K was supposed to come with the key, I was

by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen, translating from the Danish by Ulrikka S. Gernes

K WAS SUPPOSED TO COME WITH THE KEY, I WAS
to wait outside the gate. I arrived on time,
the time we had agreed on and waited, as agreed,
outside the gate. I waited a long time, waited
and waited, waited a very long time. I stood
next to the security guard from Securitas, who also
stood outside the gate. I waited, the security guard
from Securitas just stood there, he wasn’t waiting,
it was his job to stand there, he didn’t take
any breaks, he just stood there, keeping an eye
on what he was supposed to keep an eye on. K
didn’t show up. I waited. When the security guard
from Securitas finished his shift I went home
with him, sat down across from him at the kitchen
table, ate spicy meatballs on rice, summer cabbage
followed by green tea and mango from Brazil.
In the night he laid his human hand between
my shoulder blades before we both stumbled
across the threshold into a brand new now.

Notes on the Poem

Considering the mundane subject matter and tone which this poem commences, it becomes revelatory at the end of its crisp 19 lines. How does it manage to startle and refresh us? Let's take a look at "K was supposed to come with the key, I was", which is the first line of a poem originally composed in Danish by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated into English by Canadian poet/translators Per Brask and Patrick Friesen in a unique collaboration. The judges' citation for Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments, the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection from which this poem comes, captures perfectly aspects that correspond to this particular poem: "The world of the poems is twilit, borderless, melancholy, associative, seeping ... Full of arresting detail and quiet everyday language ..." More than half of the poem is exactly this, in large part because of what is not said as much as what is. The opening line is decidedly that "quiet everyday language" - who hasn't waited for someone to come with something so simple as a key, an errand perhaps making up for something forgotten in the midst of other everyday activities and tasks? The repetition as the poem unfurls is almost suffocatingly intense: "wait" and "gate" and "security guard" and "Securitas". It's all static and passive and colourless ... ... and then a blast of sensory intoxication takes over when the poem's protagonist departs that stultifying situation: "I went home with him, sat down across from him at the kitchen table, ate spicy meatballs on rice, summer cabbage followed by green tea and mango from Brazil." That rush of colour and flavour and aromas bridges from the poem's initial eerie monotony to, indeed, "a brand new now". How exhilarating!

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