I’m sitting in a graveyard in Kaleva, Tampere on one of the hottest days of the year, late July, 2019.
I’m leaning against a tree. Ants are running up my arms as I’m still. I’m drawing and I’m writing some stories about the dead people surrounding me.
Anne Cowan is Finnish, Anne Erkola, the wife of my brother. My niece Hayley is Finnish/English/Scottish and I have heard many Finnish words all my life. My brother speaks very, very good Finnish. So there’s a familiarity to the names here and to the language that I’m slowly learning. But I’m only slowly getting a handle on aspects of the language. This is only my second time in Finland.
I’ve found myself in this graveyard as my friend Riitta Hakkarainen is looking for the grave of her grandparents. She’s bought a pink, a pale pink begonia from the shop at the entrance, but she can’t find the gravestone yet. While she looks, I sit here and sketch and write.
I think about the dead. The dead underground, all around me. I think about their spirits, moving through the air, circling around me. I think about all these dead people about me.
As I write my pen works on its own. It describes these dead souls. The relationships. Loves, hopes, losses, desires. All that energy that comes to nothing when we give up our last breath and sink into the everything of the universe. Life is so fleeting.
What remains after death? Is there anything of our individual beings. I imagine stories that could, for me, be anywhere in the world.
It reminds me of a poetry anthology my father showed me, once, and which I read. In which the characters of a graveyard were brought to life by the author. Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. He wrote short, free verse imagining the inhabitants of a town close to his home in Lewistown, Illinois. Perhaps somewhere my dead father’s influence is still cooking inside myself. And the oven is hot, like the weather.
KALEVA SOUL POEMS
Spirits moving beneath the soil.
Grandparents shifting places.
Who really loves who?
Only the dead know, holding hands,
recoiling from each others touch.
A sister who couldn’t stand to be near her sister’s husband
because of the way he looked at her.
Some float maybe two feet above the stones, maybe more, looking for love. If you have died without ever being loved or in love, not once, you are always looking, a hungry ghost. So many bodies lying on their backs, gazing upwards at roots, flinching when the trowels hit the surface as a grandchild makes a hole for a pelargonium. Red flowers mean your heart is bleeding. Such blood is dangerous. It nourishes the dead, it drips into their open mouths. It drips inside the graves, drip by drop, like petals scattered by a hand, leading the way to a scented bath.
I am white as a daisy, yellow as egg yolk, and I lie here in my dead body. But at night, when the owl is open-eared, that’s when I rise. I fly and swoop, circle all the other losers of life, ready for the dance. Marjalla first, then Lauri, after her Fanny and then Einar who always ate biscuits with an open mouth, dropping crumbs at his true love’s feet. Tuomar would be growling like a dog at this. He could never move his left leg, it would never bend at the knee. But he joked that he could poke it right at her, stiff as a board, stiff as his shoulders that so wanted the firm touch of a Swedish massage.
It’s the middle of the dance and Virta is already late. Where is he? But the others know why he spends too much time getting ready. It’s not for them, it’s for Ida. Pretty, long-legged Ida. She is always elegant, standing tall in a blue line, her toes of fire, her hair rustling like leaves. This is all an illusion. Underneath the crust of dry earth she is rotting, her hair literally worms, her tears become maggots. Virta wouldn’t care what crawled out of her nose as long as he can lie next to her. In this new reality, it is better to not look too closely about what each of us leave behind.
‘But what if, Ulla-Maija, you’re wrong?! Have you considered that?’ Kirsti Kaarina is still upset about Johan Ivar. She is a good friend of Ulla-Maija, but even good friends have their limits. ‘Watch out, your actions are creeping up on you. One day they’re going to catch you out.’
Ulla-Maija turns to see what is behind her. In front of her is her own gravestone. Behind her there is nothing. There is no punishment, there is no sorrow, there is no afterlife, only darkness.