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SHJ Issue 10
Fall 2014

[Four Poems]

by Karsten Bjarnholt

Translated from Danish by Thomas E. Kennedy

[“Remember It: Our Teacher, Mr. Bigandt”]


And so we stake everything on one throw,
Mr. Bigandt said, even if it’s not
completely new, Bohr’s atomic theory,
it is simple in its beauty,
discharges angels and  devils. The word is
devils, remember it, they muscle in
into any telephone, you can’t see
them now, but the small new telephones
that are coming, they are devils.
Hermann stuck his finger in the air:
Or angels! Yes, exactly,
Mr. Bigandt said, it’s what
you choose that counts, the atomic theory
is just a model,
but you don’t understand that yet.
When you are grown up, lay in the grass,
watch the swallows’ flight, listen to the bees,
just pluck a mallow. It is chlorophyll
everything, and these slaps you got,
and feldspar. And what else
is very simple.



You have to draw Hitler, Mr. Bigandt said.
I was 12 years old and chose black,
Black for the world’s most evil man.
The word is Hitler, Mr. Bigandt said.
(I had got a new duffel coat)
It’s easy, draw a circle
that’s oval, some slashes,
that’s the hair, the part in the side
like you, my boy, you shouldn’t
be sad. Set two dots,
draw a tight mustache—narrow!
Yes, that’s Hitler. Now you can
run down to recess
and play Hitler with the other Hitlers
(I had got a new duffel coat)
and gas Muslims
if you want to.



That I can anyway confirm,
said the  little teacher, Bigandt,
it is the masters with broad hands,
that massive neck,
which make small things in the world powerful,
sweep the fear of death aside with a great
arm movement. Boys, now it is
recess, watch out for the big boys.
The word is power, remember it. The great never sleep
a single night without building a factory in dreams,
without impregnating at least two women.
Perhaps you will become one of the great,
but most are rather small.


The Dandelion’s Root

Now Mr. Bigandt gave a class
about the dandelion’s root.
It is not enough to pull the stalk out,
you have to get the whole root up,
in the light, it’s the root, all the way down,
you have to pull up, it will grow again,
the dandelion. There mustn’t be a trace
left, cut deep, take the whole thing up,
boys, Mr. Bigandt said. He always
says it, Mr. Bigandt, you must get the whole
root up, Mr. Bigandt says,
the whole root up, look closely
whether you’ve got it up, says
the same Mr. Bigandt, who dealt out
slaps in the face during recess.


—All four poems are from various collections previously published in Danish, and reprinted here in translation by poet’s permission.


SHJ Issue 10
Fall 2014

Karsten Bjarnholt

was born in Copenhagen and published his first of a dozen poetry collections in 1970. His many books also include a novel and story collection, and he has also written texts for classical music and children’s songs. In addition to writing, he has been a teacher in Greenland and in schools for students with social and emotional problems. He is chairman of the poetry group in the Danish Writers Union. These are the first of his poems translated from Danish into English.


SHJ Issue 10
Fall 2014

Thomas E. Kennedy’s

Photo of Thomas E. Kennedy, by Mark Hillringhouse
Photograph by
Mark Hillringhouse

30+ books include novels, story and essay collections, literary criticism, translation, and anthologies. His stories, personal essays, and translations appear regularly in American and European magazines and have won Pushcart and O. Henry Prizes and an American National Magazine Award, as well as many grants from the Danish Arts Council. He lives in Copenhagen and teaches in the MFA Writing Program of Fairleigh Dickinson University.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury