top of page

by Tor Ulven

Editorial Note:

These two pieces (originally published in the author's 1991 collection Fortæring: prosastykker) are appearing for the first time in English in a translation by Jordan Barger. In the words of the translator:


Tor Ulven is part of a literary node that includes Jon Fosse, Karl Ove Knausgård, Samuel Beckett and René Char, having directly influenced the former two and having translated the latter two into Norwegian. His eleven books (5 poetry books, 5 prose books and 1 novel) stand as some of the finest in Norwegian literature. We are lucky that he was able to give us so much before his suicide at age 41.


          THE SUDDEN DARKNESS in August never fails to bring me into its melancholy. It surprises me every year. The trees blacken and turn baggy, oil lamps flicker inside the houses, faces circle around them, visible because the curtains are drawn, as if to hold on to the last of the blue-green light coming from over the hill.

          I could tell you what happened to me this summer, but I don't want to. It could be the story of a routine encounter, a crush, perhaps, or, on the contrary, a car accident (a heavily loaded vehicle, fatigue after a long day behind the wheel, a moment of drowsiness) that drastically changed both my life and someone else’s; but no, that’s not it, there’s no story here. Because this should only be about the darkness in August, about how the gray asphalt shines with some black spots from unevaporated rainwater under the streetlamp. What happened to me will remain a mystery to you, in the same way as the contents of the compost heap, there, a corner of the garden I now contemplate, with no idea what is down there, where beetles and larvae bore through the greasy, sticky soil, on their way to or from something we non-larvae will never know. Around the bulb, in the warm glow of the street lamp, a glistening swarm of other insects (their thin bodies and wings against the bulb making shadows, for a short while, like threads or hair attracted by static electricity to clothes), insects that, when autumn begins, cling to life by buzzing in the warm air by the window panes (as if they were an ornament, like a mobile with invisible threads, hung on the wrong side of the glass) until they disappear without anyone noticing.



         THE BOUQUET HANGING BY A THREAD above his head, occasionally bobbing in the draft from an open window, no longer has the slightest trace of green. The bundled stems display a dull brown color, a palish bone-yellow, knuckle-like, almost the same shade as the leaves, which are mummified as brittle paper, and have curled inwards like half-open bags, like triangular cornucopia, with symmetrical nerves showing as fine white lines in relief (like fish scales or leafless miniature trees). Even the blooms are mostly drained of color, as if by a slowly dripping leak. Along the wrinkled and twisted edges, you can see a thin strip of concentrated scarlet which, along with the layered circular, lip-like arrangement of petals (not unlike the surface dynamics of a falling droplet), identifies the species (rose); some of the flowers have remnants of a greenish ink-blue, and a shape that resembles the inside of a crushed wasp nest (carnations). And then, what looks like beads of soft frost follows down the stems, tiny gray pom-poms on the leaves and calyxes (hanging upside down), as if small clouds have attached themselves to the bouquet in some naive, fairy-tale way. Dust, floating dust that has attached itself to the mummified hanging flowers, this dust contains a profusion of animal life. These animals have curved carapaces with longitudinal stripes (reminiscent of fingerprints), and jointed, hairy legs they use to crawl over something that (at nine-hundred-and-fifty-times magnification) gives the illusion of being a forest, full of rotting leaves, twigs and plant remains, moss and flowers (or at least flowers in the dust of flowers), a forest in the universe of dust. But the beetle-like mites do not feed on plants or small insects or the like, they eat dandruff and other bits of human skin, studies say. The vast hordes of mites, there must be millions of them in this bit of dust attached to the bouquet, millions that eat and multiply, eat and multiply completely unnoticed, and when they die, they probably do so without fear, not even instinctively. But he does not think about these invisible herds of innumerable mites, nor the existence of mites, as he contemplates the dried flowers hanging from the ceiling; he thinks only of the one who gave them to him (the flowers), on his birthday long ago, roses and carnations, he only sees the dust as a symbol of time, the passage of time, he tries to remember when it was, while the mites incessantly (as he sits there silently looking at the lifeless bouquet with a despondent expression) continue their microscopic life, their hectic excursions around the world of dust, eating and reproducing. These heartless, lungless beings without the remotest concept of past or present emotions, of aging or time, they continue to live in eternity, a dust mite’s eternity, heaven, so to speak, these heavenly hosts.


bottom of page