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Forgive Me, Edith Södergran

by Bart Sutter

Oh, Edith Södergran, I’ve had it hard.

I did not get the place I wanted, felt that I deserved,

And so I worked at pointless jobs for years.

How I suffered. Hurt by women, I

Betrayed them in my turn. So we’re the same, then,

Aren’t we, Edith Södergran? My mother’s dad,

Like you, a Swedish Finn, escaped to this

America, complaining bitterly,

His mother hauling him on by the hand,

And where was her husband then? Nowhere.

There was illness and death in my family. I drank

And made lament, I drank and called some names,

I did, Edith Södergran. I drank, but then,

Finally, at forty, quit. I stopped, although

I still complained. I suffered just insufferably.

Self-pity’s so delicious. How could I give it up?


But thanks to you, I can, Edith Södergran,

For, though we are alike, we’re clearly not

The same since you’re a woman, I’m a man

And aging fast, whereas your lovely body

Died, at thirty-one, of the tuberculosis

That ate your father when you were fifteen.

Once a year I catch a cold. I cough and cough.

The critics called your writing laughable,

While I’ve won little prizes, Edith Södergran.

War broke down your door. I watch it on TV.

You spooned thin soup and dwindled down.

I devour chicken, lamb, beefsteak, ham,

With dollars in my wallet, dollars in the bank.

You ran out of paper, sold your furniture

And lingerie to go on living, died,

Yet here you are in letters and your poems.


You said your soul was a light blue dress

The color of the sky. I see you on the shore

Of Lake Superior, late in spring, when heaps

Of light blue ice lie shattered on the rocks

And clouds of steam drift off the water.

I see you there, but then you’re gone.

I’ve stopped complaining, Edith Södergran,

So just stand still and wait for me. I’ll bring you meat.

I’ll bring you writing paper, pen and ink.

My wife and I will welcome you. We have

An extra room. We like the things you like.

Our house has walls of books, and some are Swedish, too.

My wife will help you shop for fancy underthings.

Together, we’ll drink tea and just enjoy

The cherry trees when they put on their smocks

Or go out in the woods, as you did as a girl,

To gather wild berries we can share

Or find bloodroot and wood anemone

Or simply stand and breathe the fragrant air.