In the beginning

Markus Jääskeläinen:
In the beginning
From Testamentti (Testament), Otava, 1998.
(Translated by Herbert Lomas)


At the beginning of the aeons the earth was sand. Here and there were
little stones still, they were a relic of the rocks that
covered the earth, since a beginning is an end and there is no
end like forgetfulness.
In the beginning the earth was sand. A level sandy
desert stretched in all directions; the sand merged into the shore of the sky. It was
hot. The air shimmered. Other movement there was not. There was no wind
since there was no water.
One day (night and day had been discovered) footprints
Appeared in the sand. Sandals, a grown-up man’s.
The man had walked without a stop, straight ahead, following
the sun till the sun disappeared and night came.
We never saw his prints again. We began
a story in which we hovered above a dead
landscape, we dimmed our cabin lights, vainly watched
the glowing eyes of a dying fire.
We sought him but didn’t find him. We saw
his footprints, which appeared on the border of day, walked
to the ridges of the dunes and descended into the valley with no
We followed the footprints from the air for many days.
We studied the surface shining below us, we grew blind.
We couldn’t grasp that our ship was a mirror that marked off our hand
from the black sun, our feet from flying eyes
of sand.


We decided to land, to walk. We confounded our footprints
with the predecessor’s prints, we rejoiced in freedom like a runaway
child, we gathered under a blind sky, we saw
our arms, our legs: hair grew on them.
We walked and slept. We slept while we walked.
We began to dream, to create – as if night had mingled
with day – with trees around us, lakes and grass.
We bent our heads to the tussock and picked the fruit
from the trees. We ate and drank. We got full and
our bellies grew. We couldn’t move any more, we
built a house that we lived in, where we gathered
on snowy winter evenings. We burnt the trees
that had given us their fruit. We fell asleep to the sound of flames.
In the morning memories mastered us. We spread
our arms out, rolled our heads; some of us laughed
at a dream where we saw the dim footprints,
the sand stretching to the horizon.
They didn’t go on anymore.


Our group was smaller, our step lighter. We doubted
Less, we were happy. We enjoyed each other as
the animals enjoy each other, we imagined we saw a person’s
outlines in the light of the sun too, imagined we weren’t
far off.
But the clarity didn’t last. The black line of night darkened
the day, the sparkling campfire didn’t keep off
the darkness. We prayed in the silence, washed the dishes.
We lay down without speaking about the future, we wrapped our arms
around our chests. We squeezed ourselves in a dream in which
things froze, we rushed to the walls. We chopped
trees that fell, and as they fell tore dead branches
from the neighbouring trees.


We guessed the end. It didn’t come to us like night, which sucks
day’s floating light into its black mouth. It was a sound
we didn’t hear, which wiped away our words like the footprints
in the sand, separated soul from soul.
It was no longer us. They left the camp one by one,
walking in opposite directions. Their legs didn’t
falter, they hardly felt the wind they disappeared into;
which opened its breast to them like a mother, lulled them into a long
I alone did not depart; I who tell it.
I gathered the gear into a great heap, set fire to it. I lay down
in the last tatters of tent, looked at the cloudy sky.
Like a bird: alone, alone!


The sound recorder’s flow will soon end. I put it in my pocket,
lower my arms to my sides: I’ve time enough to wait.
The water wets my defenceless body, the sun’s tired
hair opens out over human speech, over
the history books.

I know there are no memories.


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