Risto Rasa: Three Poems

Yö oli himmeä, nyt linnut
alkavat laulunsa, crescendo,
on posteljoonin aika.

* * * * *

The night was dull. Now the birds
have struck up their song crescendo.
It’s time for the postman.


Sade kohahtaa kuin katsomo.

* * * * *

The rain murmurs like an audience.


Kohon vierestä
kala nappaa hyttysen.
Voi rannan hiljaisuutta
ja aamuauringon pehmeyttä
etten kyllästy kun
saalista ei tule.

* * * * *

The fish nabs a mosquito
alongside the float.
Oh, the silence of the shore,
the morning sun’s softness.
I won’t be fed up when
I don’t catch a thing.

Source: Risto Rasa, Hiljaa, nyt se laulaa (Helsinki: Otava, 1976), pp. 19–21. Photos and translation by Living in FIN

Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, “The Light in the Nursery Lacerates My Wound”

Lastenhuoneen valo leikkaa haavan, laser-säde suihkii:
olen tässä ja tässä ja tuossakin, uudestaan kohotettu katse,
tottunut pyristelemään hämärässä. Katossa laukkaavat
kreivit ratsuineen, pistimet kuin kompassineulat,

lastenhuoneen valo pesee kasvot, puen vaatteet ja riisun
taas, sammutan lampun ja hiukset syttyvät pieluksella,
maailma rullaa nukenvaunuissa ees ja taas, hiekka rahisee ja
hevoselta pudonnut silmä vaanii korkean yön yllä.

stained glass

The light in the nursery lacerates my wound, the laser beam whooshes.
I am here and here and there, too. My gaze is raised again,
Used to floundering in the dark. On the ceiling, counts
Gallop with their horses, their bayonets like compass needles.

The light in the nursery washes my face. I get dressed and undress
Again. I turn the light off and the pillow sets my hair on fire.
The baby pram rolls back and forth. The sand rasps.
Slipping from a horse, my eye lurks atop a towering night.

Source: Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, Sakset kädessä ei saa juosta (WSOY, 2004), p. 57. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “Airs and Orations”

margin walkers

Puheet, ilmeet
eivät synnytä minussa mitään
nyt, kun kaikkien on ollut pakko
osoittaa kyvyttömyytensä.
Kuollessani haluan kasvaa metsiin.

Airs and orations
leave me untouched
now when it is compulsory for all and sundry
to flaunt their incompetence.
When I die I want to grow into forests.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 208. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “It Cools Slowly”

kaupungintalo.jpgImatra City Hall, Summer 2018

Viilenee hitaasti,
miedot tuoksut kohoavat aaltoina.
Valvoa myöhään, herätä varhain,
olla jouten koko pitkän päivän.
Mutta jokin huolestuttaa.
Ehkä kadonnut taito päästä irti asioista,
jotka eivät tapahdu täällä.

It cools slowly,
the mild smells rising in waves.
Staying up late, waking up early,
being idle all the livelong day.
But there is something troubling.
Perhaps the lost skill of breaking free of things
that did not happen here.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 156. Photo and translation by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “Since When Have I Always Lied?”

A view of the abandoned Tiuru Hospital, Tiuruniemi, South Karelia, 5 September 2018. Photo by Living in FIN

Mietin, mistä alkaen olen aina valehdellut,
keksinyt, sepittänyt, muistanut tahallani väärin,
muuttanut merkityksiä?
Sitten siitä tuli toinen luonto,
enkä enää välittänyt tietää
mikä minuun oli mennyt.

Väsyn ihmisiin helposti
enkä välitä heistä enää,
mutta heti kun olen yksin alan kaivata
jotakin toista,
seurassa nauran, juhlin, juttelen, keksin tarinoita,
mutta heti kun tuli hetkikin hiljaista
annan sijan
sisälläni asuvalle
täsmälleen itseni kokoiselle erakolle
joka on vaiti
toreilla, ruuhkabusseissa, pääkaupunkien kaduilla;
vain jossain kaukaisessa erämaan kolkassa
saattaa törmätä kummajaiseen
joka heti alkaa jutella jokaiselle kuin vanhalle tuttavalle.

En ole nähnyt paikkaa
jossa en olisi halunnut käydä, mutta vain käydä,
jotkut muistelevat mennyttä,
suunnittelevat tulevaisuuttaan,
minä elän tätä päivää,
en mieti iltaan saakka,
se kuitenkin tulee, väsyn,
menen toiseen huoneeseen, alan nukkua,
tai kävelen kadulla,
jos minut nähdään,
käännyn jostain kulmasta ja katoan,
ei kukaan saa minua elämästäni kiinni.

I was wondering: since when have I always lied,
concocted, made up, deliberately recalled things wrongly,
changed the sense of things?
It later became second nature,
I no longer cared to know
what had gotten into me.

I tire of people easily.
I don’t care about them anymore.
But as soon as I’m alone, I miss
someone else,
laughing, partying, chatting, making up stories in company.
But as soon as it has become quiet for a second,
I give way
to the loner living inside me,
exactly my same size,
who is silent
at markets, on crowded buses, in city streets.
Only in a distant corner of the wilderness
might you run into an oddball
who immediately chats to everyone like an old buddy.

I haven’t seen a place
where I wouldn’t want to go, but only go.
Some remember the past,
plan their future.
I live this day,
I don’t think until evening.
Nevertheless, it comes. I am tired,
I go to another room and sleep.
Or I walk down the street.
If I am seen,
I turn a corner and disappear.
No one catches me out in my life.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), pp. 536–537. Translated by Thomas H. Campbell

Tuomas Timonen, “You Had Vanished Utterly”

kaupunkitalo pysäköinti

olit kokonaan kadonnut,
pelkkä rehevä, kukikas, kivinen valo

valkoisella liinalla
musta pallo, musta

viiva, musta torni
valkoisella liinalla

tuulee, myrsky
tekee tuloaan, sälekaihtimet

helkkävät, ikkunat
paukahtelevat ja

on kuin
ja niin on, syksyllä

vien sinut Sipooseen
keräämään mustikoita


you had vanished utterly,
nothing but a flowery, lush, flinty light

in a white cloth
a black ball, a black

line, a black tower
in a white cloth

the wind blows, the storm
makes its way, the blinds

jangle, the windows
rattle, and

so on
and so, in the autumn,

I take you to Sipoo
to pick bilberries

Source: Tuomas Timonen, Asetelmia (Helsinki: Teos, 2013), p. 51. Translation and photo by Thomas H. Campbell

Adding Insult to Injury


The urban planning geniuses who run Imatra, South Karelia, have re-purposed the former Prisma supermarket in the town’s Linnala (Mansikkala) neighborhood. They have given it over to the mysterious tribe of sub-artists known as taggers. Soon, I expect, the building will be entirely blanketed with these cryptic spray-painted runes, signifying nothing except the onset of urban decay and the collapse of public order.

Unless I am terribly mistaken, neither the building’s owners nor city officials have plans for doing anything more ambitious with the ex-store, yet another huge slab of empty commercial space. Imatra is now chockablock with such vacated stores and offices.

Currently being tagged into oblivion by young people who fancy themselves rebels but are among the dullest conformists on earth, the old Prisma store is smack dab across the street from the new Prisma hypermarket, which was built for Russian shopping tourists, not for local residents, whose peace of mind and quality of life dropped through the floorboards during the two or three years it took to build the gigantic consumerist palazzo, the city’s largest chunk of commercial real estate.


But it was all worth it. Anything giant construction companies, urban planners, and semi-monopolies (e.g., the S Group, which owns the Prisma chain and approximately fifty percent of all other chain stores, restaurants, and hotels in Finland) wants to do, wherever it wants to do it, and whatever its impact on the people living in the vicinity, it is always worth it.

And you should see the improvements to the neighborhood occasioned by the S Group’s flat-roofed ziggurat!

Do you know the expression “adding insult to injury”?


That seems to have been the principle guiding the hackwork done by subcontractors and the City of Imatra when they beautified, so to speak, the wave of mutilation that had just rolled over the neighborhood.

First, they made it triply difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate their old haunts by constructing an impossible maze of new roads, footpaths, and roundabouts in the emerging shopping mecca. (Since the new Prisma opened, chain stores Tokmanni and Jysk got in on the act, closing their old stores in other parts of town and building new outlets in the once spacious but now crowded neighborhood, thus joining the nonstop shopping party started eight or so years ago by K City Market, Lidl, Raja Market, and Prisma).

To put it crudely, they made life easier for motorists at the expense of non-motorists. Or they forgot about non-motorists altogether, which is more likely.

Planners also dotted the environs with sickly little trees, some of them resembling nothing so much as unattractive sticks, stuck maliciously into the dirt by angry taggers or other vandals, or the pathetic Christmas tree that Charlie Brown and Snoopy buy in the cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas, which immediately sheds all its needles when they bring it home.

This so-called greenery will never grow into anything verdant and flourishing, because that might block the view of the stunning big box the S Group plopped down in the middle of what used to be a grassy meadow and grove of tall trees where old folks and children would ski in the winters. That is, before the City of Imatra decided that attracting Russian shoppers was its only real mission and it could safely turn its back on its own pedestrians, cyclists, children, old people, and poor people.

Photos by Living in FIN

Eeva Kilpi, “Fart Hard in Your Own Hut”


Pieraista kovaa omassa tuvassa.
Joskus sitä on valmis epäröimättä
uskomann kapitalismiin.

* * * * * *

Fart hard in your own hut.
Sometimes it is unhesitatingly ready
to believe in capitalism.

—Eeva Kilpi, Runoja 1972–1976 (WSOY, 1978), p. 40. The poem was chosen using the True Random Number Generator at random.org. Photo and translation by Living in FIN

* * * * * *

The photo, above, is of an empty “fish restaurant,” built near Ukonniemi Beach on Lake Saimaa in Imatra, South Karelia, by the city government and their favorite private contractors at great expense to the once-beautiful natural environment and local taxpayers.

Although no restaurateurs had agreed to lease or operate the future restaurant when the project was mooted and approved by city planners and city councilors, the constructionn of the “fish restaurant,” which involved felling hundreds of trees, building black-topped car roads where once there had only been soft footpaths, and dozens of other kinds of deviltry disguised as “landscaping” and “improvements,” went ahead anyway.

The initial phase, the destruction of the original, gorgeous landscape, ran into considerable cost overruns, and project managers found themselves asking the city for more money to keep up their wave of mutilation.

Several years later, no one has emerged operate or lease the restaurant, although the building is ostensibly ready to fry up fish fingers and put them all in a line.

The restaurant would be a great opportunity for any shyster who wants to go in and out of business in less than a year, because the wonderful Nuotta Restaurant and Smokehouse, located on the other side of Ukonniemi Beach, has been doing land-office business ever since it added a rooftop terrace last summer.

The food and atmosphere at the Nuotta are nonpareil, as all its regular and irregular customers know, and its view of Imatra Harbor and Laimassaari is stunning. On a warm, sunny day, I could sit there for hours, just sipping a glass of wine or a cup of coffee.

Even my dog thinks Nuotta is the cat’s meow. He once forced me to go there, after a long walk through the forest, so we could sit there for half an hour and just inhale the view. I had to order a cup of coffee and a doughnut to justify our odd-couple presence on the veranda. My dog was immeasurably pleased.

So why would such a tiny harbor need another fish restaurant? This isn’t “innovation,” as the current so-called bourgeois Finnish government would call it. This is sheer stupidity that was egged on local decision-makers by the construction lobby, who are always trying to drum up new projects for themselves, whatever cost to the built heritage, environment, and taxpayers, and whether their dubious improvements are really needed by flesh-and-blood, paying customers and townsfolk or not. LIF


Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, “Our Golden-Brown Heads”


Meidän kullanruskeat päämme ovat kumartuneet
toisiaan vasten, kynä rapisee hiiren jälkiä, suu avautuu
välillä leijonan kokoiseen haukotukseen, mutta sieraimet
värähtävät valppaasti. Nyt tehdään salaisuuksia. Avaudutaan.
Liittoudutaan. Kuuntelen ekassa pulpetissa Eleanor Rigbya
joka laulaa ikkunalaudalla, jalat eivät mahdu enää
pulpetin alle, katson lasin läpi mustia haavoja
koivujen kyljissä, hiiltyneitä arpia tiukan valon syleilyssä.

Kun tunti loppuu ja sujautamme paperit reppuun,
näen hänen reunamerkintänsä: tähtiä marginaaleissa,
kirkkaita kovia terässiipisiä ikuisia.


Our golden-brown heads are stooped
towards each other, pencils scratch mouse tracks, mouths open
occasionally into lion-sized yawns, but nostrils
vibrate vigilantly. Secrets are made. They are revealed.
Alliances are formed. At the first desk I listen to Eleanor Rigby
singing in the windowsill. Legs no longer fit
under the desk. I look through glass at black wounds
on the birch sides, charred scars in the taut light’s embraces.

When the lesson ends and we slip our papers into rucksacks,
I see his edge markings: stars in the margins,
bright hard steel-winged everlasting.

— Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, Sakset kädessä ei saa juosta (WSOY, 2004), p. 42.

Photo of former Savikanta School (Imatra, South Karelia) and translation by Living in FIN

Wave of Mutilation


People will wander where they will.

This is a snapshot of what bicyclists, pedestrians, and, sometimes, mopedists, do almost every livelong day to the flimsy piece of twine, draped with tiny flags, hung by the members of our co-op’s management board to prevent them from making this shortcut.

Why are the cyclists, peds, and mopeds so hellbent on taking this shortcut?

Because, a few years ago, the city government of Imatra, South Karelia, perhaps the wisest municipal government on Planet Earth, royally messed with the perfectly serviceable and intuitively natural network of footpaths and bike trails in our neighborhood to accommodate a new neighbor, a giant Prisma hypermarket, built exclusively for Russian shopping tourists, who at one point some years ago were surging through Suomi’s southern borders in droves, but since Putin decided to rule the world and tank his country’s economy in the process, have been reduced to a trickle.

In the wake of the hypermarket’s nearly sacred advent in our lives, we residents of Linnala, the Imatra micro-district that had this alien happiness shoved down its throat without much say-so, got all our streets, sidewalks, intersections, parking lots, footpaths, and bike trails “improved.”

In practice, this means they were turned into an impossible pile of spaghetti, in which you continually have to cross streets, car lanes, parking lots, and roundabouts (all of them newly installed at taxpayer’s expense), usually in a counterintuitive zigzag pattern, to go where you used to go much faster and without all the hassle.

This is the level of urban planning in South Karelia. If you don’t believe me, take a trip to the region’s unofficial capital, Lappeenranta, where they have also been rolling out a wave of mutilation to satisfy the itches and urges of Finnish architectural design and construction companies with names like Lemminkäinen, who have also long been in the business of transforming Russia’s second capital, Petersburg, with impossibly large and ugly residential blocks.

Because that is the bottom line: making a fast buck whatever it does to lives that people were perfectly happy with without ever saying so. When you mess with their lives in this way, blazing their old daily trails back onto the mostly invisible maps of their neighborhoods is their way of saying they were happy with the way things were. LIF

Photo by Living in FIN