea,

long for the salt of life, longed that you

were forced to live underneath the surface

It is unbearable for me to think

that not everything in my life should long for you

just as I long to live a life without fear

The sea, the waves, the unwritten lines of the horizon,

bone-joints there by a blown-apart bush

All this longing to get up

From this drowning life and stumble

like a drunkard over the stones

The face of the sea smiles and is riven apart

by the currents of its eddies

That is my father who splashes and smiles

The gesture is an anemone,

the glass on the table jumps like a carp in an over-full dam

Still I want to be lifted up on his knee

but I fear to be considered one of the drowning numbers,

fear to be forced to remain yet another drowning one

Forever searching for the surface

in order not to be lost

in the fear of being lost


Copyright © 2002–2014, Laura A. Wideburg. All rights reserved. Site design: ASMUS, Inc.