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Jenny Bornholdt

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Estonian Songs

The titles for these poems are taken from song titles on Veljo Tormis’s recording Forgotten Peoples. The recording is a set of six song cycles from the region of Estonia through Karelia and towards Finland.

Waking the birds

Wake birds,
the sky loses its dark
because of you, light
slowly coming around
the corner to surprise
A lion worries a bone
into morning
and berries come out
from behind their green
Boats in the harbour
planes in the sky
the wings and wheels of the
modern world are

Sang the mother, sang her daughter

Life is sad,
sang the mother
sang her daughter,
life is so sad,
because we can’t read
and listen
at the same time.

The arrival of wedding guests

All night my friend tells me
she loves, she loves, she
loves her life.
She is my wedding guest
she arrives with her face
of happiness
and someone strikes up
a tune.

Instructing the newly-weds

Listen bride
listen groom
don’t be afraid.
At night, the dark trees at the end
of the street – how frightening
they seem, then
morning comes and uncovers
nothing but leaves.

Praising the cook

They say the sexual impulse
is like a fiery horse.
When you break an egg
into the frying pan
it sounds like distant hooves
crossing a dusty plain.

When I, Chick, was growing up

I learnt many things
like    what happiness
can do.
When he said
            this spoon’s
for you
I felt so happy
and, years later,
so very sad.

A son or a daughter

On a night when the
moon moved solemnly
about the sky
a third daughter was born.
The unhappy doctor
went to the father.
I’m sorry, he said,
it’s another girl.
Girls are good luck
said the father
If you don’t have a daughter
you only know you’re alive
because your shoes move.

My sister, my little cricket

Listen sister,
sometimes it seems life’s
not worth a bowl
of old onions
but, like travel,
you should stick with it
for the points of interest
along the way.
Take love for instance,
that’s interesting
in any language.

My mouth was singing
My heart was worrying

O deceptive mouth
covering up
for the heart like that.

Urging her into the boat

I’ll take some of that expensive brie
for Beverley, he said.
            Beverley?   Beverley!
I cried, quick, get into the
boat. O shy and beautiful
Beverley, bring your brie
and come with me.

Heavenly suitors

They come from the sky
with brandy snaps – like
Come with us, they
say. Weather won’t
harm you.
Where we live
there is nothing
birds don’t like doing
and everyone is

Suitors from the sea

They leave
the gay gordons
of the world
and cross the sea
home to me.

What are they doing at your place?

What are they doing
at your place? The ballerinas
with their delicate
limbs, the startled
There was a good reason
but you’ve forgotten it
entirely. Now the man
with no hands
beckons them home.
The horses are out.
The tin cow loose
on the lawn.

The oak cutter

Plant trees
in the top garden.
Not an oak – I’ll
cut it down.
Plant blossom
so you can make
a swing.

The ox climbed a fir tree

The ox climbed a fir tree
to see what he could see.
He cried ah, my love
this view from above
is quite splendid,
you are smaller
than a dove.
He cried
ah, my love
I am enthralled
but now I can’t see you
at all.

Ending and going home

Ending and going home
to where love
lives, high
above the town.
My favourite place,
where you find
sweet apples fallen
on the soft ground.

A weeping maiden

The world’s in a
spin. Yellow continents turn
and turn until the
little caravan of feeling topples
forward and runs wildly
down the road.


Sleep gently little one
the world is a ball
it knocks quietly
against the window
in the wind
sleep gently
nothing will harm you.


From How We Met (VUP, 1995)

Jenny Bornholdt

Last updated 16 February, 2005