Image credit: Eylul Doganay, "Pain Demi Q"

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When I Have Time


The woman upstairs

borrows a cup of flour

so she can chat.

She reeks of whisky

she is a widow

her son is a drug addict.


Sure, I say

and feel worried.

He didn’t

come home last night

he has someone else

I don’t know

if our taxes get divided

right away.


Her mouth

is open and wet. 

Her words fall

to the floor

I stuff them

back into her

without looking at them.


She is unhappy

age has done its work

it isn’t easy

I say

and nudge her

collar bone gently

so the door can shut.

The flour spills

on her faded


a strand of blue silk

is caught on my nail.


When I

have time

when things

are organized

when I have slept

well one night

when I have contributed to

“the welfare of seniors" and

“young people’s happiness”

I will turn my attention to

the woman upstairs


who no longer

needs flour

who no longer

thickens gravy

or bakes bread

who needs someone

who is happy and

has plenty of time.



With No One –


With no none

can our innermost


be shared.

With what is

most important

in the world

we are alone.


It is a

lasting burden

it is a

subtle joy

that here no one

can reach you

and no one

can be let in.



Anxiety 1


Anxiety is old it

reeks of childhood it

has no object

is awakened by glances, words and  

sudden noise                          

lives in recurring dreams where

the one you love

shows the deadly hatred he

hides by day.


People’s eyes are yellow they

are too close together and they

have no lashes

over them their

menacing eyebrows

run endlessly together

the corners of their mouths

dislocate and twist, watercolor-wet

do not look at them

slip away from any dangerous

and keen attention.                 


Wrap yourself in rhythms and

rhymes from the old

bygone songs

hide with the troll and

the dragon the

pure evil         

shy away from all affection even

from the child who plays with and

caresses the cat

shy away from his expectation

his memories

his blocked future.                 


Seek the company of those who

peacefully turned away

want nothing from you

libraries waiting rooms

railway stations

people with suitcases

in hand have

firm contours


goals in a

world that is not yours.


All the others are transformed

under your stare as if

under windswept waves

they know that you see their

secrets and

innermost thoughts

hate your lurking and waiting

you do not know the day

of the catastrophe

approaching by the hour.


Anxiety is old your

father and your mother are

safety and danger

staring through your

lover’s eyes and are not dead.

Do not watch them. Lay

flowers on the grave light

candles at night

fold your hands and hum

in devotional horror the old

forgotten songs.



Anxiety 2


The crisis is not    

sickness and death nor

violent transformation.          

Anxiety goes well beyond

the mind’s outermost limit.   

Unnoticed and dangerous like

cells growing

it lives within you and is nourished

by daily habits.


Faces melt and

dissolve if you don’t

avoid offending them with

your knowing eyes.

The mirrors don’t want to be used you

must not know

what they reflect when

darkness and silence come.


The room you live in has thin and

slanting walls

harsh and curt voices

strike like whips.

Reconciliation is impossible

through his eyes

stare the adults who know

you have seen they are afraid.





It always rained

in Istedgade.



like large sunflowers            

in the falling



Near the railway station

the whores came out

they looked like rich ladies

with umbrellas

and high heels.

I had imagined them

entirely different

and was disappointed.


The stench from

the slaughterhouse

was not so bad

as during the day.

Drunk men

are not dangerous

said my


child molesters

are always sober.


Policemen walked

two by two

their white

clubs hung loosely

from their belts. Their helmets

flashed bright and wet.

They all looked

alike they

knew that

I stole and sold

bottles from the lumberyard.


Danger reeked

from all alleys.

The unemployed

walked home with

firm strides

and quitting-time faces.

At the cinema

stood a queue of

noisy young apprentices.


Now all the other

children were sitting at dinner

I had told

a lie I was

a little scared

and in a festive mood because

nothing happened

when there were two of you and

you avoided sober men.


Anyone who went inside

Café Charles

would be killed.

Many went in

but none ever came

out alive.

The big kids in

seventh grade said that             

and everything they said

was true.


It still rains

in Istedgade.

Nothing has changed

you walk shivering

past Café Charles and know

that the big kids speak more

truthfully than the adults.                



Divorce 4


Married men


the whole world


the horizon




are everywhere

never phone

on Sundays.


In the evening

they come

slinking in

with a bottle

of cheap sherry.

You let

them in by the group

and try to

differentiate them

from each other.


They are fat

or thin


or horizontal.

They ooze


and good advice

for hastily put-on



With a pleased

possessive look

they fry eggs





the television


amusing traits

about their children

pull the wife

from their wallets.


You straighten up

after the last one

empty ashtrays

smooth the hollow

in the pillow

go to bed

are alone

no longer make an effort

and start over

in the morning

in the hope

that one of them

one day will come

into focus

and be different

and call

on a Sunday.



The Adults 2


It can happen


Your age


your chest like a

dress made

for someone else.


Or your smile


over them like

a lukewarm liquid

dissolving all

their features so they

can’t easily find

them when they

get up to leave.       


It can also occur

when no one is watching.

The floors slope

the doors are



You stand

completely still

as if you were

painted on the wall.

The adults are gone

and will never come home.


Original ↓

r jeg får tid


Konen ovenover

ner en kop mel

for at komme i snak.

Hun lugter af whisky

hun er enke

sønnen er narkoman.


Ja ja siger jeg

og har bekymringer.

Han har ikke

ret hjemme I nat

han har en anden

jeg ved ikke

om skatten blir delt

med de samme.


Hendes mund

er åben og våd.

Ordene falder

ned på gulvet

jeg stopper dem

ind I hende igen

uden at se på dem.


Hun er ulykkelig

alderen gør sit

det er ikke nemt

siger jeg

og puffer hende

blidt på kravebenet

så døren kan lukkes.

Melet drysser

på den falmede


en trevl af blå silke

hænger fast i neglen.


Når jeg

r tid

når tingene

kommer i orden

r jeg har sovet

godt en nat

r jeg har betalt til

de gamles vel” og

de unges glæde”

vil jeg ta mig af

konen ovenover


som ikke mere

har brug for mel

som ikke mere

laver jævning

og bager franskbrød

som har brug for en

der er lykkelig og

har god tid.



Med ingen –


Med ingen kan

man dele

de inderste


Det vigtigste

i verden

er man

alene med.


Det er en

varig byrde

det er en

sagte glæde

at her kan

ingen nå dig

og ingen

lukkes ind.



Angst 1


Angsten er gammel den

lugter af barndom den

har ingen genstand

kkes af blikke og ord og

at pludselig støj

lever i gentagne drømme hvor

den som man elsker

viser det dræbende had han

skjuler om dagen.


Menneskers øjne er gule de

sidder for tæt og de

har ingen vipper

over dem løber de

truende bryn

ustandselig sammen

vandfarvevåde forrykkes og krænger

mundenes vige

se ikke på dem

glid ud af hver farlig

og vågen bevidsthed.


Svøb dig i rytmer og

rim fra de gamle

henfarne sange

gem dig hos trolden og

dragen de

renlivet onde

sky alle kærtegn selv

barnets der leger og

kæler med katten

sky hans forventning

hans minder

hans spærrede fremtid.


g deres selskab som

fredelig bortvendte

ingenting vil dig

biblioteker ventesale og


folk med en kuffert

i hånden har

faste konturer


mål i en

verden du ikke er med i.


Alle de andre forvandles

under dit blik som

i blæsende bølger

ved at du ser deres

hemmeligheder og

inderste tanker

hader dig lurer og venter

du ved ikke dagen

for katastrofen der

rmer sig time for time.


Angsten er gammel din

far og din mor er

tryghed og fare

stirrer igennem din

elskedes øjne og er ikke døde.

Se ikke på dem læg

blomster på graven tænd

lyset om natten

fold dine hænder og nyn

i besværgende gru de gamle

henfarne sange.



Angst 2


Ulykken er ikke

sygdom og død eller

voldsom forvandling.

Angsten går langt over

tankens yderste grænse.

Ubemærket og farlig som

celler der vokser

lever den i dig og næres

af hverdag og vane.


Ansigter smelter og

ser sig op hvis du ikke

undgår at krænke dem med

dine vidende øjne.

Spejlene vil ikke bruges du

ikke kende

det som de spejler når

mørket og stilheden kommer.


Stuen du bor i har tynde og

ldende vægge

rde og korte tonefald

rammer som piske.

Ingen forsoning er mulig

gennem hans øjne

stirrer de voksne som ved

du har set de er bange.





Det regnede altid

i Istedgade


bredte sig

som store solsikke

I det faldende



Nede ved banegården

kom luderne frem

de lignede rige damer

med paraplyer

og høje hæle.

Man havde tænkt sig dem

helt anderledes

og var skuffet.


Stanken fra


var ikke så slem

som om dagen.

Fulde mænd

var ikke farlige

sagde min



var altid ædru.


Betjente færdedes

to og to

de hvide

stave hang løst

i bæltet. Hjelmene

lynede blanke og våde.

De lignede

hinanden de

vidste at

man stjal og solgte

flasker fra tømrerpladsen.


Der lugtede farligt

fra alle sidegader.

De arbejdsløse

gik hjem med

faste skridt

og fyraftensblik.

Ved biografen

stod en kø af

larmende læredrenge.


Nu sad alle andre

rn ved middagsmaden

man havde stukket

en løgn man var

lidt bange

og festligt stemt der

skete ingenting

r man var to og

undgik ædru mænd.


Hvis man gik ind i

café Charles

blev man slået ihjel.

Mange gik ind

men ingen kom nogensinde

levende ud derfra.

Det sagde de store

rn i syvende klasse

og alt hvad de sagde

var sandt.


Det regner stadig

i Istedgade.

Intet er ændret

gysende går man

forbi café Charles og ved

at de store børn taler mere

sandt end de voksne.



Skilsmisse 4




hele verden






er overalt

ringer aldrig

om søndagen.


Om aftenen

kommer de


med en flaske

billig sherry.

Man lukker

dem ind i hold

og prøver at

 skelne dem

fra hinanden.


De er tykke

eller tynde


eller vandrette.

De afsondrer


og god råd

mod hastigt iført



Med glad


spejler de æg



trækker i snoren




pudsige træk

om deres børn

hiver konen frem

af tegnebogen.


Man rydder op

after den sidste

fjerner pibeudkrads

glatter fordybningen

i hovedpuden

r i seng

er alene

gider ikke mere

og begynder forfra

i morgen

i håb om

at en af dem

engang blir


og anderledes

og ringer op

en søndag.



De voksne 2


Det kan ske


Din alder

strammer over

brystet som en

kjole syet

til en anden.


Eller dit smil

breder sig

over dem som

en lunken væske

der opløser alle

træk så de

vanskeligt finder

deres egne når de

bryder op.


Det kan også komme

når ingen ser dig.

Gulvene skråner

dørene er

af papir.


Du står

helt stille

som var du

malet på væggen.

De voksne er gået

og kommer aldrig hjem.



Translator's Note

After witnessing the publicity surrounding Tove Ditlevsen’s (1971-1976) The Copenhagen Trilogy, whose third volume, Dependency, was translated by Michael Favala Goldman, Cynthia Graae was inspired to reach out to Michael and send to him her rendering of Ditlevsen’s poetry collection The Adults. As part of a class she had taken over two decades ago, she had translated these poems into English, and had kept them stowed in a desk drawer ever since. Surprised at first by this serendipitous package, Michael, an experienced poet and translator of Danish literature, reviewed Cynthia’s translation and saw the potential for a rich collaboration.

At the time, none of Ditlevsen’s eleven poetry collections had been translated into English, and Michael had never before seriously considered translating Ditlevsen’s poetry, because the great majority of it is written with meter and rhyme. But this collection was different. Published in Danish in 1969, Ditlevsen’s penultimate collection The Adults (De Voksne) is the only book of her poetry written entirely in free verse, and while challenging to translate, the lack of meter and rhyme makes it infinitely more approachable for a translator. Cynthia and Michael agreed to treat Cynthia’s translation as a draft, and over several months they refined the English text together via email and virtual meetings.

Ditlevsen’s ultra-short lines demand unwavering precision from her translators, who must gauge not just the meaning of the words but the emotional content found between the lines. Cynthia and Michael engaged in battles of synonyms in an effort to find the English words that best matched the mood and timbre of the Danish. They enjoyed defending their choices in discussions that continued with “and one more thought” until they reached agreement. Their differing life experiences enriched their discussions and yielded a higher-quality translation in collaboration than either could have achieved alone.        

Ditlevsen’s short lines often link to the phrases both preceding and following, so the translators had to find English phrases that could offer the same satisfying, unified syntax. Cynthia and Michael also debated the best translations of Danish words like så (so) and engang (once) which harbor multiple meanings, especially in Ditlevsen’s spare lines. They also considered the best way to treat Danish place names and Danish cultural references like publications and buildings. They had discussions about the word og (and).

Michael brought his poetic sensitivities to the process, and in many places suggested words like windswept instead of blowing, and reeks instead of smells, which evoke the emotion in Ditlevsen’s original. Ditlevsen’s lines are short and straightforward, but their meaning can be obscure, and Cynthia brought a literary logic to deciphering them. A frequent pleasure in their collaboration was finding that a creative solution one of them had proposed “felt right” to both of them.

Although Ditlevsen uses her impoverished upbringing, her fragile psyche, and her long-standing problems with relationships and substance abuse to depict quotidian events with subtle humor, there is hardly a happy poem in the collection. Instead, Ditlevsen exposes the illusions of adulthood and shows the lengths that people go to in order to conceal their immaturity when faced with inevitable challenges like fear, loss, and relationship strife. As she puts it in the final poem of the collection, “Adults 2”, “the adults are gone/and will never come home.”

Tove Ditlevsen’s astonishing insights remain relevant today, forty-five years after her death.   Despite its thought-provoking pain, The Adults is a pleasure to read. Cynthia and Michael hope their collaboration will become Ditlevsen’s first poetry collection to be published in English.

Michael Goldman
Cynthia Graae


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