What Is Difficult

September 1, 2021
A photograph of six pastries on a white serving platter from above
Photo by Megan (Markham) Bucknall / Unsplash

It is easy to be a mother.
Childbirth was nothing.
Marriage and divorce
only crack
the plaster a little
like when the S-train
goes by.

It is easy to write
easy to read
your own works out loud
good grounds for
slipping away from home.

What is difficult
is the coffee hour
The other adults there see
your hands are shaking
and that you don’t share
their warm interest
in the occasion.

The older girls
have baked the pastries themselves.
The principal talks
about the school trip.
It is only
half past eight.
Your stomach rumbles loudly
during a pause.
Driven by the simple
need to survive
your mouth waters
as you imagine
how the eagerly inquiring
father with the steady gaze
is in bed.

It will never end.
The youngest is only
nine years old.
You were not
warned in time.

The parish council chairman
is a vegetarian.
He thanks you for
the moving experience
and gets lost
in prepositions.
With fanatic eyes
he drinks his
wheat-bran soup.

He has not smoked
in thirty years.
He gulps
pollen tablets
and does not have his children
He sneezes and smells
like garlic.

Everyone is tireless.
They drink coffee
by the bucket.
There is an odor of catastrophe
childhood tumbles
from the cupboards.

Half-crazed with thirst
you sail into
conversation’s wild sea.
Everyone laughs you are
a witty dog.
Why do women
never have heart attacks?

The vicar’s dentures
when he speaks.
Next time I will
marry a vicar.
Next time
I will bring a
flask with me
and drink it down
in the WC.

Translation from the Danish

Editorial note: From De Voksne (The adults), Ⓒ 1969 by the author. Reprinted with permission of Gyldendal Publishing.

One of Denmark’s best-known writers, Tove Ditlevsen (1917–1976) is the author of many books, including the autofiction The Copenhagen Trilogy, available in English translation.

Cynthia Graae’s fiction, nonfiction, and translations have been published in the Westview News, Kinder Link, Washington Review, Paragraph, The Bridge, Canadian Women Studies: les cahiers de la femme, Hill Rag, Humans in the Wild (a Swallow Press anthology about gun violence), and online on the HuffPost, Barren Magazine, and Maine Public media websites. She is currently working on a collection of stories. She lives in New York City and Hiram, Maine.

Danish translator Michael Favala Goldman (b. 1966) is also a poet, jazz clarinetist, gardener, and educator. Over 140 of Goldman’s translations and poems have appeared in dozens of journals such as the Harvard Review and the Columbia Journal. His translation of Dependency, by Tove Ditlevsen, is the third book in The Copenhagen Trilogy (Penguin Classics / FSG). His fifteen books include his own original poetry and works by Knud Sørensen, Cecil Bødker, Suzanne Brøgger, Benny Andersen, and others. He lives in western Massachusetts.