Linnea Axelsson

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Linnea Axelsson

Aednan XIV Great Lule River Valley. Spring 1945 (Ristin, Ber-Joná)

Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel
Long forest rivers
rushing icy through the land
their mouths at the coast

Iron-bearing regions
sparsely populated
wood- and bogland

currents flowed
from springs
in the mountains

and roared
from the slopes

Farther down
the river channels quieted

Leash harnesses
muffled the water

and instances of
fishing waters
became more frequent

Then it feebly met
the bog belt
the currents


through the moss

The soft permeable
marshes allowed
the rivers to swell into
wide gliding lakes

on their way
to the coast

There they would disperse
in the waves

dissolve in the sea

But the Swede
was out and about

he’d caught
the scent of game

Wild rivers
untouched rushing
in their deep channels

And strong men
were sent up through
the forests

They were to tame
the river and yoke
the rapids’s power

Even though our kin
had long moved with
their herds across
the river valleys’ hills

Fine winter roads
they had on the river when
it froze over

Their songs and
memories could have been

in the young river’s
foaming white
wild forms

But the Swede he dammed

And the river was left
reduced and silent
behind the dams’ dark
rocky blind walls

The hidden currents glided
down among turbine halls
deep below the mountains

and flowed up
in some unexpected place

Bit by bit the herds
had to make way

And there I came moving
in with our Nila

A rocky river’s edge
we were allotted

Straight down into the deep
that hill sloped

And the eyes of our kin

stared at us:

Go home
there’s no room for you here

Your men aren’t keeping
the herd together like ours are

Your reindeer are eating our grasslands
they’re ravaging
our forefather’s paths

During the days
our feelings shied away
from the fight

in the evenings
we licked our puncture wounds

All the while
the Swede was damming

and the water rose
up the hills

Place by place
the Swede

Streets of iron
houses of stone

Great heavy
hard constructions

Swedish women arrived
to buy
from me

things I had crafted
from antler and leather

There I sat by the fire
while their men

until the hill where we
had been allowed to build our hut
was submerged again

Twice we had to
tear down the peat hut I’d built
and move it higher up
the hill

Nila and I

Then we lay still
and listened

to the tortured
river’s silence

I could feel him
in our narrow bed

like a fish
flung onto land

He stormed
and scratched

until it tore
my mother-heart

We didn’t belong to
those who still remembered
this river’s
voice in song

when it had flowed freely

Out in the mountains

skidded the herd
across the ices

We had taken a new path

across the great
frozen mountain lake

A few reindeer herders we’d met
the kind who’d moved here
in olden times

had said the ice would hold

The ice creaked beneath
the herd which lowed
and ran and
slipped on their hooves

I thought I saw Aslat’s old
dog sitting there
waiting in the dark
across the lake

in utter silence

as though it could sense

Then I heard the sound
of ice breaking

I saw waves rising
and recharging

At the same time I
with my own eyes saw

the whole herd
safely cross
to the other side

and just keep going
through the snow

But what you heard
Ber-Joná wasn’t
the ice breaking

it was me

When a doctor came
from a hospital
by the sea

His very own bed
was what he promised Nila
and walks
along the beach

Saskia Vogel reads “Aednan XIV Great Lule River Valley. Spring 1945 (Ristin, Ber-Joná)”

Linnea Axelsson was born in the province of North Bothnia in Sweden, and now lives in Stockholm. She studied humanities at Umeå University, where she earned her PhD in art history in 2009. She debuted as a novelist in 2010 and in 2018 won the August Prize for the epic poem Aednan.

Saskia Vogel is a writer and translator from Los Angeles. Vogel’s debut novel Permission (2019) was longlisted for the Believer Book Award and translated into five languages. Her translation of Jessica Schiefauer’s Girls Lost (2020) is a finalist for the PEN Translation Award.