Dying and Rising in the Kalevala*

While reading in the Kalevala about the swan
of Tuonela, and Lemminkainen’s mother
and what she did, a shout went out from me
toward what or whom I cannot say.

Hacked into pieces by the son of Tuoni,
who threw the eight parts of Lemminkainen
into the river, here came his mother, carrying
a rake of iron forged by Ilmarainen. With it

she raked the reaches of Tuonela’s river until
she recovered all the fragments of her slain son.
Bones fitted, she chanted a magical song
for weaving of veins, for stitching of sinew

and flesh. Still no breath. She sent the prophetic
bee to gather salve from Jumala’s** pots. Rubbed
on his body, it would raise her son from dreams
of evil to life and speech. A mother defying

the story as told by someone else, she would
save her son from powers that bade him ill.
Her name Lempi, her action her identity as
Lemminkainen’s mother whose love prevailed.

* Finnish epic
** God

A Legacy of Sisu* on Mummo’s Birthday

The first pounding rumble of thunder
announces the beginning of spring today––
April 4, the 130th birthday of my grandmother
Hannah Maki. Wherever her sauna is now
may she know her life celebrated, who in 1908
braved the cold swells of the North Atlantic
to reach America through the seaport of Quincy,
Mass., where Finnish laborers worked the quarries;
where Finnish girls and Finnish women, known
for their strong character, worked in the houses
of Quincy families, cleaning, cooking, sewing,
singing songs of a homeland they would never
see again. My mummo among these valiant
Finns gets my attention with this April storm;
she who embodied sisu, and implanted it
in my own mother, who passed it on to us her
children in the genes of our hidden souls.

*sisu: Perseverance in the face of great odds,
associated with Finns and Finland.

Unknown.jpeg

 

Shaman

In the movie “The Pathfinder,” a Saami youth goes toe-to-toe with evil
for the sake of the tribe when he inherits the mantle of the fallen
shaman in a vision of a reindeer in the glow of the aurora borealis.

 

Shibboleth/aidenkieli*

Learn the language to tell the tale
with authenticity, and not through
a screen of created distance.

Long enough have you walked around it,
this task that will free your mother tongue.*
Act in faith and see what I do for you.

Dream Translation

A featureless head of white brocade
turns on a swivel slowly toward me
waiting in a line of toll-booth traffic
on a road to God-knows-where.

Confounded by currency he has never
seen, the toll-taker looks on helplessly.
I call out from my car
Mina puhun suomea! I speak Finnish.

The head with no eyes looks at me
and I understand it is up to me
to interpret, to translate,
what it is she wants to say.

Second Appearance

The same walk down the same road
for thirty years, savoring the sights
and smells of the changing seasons––
Never bored, I hope for thirty more.

Drawn by invisible threads
on this morning in May, I turn left
into the field, walk a quarter mile
and turn to the woods. Beneath

a pine, a two-point antler
dropped on the ground by a young
buck. Five feet away, the second antler––
the completion of visitation.

Third Appearance

On a hot July morning
the hungry sky devours the fog, and
the sound of last night’s showers flows
through the culvert beneath my feet.

As I speak my thanks on this hidden road
a buck perfect of limb and head leaps
before me, my saiva sarva,* filling my sight
with his glory, and I rejoice.

*token animal