“The Chestnut Bow” by Pia Busk, translated from the Danish by Andrew Miller

Sunset over forest floor, autumn trees.
The Light at the End, Tain Leonard-Peck

Translator’s Note

“The Chestnut Bow” is from Pia Busk’s second collection Corinna og Mig (Corinna and Me) from 2017. Though Busk is something of an outsider poet in Denmark, as this poem illustrates, she is comfortable invoking classical conventions. Using Ovid’s Amores and Virgil’s Aeneid as points of departure, her book addresses head on such issues as sexuality, drug addiction, loss, and recovery. Some of these themes are exemplified in “The Chestnut Bow.” The poem is an elegy to Busk’s friend Kim Martin, who died of a heroin overdose when Busk was in her twenties. Thus, the poem is highly personal, but Busk packs the personal aspects of her poem with her intriguing references to the Golden Bow and Aeneas’ journey into the Underworld.


The Chestnut Bow

I find my dead below no golden bow, 
But the low limbed chestnut on a May day 
With little wind: its blossoms—each one 
The minute and blood-stained sheet 
Of a virgin bride.  I pass under. I enter. 
In the underworld, the shades come dressed 
Each in the wounded gray shape
Of what they were—impossible to touch.
They pass through me: a cold that is not cold, 
A cry compressed to names 
I cannot finish. It’s not tears they want, my dead, not blood. 
Odysseus slaughtered the ram 
On the beach of the underworld so his dead 
Could drink, their lips running 
Red hot with words. Crowding me, my dead beg 
With a junkie’s eyes. 
A little baggy of heaven, a tin-foil ball 
Inside which a dust of pleasure awaits.
These are the only gifts my dead crave.
Even as shades I can see the tracks
Along extended arms, along thighs, showing 
Down between toes. Kim Martin,
How can I tell you now (as you rise up 
From this great overdose of sadness) 
I am clean? And so am not holding 
And so I cannot give you even 
The smallest taste of ecstasy
Though your eyes gape with a hunger 
Not even death can satisfy. If I were using 
Tonight, I’d hear again 
The new money of your voice and see again 
Your flashing eyes
And I would touch your hair’s shower of gold 
And we would live again 
Siblings in that myth no one believes anymore. 
I am clean—I have not even a taste 
To give you, and so you cannot speak and so 
Cannot explain—here in the underworld 
Of the chestnut tree—how you have become 
The bridegroom of every blossom.


Kastanjen    

De døde ligger ikke under den dobbelte regnbue,
men under kastanjens tunge grene en majdag
uden vind: de tusind hvide blomster, hver af dem
røde på midten som en jomfrus blodplettede lagen.
Jeg går under dem. Jeg går ind mellem træets skygger,
og de går gennem mig: en isnen uden kulde, et skrig
presset sammen til navne, jeg ikke længere kan sige.
Men det er ikke tårer, de vil have, mine døde,
det er ikke blod. Odysseus slagtede en vædder på stranden
i underverdenen, så hans døde kunne drikke,
deres munde og halse løb over med blodige ord.
Mine døde gemmer sig i skyggerne med stikkende øjne
og trygler om bare en lille pose af himlen, bare
en sølvpapirskugle med befrielsens støv, andet
kræver de ikke. Selv som skygger har de arrede linjer
løbende ned over de fremstrakte arme, ned
gennem lysken og lårene til føddernes papirtynde hud.
Kim Martin, hvordan kan jeg fortælle dig
(nu hvor du rejser dig fra din enorme overdosis af sorg)
at jeg er clean? Jeg har ingenting på mig, selv om
dine øjne gaber af en sult ikke engang døden kan mætte.
Hvis jeg havde været høj, ville jeg kunne høre
din stemmes nye klang og se dine øjnes diamanter.
Jeg ville røre dit gyldne hår, og vi kunne være
tvillinger i den historie, ingen tror på mere.
Men jeg er clean. Jeg har ingenting at give dig,
og du vil aldrig kunne fortælle mig, hvordan 
du blev hver eneste kastanjeblomsts brudgom.

✶✶✶✶

Andrew Miller is a poet, critic, and translator with over eighty publications to his name. His poems have appeared in journals including The Massachussetts Review, Iron Horse, Shenandoah, Spoon River Poetry Review, Ekphrastic Review, Hunger Mountain, Rattle, and in the anthologies How Much Earth, Anthology of Fresno Poets (2001) and The Way We Work: Contemporary Literature from the Workplace (2008). He is a co-editor for The Gazer Within (2001) and the author of Poetry, Photography, Ekphrasis: Lyrical Representations of Photography from the 19th Century to the Present (Liverpool University Press, 2015). Miller resides Copenhagen Denmark with his wife and daughters. 

Pia Busk is a poet and leather artisan living in Copenhagen, Denmark. She has three published collections of poems, Grotten (2015), Corinna og Jeg (2017) and Cougar (2019). At present, she is working on a semi-autobiographical novel. She has been awarded a number of Danish state artist grants and has been interviewed about her poetry by the Danish press and over the radio. Her poems are based on her personal experiences. In her earlier life, she struggled with drug addiction, and she has focused on these experiences in her work. She has also attempted to use her poetry and public appearces as means for making the Danish public more aware of the challenges and traumas of drug addiction.

Tain Leonard-Peck writes poetry, plays, and short stories, and is completing his first novel. He is also an actor, artist, musician, model, and competitive sailor, skier, and fencer. His work has been published in literary journals, including the 2020 Anthology of Youth Writing on Human Rights & Social Justice, TAEM, Sleet Magazine, The Elevation Review, Idle Ink, Crack The Spine Magazine, The Riva Collective, Molecule, Multiplicity Magazine, Czykmate, and others. He won an honorable mention for the Creators of Literary Justice Award, was a finalist for #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence, and won the first place Poetry Fellowship to the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing.