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On foot I must cross the universe

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They were taking a break from doing homework and lying on the floor in Agnes's bedroom, Elin's head on Agnes's stomach. Agnes was petting her hair, which felt lovely, but she was getting bored now. Spotting a stack of books next to Agnes's bed she picked the one on top and read the title aloud.

"Poems of Edith Södergran? Do you have to read poems in year nine?"

"I'm not reading that for school. But yes, we have been reading poems for Swedish."

"But poems are so boring."

"I don't know what poems you've been reading but Edith Södergran is not boring."

"But she's old and old people are boring."

"Do you even know anything about her?"

"No. But she has an old lady name, so she's old and because she's old, she's boring."

"Well, she was born in 1890-something, so her poems are pretty old, but they're not boring. And she died when she was still quite young, she was only about thirty when she died."

"Thirty is more than twice as old as I am, that's ancient. Ouch, that hurt."

Agnes loosened her fingers in Elin's hair. "You deserved that. Thirty isn't old. Seventy is old."

"All right, I believe you. But now you must prove to me she's not boring."

Agnes picked up the book from the floor where Elin had put it down. She opened it at random and turned a few pages. "I'll read something for you. What about this one? 'I long for the land that never was / for all that is I am tired desiring. // In silver runes...'"

"How can you long for something that doesn't exist?" Elin asked.

"Maybe it's something from a dream."

"Maybe. No, I know. It's like this film on TV the other night, there was this woman who was kidnapped by aliens and then some time later they brought her back. She kept telling everybody about the place where they took her, and everybody thought she was crazy because there are no alien cities out there. But she knew it was real, and she actually wanted to go back because her old life wasn't like it was before."

"It could something like that," Agnes said. Instead of reading further, she turned the page, and then again until she found another poem.

"I'll read you this one instead," she said, and read:

"On foot
must I cross the universe
before finding the first thread of my red robe.
Of my own self I see a faint glimmer.
Somewhere suspended in space is my heart,
sparks go forth from it, vibrating the ether
in search of other boundless hearts."

"That's really weird. A heart sending sparks into space, it's like a picture. That's like something from a freaky science fiction film."

"I've never thought about it like that. You get her better than people did when that poem was published."

"Really? But I don't get poems, they are too difficult. And boring."

"You do get her, you just did. You can see what she's writing, in a different way than I do."

"See, that's why you should read to me, I can make it more interesting. Is there more?"

"That was all, it's a short poem. Most of hers are." Agnes turned pages in the book again. "How about this one?

'No no no cry all the echoes in the forest.
I have no sister.
I go to pick up her silken white dress
and clutch it helplessly.
I kiss you, all my passion I give to you, unfeeling cloth
can you recall her rosy limbs?....'"

"That's so creepy," Elin interrupted. "Why is she kissing the dress? And whatever happened to the sister?"

"She’s dead. If you’d let me finish you’d have heard about snow covering the sister’s remains."

"Oh. That's sad."

"And usually when the characters in her poems say 'sister' they don't actually mean sister as in sibling."

"What do you mean?"

"The characters are talking about girls they love."

"Oh. So was Edith whatshername a lesbian then?"

"I don't know about her. Nobody knows for sure. But many of the characters in her poems seem to be."

"Read that one for me again," Elin asked, and made herself more comfortable.

"Only if you stop your bony head digging into my ribs. I can't breathe."

"Whose head are you calling bony?"

"Yours. That's better."

This time Agnes got to read the entire poem without interruptions. When she was finished, Elin sat up.

"OK, so those poems weren't that bad but I want to do something else now."

"We can always get back to your homework. Geography, was it?"

"No, I can do that at home tonight. Or copy from somebody tomorrow morning, we don't have geography until after lunch."

"You're never going to learn it if you don't do it yourself."

"Don't nag, you're not my teacher. And I can think of something else to do before I have to go home."

"What's that then?"

"This,' Elin said, and stretched out on the floor next to Agnes and kissed her.