The Easiness and the Loneliness by Asta Olivia Nordenhof

Translated from the Danish by Susanna Nied.
This is part of our special feature, New Nordic Voices.



my fathers mother kept smoking after her stroke

one side of her face was paralyzed

she could just barely hold her lips together, they werent airtight

it must have affected the strength of her smokes

i think now

i couldnt have thought about it then, i was ten when she died

when i focus on thinking of her its not her face that comes clear

photos have destroyed that memory

when i try to remember how she looked instead i remember the quality of the photo

one picture is grainy

the other was printed in a format thats not standard anymore

i remember some objects attached to her existence

a placemat of shiny red oilcloth

a concrete planter with flowers, a corner of amagerbro street tells me to turn here

this is grandmas street

if i stay long enough with the objects rooms begin to form

a narrow hallway

a door leading into the living room

the bedroom

a bed.

i think i can place myself in that bed again

but the story attached to the bed destroys the focus

we lay there

in that bed together

we always watched big day at the beach

a general story

if it was wednesday we always watched big day at the beach

presence becomes strongest in what’s detached

if i walk back out of the bedroom

through the living room, the narrow hallway

the bathroom

there i once washed my face

cold water




mint green

a little bag of lavender

that’s all. that the water is cold

that it feels good.

i can’t remember when i realized

grandpa was beating them all

as my father recalled:

every day we waited for the blows and then it got quiet

your grandma might be lying in the kitchen

which was a direct extension of the hall and was equally narrow

or she might be lying in the hall

grossest if she bled, if i had to wipe up.

as soon as the hallway is present i can be my father

not if i start thinking of his child-knees

brown shorts

the way it is in the picture:

grandma in white, dad in brown shorts

then everythings lost

and i cant find my fathers gaze

sitting on the bed

from there if the divider is pulled aside he can see the kitchen table

i know that my father left home at fourteen

he was a junkie for a few years and lived on the street

i recently found out how later in his life he spoke of my mother in letters

to other women

the little pig took the abortion well, he writes

if he beat her she went over to annis house, she didn’t want her mother to know

i know because later anni told my mothers mother

a memory never experienced that came to be after i saw those letters:

the letters are left out

he never intended to send them to anyone

my mother is supposed to find them, shes supposed to be destroyed

they lived in the same apartment i live in now

i think they loved each other

my nails have grown long and been trimmed many times since my mother died

more times since my father died

i wash things off and regret it

you have the same body as your fathers mother

my mother always said that

you have the same facial expressions as your father

everyone says that

no one could hear the difference when i answered the phone at my mothers house

her father thought he was talking to his daughter

my mothers last husband hit her too

thinking of him walking along outside the window

he got something from the car, abashed

something about the way he showed dissatisfaction with the lunch at the bar & grill

as if his clothes had gotten too big

and seeing him in the new apartment after my mothers death

he’d bought two easy chairs, an imagined life ahead of him

everything is lost from here where im writing

put my hand on my mothers forehead, make sure she doesn’t have a fever

that her palms arent sweaty

that shes sitting on her bicycle

on the way to the ocean, we pick elderberries

all the love i have can fit into an elderberry

someone should have taken away her meekness

my mother

i should have said:

no one has the right to destroy you

all those fuckheads

youre meticulous with your makeup before we leave for the school program

forget it

just forget it

theres no reason to be kind to anyone unkind

forget it

no one has the right to demand that you be kind to the unkind




not quite :

stand a ladder at the edge of a strawberry bed

climb up and think how much fun it would be to let yourself fall

so people thought you were dead. how sweet the dirt would be. not that!

not like that insanity, that strip of sun, a cat so easily finds what sun there is

small creampuffs can be so small you go crazy

nipples after a morning swim

the ocean sets in with all its helplessness

foam! not that!

how immense

a nubbly strawberry. as the swell is dark

and the ocean takes you if you want, if you walk out to the other side of the sandbar

as the swell is dark and cant be anything else except at the dentists

in the dentists eyes

another life with pink swells

not in his gaze either

how precise it must be

not in his gaze either

not with legs spread at the ob/gyns either

not in his gaze either

even if he later appears in a program i saw about retirees who move abroad

not in his backyard either, now in texas

and the ocean, if you want to walk out to the other side of the sandbar

and even if the strawberry hasnt asked you to covet its nubbly surface

then not there either

with seagrass against the back

someone says something far off

the wall of the house yellow, the body is warmed all to pieces

its hard but not impossible to walk the north sea shore in stiletto heels

and not there either

in marys bed, close to the intersection

so witless, still staying upright staggering home along guldberg street in constant danger

of falling

and still not

how small the creampuff that the counterperson offered me: would I like one

then I completely lost my wits

then on the way home the ice on the lakes had broken up and as soon as that happens

as soon as youve become so stupid, no more exposed than everything is




wish i were named torben and had an easier life

and then i would have stood there totally fucked silly in the 7-eleven

and marveled that i was named torben and that what i was named meant nothing anyway

way wild and the directionlessness would be so obvious

that one walked on hot coals that one wasnt the boss in ones own house

and just as one can want to lick a baby because its totally little

all the love one has, oh dear ive lost my mind

if one more snowflake hits my neck and melts down my back

then ill fucking fuck everyone i see or ill start to cry and never stop

got a card from a woman named livia whos about to turn a hundred

she thinks im named livia and turned seventeen last monday, and she wishes me happy birthday

tanti cari auguri di buon natale the card says

what a joy! no one has their facts straight! everyone has their head up their ass!

everyone at some point has been so hot and then rested their thighs against rocks that have been in the shade all day

everyone has been so marvelously little


Asta Olivia Nordenhof (b. 1988) debuted in 2011 with her novel Et ansigt til Emily. She is a graduate of the School of Authors in Copenhagen, and was awarded the 2013 Montanas Literature Prize for her poetry collection Det nemme og det ensomme (“The Easiness and the Loneliness”).

Susanna Nied is an American writer and translator. She has been honored with the Landon Translation Award of the Academy of American Poets (2007) and has twice been named a finalist for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation (2005, 2012). Her translations of Danish poet Inger Christensen are published by New Directions.

Published on April 17, 2018.


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