Christel Wiinblad: My little brother – a morning in heaven, at least in green

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Malene Engelund:

It troubles me that things must no longer mean anything. Must no longer be real, and that we can no longer be accessible to one another […] It’s strange how people can find the fragility I expose in myself and my little brother shocking. […] I wanted to examine this as accurately as possible, without judging my brother. After all, it’s a condition each human being in one way or another can experience, and one which must be acknowledged. I wanted to understand the beauty in it.

I first came across Christel Wiinblad’s collection Min lillebror – en morgen i himlen, ihverfald i det grønne [My little brother – a morning in heaven, at least in green] in 2008 when it was published by Hjørring, a new poetry imprint based in a small town close to where I grew up in Denmark. Written in response to her brother’s suicide attempt, My Little Brother is an examination of Wiinblad’s experience of this event, and the collection forms a naked and direct portrait of her brother’s battle with schizophrenia. However, the brutality this confrontation inevitably exposes is removed from any sensationalism and enters the text only out of necessity. Wiinblad insists on painting an accurate portrait of her brother and the event that became the catalyst for what is essentially a celebration of him; I didn’t write from a pain I wanted to step out of. Because I didn’t want to exit it. I wanted to tackle this thing that felt like everything all at once. I had to write it to access the explosive beauty I recognised in it. Although it was horrendous, it was also beautiful.

What was born from this ambiguity is a sequence of seven poems, framed by two short prose sections, that each recount and attempt to decipher the years and events leading up to the suicide attempt itself. More so, however, it is a collection driven by Wiinblad’s belief in the redemptive force of poetry – a sequence which collapses time, structured thought and binary oppositions, but through such chaos also manages to assemble, with absolute clarity and wonder, the figure of a young man. One who, while he has perhaps risen from a darkness, is lit by the poems he, in turn, is Wiinblad’s gateway to. As she later said, I’ve always known that he would be, and is my destiny. Always. He has made me access emotions that I’m not sure I could reach myself.

Seven years after its publication in Danish, I spent the spring of 2015 translating the poems, in close consultation with Christel, into English. What follows is the English version of ‘Kongens Have’, the third poem in the sequence that makes up My little brother.

 

Kongens Have, 13th March 2006

four months from now, a fog seeps through the window crack,
into my ear, and further, further down
into my heart
with a blast

whose echo already reverberates threateningly 
as if it’s at random thrown back and forth
between the tree trunks here in Kongens Have

where the chains of my footprints, 
placed precisely heel to toe,
repeat themselves neatly
in symmetrical patterns
round and round

the paths, while my little brother is in Christiansminde
in Svendborg, watching the ships,
the ducks
and all the stones,
that lay here too when he was a boy
and ate most of the bread himself,
but now he hardly ever eats.

And he then discards his cigarette,
because he needs to take a piss,
and walks up among the trees, right there
where my mother, a quiet spring morning at 5 am
almost forty years ago, found a man

who’d shot himself in the head,
through his mouth,
and the gun, smudged and soaked with blood and spit,
lay abandoned on the footpath, aiming at her, and today

it’s eleven days since
my little brother turned twenty two
and I gave him a yellow baby canary
because it was already happening then,
and a bit of singing perhaps couldn’t prevent it,

but at least prolong the pain – push July
onto the other side of December,
because who can leave
a small singing bird.

But it’s pointless,
so perhaps he should’ve just stayed with Mike in New York
(where he’ll go in June)
because then, in four months, 
he won’t go to the woods 
behind my mother’s house

with razors in his pocket
and letters and vintage port in his rucksack (his school bag (the 
flowered one))
and no longer be all dressed up
as himself,
but still he’ll smell

of sweat and tobacco
and also a bit
of the heart shaped soap
I kept on my windowsill 
twenty years ago
to fill the room

with flowers and fruit,
birds and flight,
and something really pretty
like lavender and curry-yellowed silk

has landed in the bed on the lawn
by the castle, shot up
from the earth, up
through the snow
side by side 

with cigarette butts,
beer tops
and small notes
with phone numbers and library receipts –

and there they are,
straight and happy in the snow,
waiting

to wither
because finally 

summer returns, but why
then does he cut into his wounds again and again, each time
he comes to 
in yet another (almost new)
kind of failure
not to be 
dead, before

he hears some girls skipping in a garden
and Andreas screaming his name some place further up the rail tracks,
and finally he gives up and walks home,
but right now
is still a place 
between winter and spring and I sit down on the bench

next to an old man
sleeping with his coat unbuttoned 
and mouth open, 

and I look past his false teeth
that have fallen onto his bottom lip,
past the dry, greying,
yellow-specked tongue
into a great black hole –

and behind him
(there, by the fountain), a small girl
is carefully placing two paper boats onto the ice,
and at each bow, 
two small figures;
a little brother and his big sister lost at sea
as if frozen stiff 
and so, unable
to move
yet and now
he spits his false teeth into the bin
while he sings, unfolds his legs
and I find the note
in my pocket:

checklist:
- white flannel bands for the wrists (preferably w/o logo)
- cartons of organic apple juice 
- dark sugar-free chocolate
- Bachelard’s The Flame of A Candle (which preferably I need back)
- Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives (the burgundy paperback edition)
- an E-string
- The new book by Peter Adolphsen (the one about the little horse with the oil heart that must
 surely have been released in July)
- Thom Yorke’s new album (The Eraser (released in the beginning of July, but I’ll already have
 been given it by a friend of mine for my birthday mid-June))
- The Kitty blue-eyes book
- Tobacco (brand? remember to ask)
- 1 pack of Rizla (buy two)

but although I’ve already written it down now
I still can’t avoid that in four months and that number of days,
I’ll still have forgotten
to buy the wrist bands
and he reads two of the books in less than a day

although he thinks 
over a month has passed
when I come back the next day
to give him the chocolate and the E-string
I’ll have forgotten to give him the day before,

and then he’s started playing the guitar again
even though he’s still so ashamed –
I can’t help screaming –
and it throbs and tears at his wounds.

 

Christel Wiinblad was born in 1980 in Svendborg, Denmark. She has published four collections of poetry; 49 Forelskelser (2008), Min lillebror – en morgen i himlen, ihvertfald i det grønne (2008), Det ligner en sorg (2011) and Sommerlys (2013), and three novels; Prolog (2011), Ingen åbner (2012) and De elskende (2014).

Malene Engelund will read at Poetry And…Connection at King’s on 25 November.

Malene Engelund

About Malene Engelund

Malene Engelund was born in Aalborg, Denmark. She was co-editor of the Days of Roses poetry anthologies and was highly commended in the Faber New Poets 2013/14 competition. Her pamphlet The Wild Gods will be published by Valley Press in March 2016.