Jóanes Nielsen -- Translations by Matthew Landrum and Tóta Árnadóttir

Hugo is Dead


The night Hugo died
The buoy lights on the northern sea stood honor guard
It was right too
That the sonar pinged the message down to the kelp beds
The empty bunk was borne
Along the roaring roads of the sea
The full moon realized
Hugo is dead
Fulmars carried the news farther on
To the Icelandic coasts and the Flemish Cap
Hugo is dead
It echoed among icebergs
He has become fog
Lingering around burnt-out stars

On the last day of his life
He was on the autumn mountain herding sheep
High up where the fog touches the sibbaldia
The Faroese stubbornness gives a barking laugh
And the rain scrawls sopping missives on the scree
There the heart of a man who struggled before the mast throughout his youth and
   adulthood stopped
They carried him home
In a tarpaulin
Crushed shells were sprinkled outside the storehouses
That day
Marital quilts were shaken out through the windows
That day
Children strung dead flies on thread
A black bead necklace for the archangel Mikkjal
They measured Hugo
All that didn't fit into the casket
The scent of fleeting life
Drifted through the classrooms the boathouses and the hearths in Sundalagið
That day

We build the Faroes on waves
We drift on the sea of emotion
Everything began in the ocean
The uterus is in fact a very tiny ocean
From which miniature vessels girt with skin
And throbbing with the motors of tiny hearts
Chart a course into the world
Hugo found his place with the line haulers
Down in the hold

At the stern in a storm
He was reliable
Despite a smoker's cough
He was like a nicotine organ
Droning loud hymns from its bellows
Meek hymns too
And the kind of hymns that make one silent from sadness
A hymn for his wife
And everything fragile that fell to pieces
A hymn for the flotsam that washed ashore
And started walking out into the world with cloth caps jaunted to one side
A hymn for the Erlendur Paturson’s constituents
That made the roses outside the fishermen's union blossom through the silence

A hymn for false teeth
Mended with bailing wire on the Nanortalik Bank
A hymn for laughter
Creels full of shiny pearls
A hymn for cartilage ground down between the joints
The hours that became days that became years that became yesterday's timetables

Hugo is dead
And to be honest
I don’t think that he would have done well among the angels
His arms and back were too worn out for that
Hugo's heaven
Is the heaven of sailors
They linger in the white breakers
The fog around extinguished stars
In the glimmer
Of a buoy light on the northern sea



Jóanes Nielsen, former dockworker turned political activist and writer, is a leading figure in contemporary Faroese literature. He has published seventeen books including the novel Brahmadellarnir, which was nominated for the 2013 Nordic Counsel's Literary Prize and is forthcoming in English translation from Open Letter.

Matthew Landrum is poetry editor of Structo Magazine. His chapbook The Lonesome Savior, translations from the Faroese of Agnar Artúvertin, is available from Cold Hub Press. He lives in Detroit.

Tóta Árnadóttir holds an MA in Faroese language and literature from the University of the Faroe Islands, where she is currently an assistant professor in oral traditions.