THE KALEVALA (7)

By: James Parker
July 15, 2016

The Kalevala is a sequence of folkloric songs, runes and charms from the Karelia region of Finland, collected in the field and concatenated into epic form by Dr. Elias Lonnrot (1803-1884). The versions presented here are not translations or transliterations — they are respectful bastardizations, working from the 1963 English version of the Kalevala produced by the versatile and witty Francis Peabody Magoun Jr.

kalevala_bastardized

*

THE SCREAMING AXE
[being a bastardization of The Kalevala, Rune 31, lines 223–300]

“It appears, Kullervo,” said his uncle
      Untamo —
Untamo the neckless, with geological
      creases
where his head was joined to his
      upper back
and little pale who-am-I-thumping-next
      eyes —
“that the role of babysitter
is not one to which you are especially
      suited.”

Kullervo said nothing. He said minus.
His sullenness was fathoms-deep.
Career talk is the worst.

“Have you considered forestry?
On the other side of that field
is a noble stand of spruce and pine.
A favourite place of mine.
But it could use a trim.
It’s getting tangled in there.
See what you can do, Kullervo.
Let the air move through it, and the light
be evenly distributed.
Some pollarding, some coppice-ing.
A well-kept wood is a wonderful thing.”

“I’ll get my axe,” said Kullervo.

The whetstone smoked.
The axe-edge got so sharp
it made a noise: a thin tight scream.
It whined like tinnitus,
so keen it was to cleave!

And when Kullervo entered the wood,
      oh dear.
Shaggy trees and baggy light.
Oh dear, ladies and gentlemen, oh dear
      oh dear.
He didn’t pollard, he didn’t coppice.
He started chopping and he didn’t stoppice.
The good trees, the not-so-good —
at slapstick speed he slaughtered that
      wood.
He slashed the limbs and he gashed the
      boles
and where there was foliage, he made
      holes.
One tree he just unplugged —
tore it out, roots writhing, with a giant tug.
Heaven held its nose
as the sappy scent of violation rose.
Everywhere you looked, what did you see
but the yellowy-white rawness of the inner
      tree?
No husbandry, no arboriculture.
Here’s your wood — if your woodsman is
      a vulture.
Trees shivered and collapsed, shrapnel flew
until the wood was razed, was rubble,
was ruined, and Kullervo, panting,
      sweating,
jumped up on a hacked stump
and in a frenzy of sawdust bellowed:

“Hear me!
For miles and miles about
all in the radius of this my shout
earth be cracked
and roots retract
and never a shoot come out!

Every green thing turn black!
The woodsman, the seedsman, the
      landscaper,
bugger off and never come back.
Let the germinal thrust miscarry
and weed to strangling weed be married.”

Thus he maledicted, the angry boy,
while seeds coughed in their pods.
The air went odd.
Above Kullervo was a no-fly zone.
(Literally, it was impossible to fly there,
in that odd-feeling air:
birds, entering that space,
fell like reversed umbrellas
down sudden chutes of nonentity
and wheeled away in terror.)
Around him, a wide scorched space
at the edge of which
the cinder-eating rat drew back his head
with a hiss, as if stung.

“Gods!” screamed Kullervo. “Do not enter.
If I’m the centre
then there is no centre.
I’ll neuter the nation.
I’ll dry up the juice of generation.
On my throne of bone I’ll sit, and under me
there’ll be no flicker of fecundity.”

Now his voice was parched. He was
      gasping.
From between two tree-stubs
a squirrel watched him with fleshless face
and its tail mechanically flickered.

“Stop the blood. Poison the cud.
I am Death’s thumb jammed in the bud.
This is the ultimate ash-state.
No one is speaking.
It’s the last straw.
The last gasp.
The last of the Mohicans.
Out of the cradle of uncreation
my final curse I fling.
Die all! Die me! Die Untamo!
Die every fucking thing!”

So there it was:
Kullervo’s antifertility charm.
And when it reached the ears of his uncle
that shrewd man frowned,
rubbed his nose with a curled finger
and said: “Well. We gave it a shot.
It’s time to sell the boy off.”

***

Series banner contributed by Rick Pinchera.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: RUNE 3 (1–278): “Wizard Battle” | RUNE 4 (1–56): “A Failed Seduction” | RUNE 4 (300–416): “Aino Ends It All” | RUNE 5 (45–139): “An Afternoon Upon the Water” | RUNE 5 (150–241): “The Blue Elk” | RUNE 6 (1–114): “Therapy Session” | RUNE 6 (115–130): “Joukahainen’s Mother Counsels Him Against Shooting the Wizard Vainamoinen” | RUNE 11 (1–138): “Introducing Kyllikki” | RUNE 23 (485–580): “The Bride’s Lament” | RUNE 30 (1–276): “Icebound” | RUNE 30 (120–188): “The Voyage of the Sea-Hare” (Part One) | RUNE 30 (185–188): “Losing It” | RUNE 30 (departure): “Across the Ice” | RUNE 31 (215–225): “The Babysitter” | RUNE 31 (223–300): “The Screaming Axe” | RUNE 33 (1–136): “The Cowherd” | RUNE 33 (73): “Song of the Blade: Kullervo” | RUNE 33 (118–284): “The Cows Come Home” | RUNE 34 (1–82): “The Pipes of Kullervo”.

MORE PARKER at HILOBROW: COCKY THE FOX: a brilliant swearing-animal epic, serialized here at HiLobrow from 2010–2011, inc. a newsletter by Patrick Cates | THE KALEVALA — a Finnish epic, bastardized | THE BOURNE VARIATIONS: A series of poems about the Jason Bourne movies | ANGUSONICS: James and Tommy Valicenti parse Angus Young’s solos | MOULDIANA: James and Tommy Valicenti parse Bob Mould’s solos | BOLANOMICS: James traces Marc Bolan’s musical and philosophical development | WINDS OF MAGIC: A curated series reprinting James’s early- and mid-2000s writing for the Boston Globe and Boston Phoenix | CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM: J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT | EVEN MORE PARKER, including doggerel; HiLo Hero items on Sid Vicious, Dez Cadena, Mervyn Peake, others; and more.

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