A Sweeping Gesture 

By Helge Torvund


Dag Sol Stein are proper names Day Sun Stone Days have names
Nights do not Still they exist And we still exist There in the dark In the night
We exist without names While we sleep
While we trespass an other world with foreign words
Still we exist in the darkness And our darknesses exist
Shadows exist between each layer of an onion When no one knows our names

and we are strangers somewhere We exist
Dag is a name Per is a name Åse Marie
Yet once we had no names We just arrived Here Do we have a name?
It begins with air and lungs A first scream 
 A new scream in an ancient world of ears that have heard this newness
again and again Through centuries Through nameless years

as paint peeled from houses
Mountains were blown to bits and ground into rubble and gravel
Thundering tanks rusting behind the house with broken windows
and here Here come the vulnerable newborns sailing in Expecting
to be received with soft intimacy In a world with enormous
dump trucks and their hot monster tires

that smell like rubber and diesel
With nighttime freight trains rushing full speed into the wide open spaces
With days of ocean helicopter crashes
In the middle of all this newborns
arrive Wobbling in Swaddled in blankets and smiles
And wanting mother’s milk And we give them names

We give them names that come gliding in from the past
with sounds of rain and gods and wind
The light of day and sun and stone
And our children name us Mama Papa Mapa Pama Dada
And then language unfolds like leaves
Like play Like song Like an onion Like our language
Each name is an enfolding A gathering A sweeping

We have names We are Rolf and Olav Per and Paul
Paal­-Helge Paul Klee Who are we?
 Per and Paul and Espen Arnakke
You Per Me Per All Per No one
Split a stone And who is there? Lift a piece of wood
Trespass now the half-lived life Who reads the day?
Ken reads runes Rune reads a diary Tarjei reads Liv Henrik wrote

about the button-maker Sigmund About the watchmaker
On a night that went up in smoke
And billows still In rhythmic rings In hula-hoops
Per Elvis Per Sivle Known by a gesture By a name
In my heaven there is rock­'n-roll and there are dogs Rain and open spaces
 New rooms Always new doors in Life branching out
You lift the branch and walk into the  clearing
 Open a new door and walk into still another room

We are swaddled in blankets
Then swaddled in clothing and more clothing
And helmets and safety glasses and visors – Take off your clothes!
The coat of norms The sweater of attitudes the Shirt of opinions
 the T­‐shirt of feelings
Take off the visor of ideas Take off the name
Who are you behind those eyes that see
Ask Sigmund Ask Hulda

Who is silenced by nervousness
Ask Frank Ask Stein Ask Jesus Johannes Kitty Arne and Per
Here no one rests And Solveig still
Someone sees through Solveig
Someone sees through Per Asgeir Terje You Me
And sees us all Now we have arrived
Now we are here We inhale We search for words
The word The Name for this darkness
For this existence and we


The poem in Norwegian

Helge Torvund (1951) is one of the most important contemporary Norwegian poets.

Since his debut in 1977 he has published numerous poetry books, songs and essays. In his poetry he combines baroque and surrealistic elements and his language is very personal, fresh and innovative. Torvund is a qualified psychologist and practised as a psychologist for many years. He lives and works in the Jæren region on the south-west coast of Norway.
The poem A Sweeping Gesture was commissioned by the Statoil art programme as a tribute to Helge Torvund on his 60th birthday.

Together with Arne Nøst, director of Rogaland Theatre and Bjarne Våga of the Statoil art programme, Torvund read A Sweeping Gesture at Rogaland Theatre in Stavanger, Norway, on September 2011.
From left: Arne Nøst, Helge Torvund and Bjarne Våga
Arne Nøst and Helge Torvund
Helge Torvund
The poem A Sweeping Gesture is translated by the American poet and translator, Ren Powell
Poem – archive