White and cold and blue

apologies to Joe Brainard

I remember going to the lake and seeing all the upturned boats, almost invisible under the snow. I avoid the tidied-up trail and try to trudge through the thick layer of snow. I manage a few meters until I feel the dampness through my boots, my jeans, my thermals, the snow so deep it comes up to my knees.

I remember waking up at 4:30 am. Pia and Ben usually come down from the 2nd floor at around 10:30 or 11 am. We’re all respectful of each other’s space, so some days I’d only bump into them in the kitchen whenever they’re making tea. We ask each other what we’re working on, offer some commiseration when one admits how unproductive their day has been. I remember going to bed at 8 pm.

I remember how the solitude of being in Sysmä in winter heightens everything. It helps, I think, that I’ve spent most of my life in warmer regions, so my body responds to the cold as one would an intriguing stranger. When snow falls in the early morning, I feel as if I were in the middle of some sacred ceremony. Cold evenings are much colder. A random conversation becomes more purposeful, more necessary. A drink is a sign of warmth. 

I remember slipping on the ice. Thursday, 7 pm, it happens right in the middle of an intersection, as I walk home from the supermarket. I sit right on the street, my right arm beginning to throb from the pain, grocery items scattered on the ground, and I think: This is how the rest of my life will be. And then I walk back to the house.

I remember being mistaken for a girl at the local bar by a woman, a former fellow. It’s a little weird, but I don’t mind it. I find it pretty amusing. Her name is (also) Pia, and I remember how when she’s talking about her family history, I can only nod politely because the whole time I’m distracted by how gorgeous her face looks.

I remember listening to nothing else but Nico’s “These Days” for three straight days.

I remember reading about the heat wave in Adelaide, where I had come from immediately prior to Finland. For 12 straight days, the temperature in Adelaide would get so hot that bats have to be driven toward the nearest river so they don’t fry from their own body fat. At Villa Sarkia, I prop my feet up on the radiator whenever the temperature plummets below -10 degrees.

I remember spending an hour each day in the sauna. I do most of my thinking within that hour, texting myself possible lines for poems or concepts or words that sound nice, while Rihanna or Maggie Rogers or Shawn Colvin whenever I’m feeling nostalgic blasts through my phone.

I remember using Pia’s mango-scented lotion because I assume it had been left behind by a previous resident. There are lots of bottles inside the bathroom, there are bottles on the foyer table too. When I think of the unknown residents who came before us, I think of them in relation to the books they might have left behind, their messages on the guest book, various spices in the kitchen, and their bottles of toiletries. 

I remember catching a glimpse of Ben’s notebook, which seems to have a lot of doodles, which I suppose he draws while thinking of something to write. I remember thinking I should make better, definitely more artistic, use of my in-between-writing time than gossiping with friends online.

I remember being ecstatic that the kitchen has a drip coffee maker, a French press, and a moka pot. I am not exaggerating. I remember being the only coffee drinker among the three of us.

I remember wandering semi-aimlessly in the middle of the night. We reach a gas station—I think it’s a gas station—before deciding to turn back. I’d hold on to Ben’s arm whenever the road gets too slippery, and at some point snow starts falling. It isn’t a bad night—pretty exciting, actually, as far as my month in Sysmä goes.   

I remember walking with Ben to the gym in the afternoons. Sometimes it gets so cold that the snot inside my nose would freeze. It’s funny until it isn’t. Eventually it becomes ordinary. Most days, the short trip to the gym is the only time I’d get out of the house. I stick to using the stationary bike and the treadmill, and sometimes I increase the speed to the point that I’d get leg cramps later in the night. I remember liking the fact that I can still sweat. 

I remember thinking I’ve never seen so much white, the kind of white that’s so real—my legs move through it, I feel flakes of it on my face, I scoop it with my hand and hold it until my fingers go numb—that if I think hard enough, it might feel present even now, 22 days after I’ve left Sysmä. 

I remember going online to find out the names of the trees I see in Sysmä, most of them spindly, all of them beautiful. 

I remember the blue curtains of my room, which make the inside of my room blue, and, when viewed through the windows, the outside blue. I remember the blue of early morning, just before sunrise, the kind of blue that seems sad in a sexy kind of way. In the afternoons, I do yoga and witness my room gradually turn a darker and deeper blue as the sun slowly sets.

I remember letting two Jehovah’s Witnesses inside the house, on my last Saturday at Villa Sarkia. They hand me a pamphlet, tell me to check out their website. They ask where I come from.   

I remember deciding to build a snowman before I leave Sysmä. I never get around to it, but in the story in my mind, I do and he has a lovely carrot nose and he gets to stick around until April.

I remember walking through the aisles of the supermarket on my first evening and wondering why there are so many boxes of frozen pizza. And because I’m trying to avoid carbs, I feel an almost unhealthy amount of indignation rise up in me. I end up buying a dozen eggs, a packet of sausages, some cauliflower, and nuts for snacking. It’s a sad couple of weeks until I quit trying to lose weight.   

I remember seeing bottles of Shiraz from South Australia at the supermarket and feeling a sense of pride. I laugh over my foolishness. 

I remember the kind of quiet Sysmä offers. I’m now in the Philippines, and Manila offers me its version of quiet: tricycles running in the distance, someone half-drunkenly singing a song, the incessant humming of midnight moving through the window of my room. I part my curtains to meet the city, and I wish to see a blinding white outside.     

Mark Anthony Cayanan


M(ight)y January 2019

everchanging frost view of the west

I’ve been pondering for the past few days, how to “put words clothes down on” – as we approximately say it in our Finnish language in particular, if not quite metaphorical way –, let alone how to crystallize the passing, overwhelmingly multifaceted month in Villa Sarkia. I never could have believed these experiences to happen, not even if I have spent two fascinating Mays and almost two Junes (t)here before, not even if Jan is my month of rebirth.

I had no idea, who’s going to write (t)here with me, nor from where. I knew I had more writing tasks than before in the residence, maybe (im-), possible to carry out together, neither had I been able to leave any of them behind me but took the latest versions with me as well as some books and dictionaries connected.

So, two essays, one to be edited one more, hopefully last time, for the poetry quarterly, about garden-experiences, circles of time, nature, human, letter-writing and reading concerning a gardening-theme letter-exchange-essay-book published in Finnish almost a year ago, an essay-treatise on the form less known of Japanese poetry called renga, i. e. chain(ed) poetry, as well as compiling a full 36 stanza renga myself, continuing translating poems from the second collection of Polish prosaist and poet Beata Kępińska and, last but not least, evolving and writing my long, telling poem, a fantasy-experience both experimental, visual and audial (to be[come]). These all also partly concern the final, seminar year of my creative writing extensional studies, so not purely an artist’s own right and vocation, but assignments from the institution via writer-me.

a book object almost too pretty

I’ve developed a divided schedule during my freelance writer years for a weekly program, so a couple of days for a project, a couple for another, a Sat for one, a Sun for another, e.g. This was the trick in Villa S, too: every third day I would dive into the world of my long poem, whereas writing the newest study about renga demanded more time and concentration and so, every second or two days together I wrote and investigated as much more as needed and offered from the exciting, old and fragile books of the hall in Villa S. What a treasure and joy to find nearly the very first translations in Finnish of Japanese tanka and haiku and other types by Marta Keravuori, amongst the heritage of our Finnish poet Eila Kivikk’aho, who wrote tanka- and haiku-formed poems in her (& my) own language in the first place, too! Translator’s Preface, merely an Introduction, of Japanese poetry traditions in Kirsikankukkia – “Cherryblossoms”, worked very helpful and deepening a view. I was enthralled – still am, never to forget the Ever Understanding Eyes of the Poetka (as they beautifully meaningfully call a woman writer in Polish) in a photo preserved from the ‘90s.

early Jan sunset painting

So, trusting the schedule well experienced, even if more chopped this month, I concentrated an a.m, a p.m, an evening, a night, writing or re-writing the most demanding bits first after waking up routines, occasionally taking a brisk walk around the beautiful and calm landscape, which welcomed more and more snowflakes and layers at any hour of almost all 24 hours, not hesitating, not forgiving more than a few milder minus degrees frost days with more powerful wind from the lake back (as we call the wide open of a larger lake in somewhat picturesque Finnish). No, no concessions did the Weather Spirit of Winter admit, no thaws – nor did I give allowances except for exhilarations towards evening by returning to reading, to stretching exercises and relaxation, to an uplifting walk, wind and frost allowing, except for some secret singing and playing a recorder to open up my voice channels, if only the young writer men visiting Villa S were not indoors keen on working at the mome. Fridays I dedicated to re-editing the former essay, all Sundays I wanted and needed to continue the translations of Polish poems, to keep touch on the demanding language and hold of the entirety of the collection themes.

Majutwater seeping timidly

My prayers were heard magically as I happened to find the first translation of Rilke’s Duineser Elegien by Finnish poet Aila Meriluoto in the hall shelves, which, to my disappointment, doesn’t belong to my home city library collection (anymore?). “Descending layered” and meditative a long poem as it is, this translation opened to my apprehension more perceptible than the intricate, fresher one by a talented translator I had read in the fall. I couldn’t help but re-read the original German poem stanza after stanza, too, as it’s offered on the parallel page, even though my school German is appallingly rusty.

Winter in the village-town of Sysmä would need another post to be duly described, and even though I did go outdoors almost every day or evening, I hardly believe having a right to try as yet. So much snow, my love element, so many ice sticks growing down from the roof eaves of both the Villa and the Theatre House like massive, freezy organ pipes! The Supersized Grand Mum Moon would grow and shine for the whole Earth not forgetting tiniest village end but empowering each little creature by her mirror face beaming the hiding sun. Clouds gave their respect by absence those fulfilled days of pure heart of winter magic (another Finnish metaphor, for mid-wintertime).

But so did the Sun show his burning, if winter paler face, especially on two Sundays, when I was seduced outdoors first thing after waking up. “Off you go, along the lakeside, around the island!” I heard the call and answered by scrambling out. Rewarded for good.

harmony of windless lakeweeds *

OH, I was supposed to crystallize the experience of the month – but haven’t really succeeded. Where did the intricate and multi-pointed symbol of a snowflake I just had floating along in my mind’s view run away?! One of the root-points was my second part set of poems and photos relating to nature experiences of both a person and the dog accompanied, “Poem Pics with a Dog – fall, winter”, which I finally had the chance to put up on the library walls and window sills – after an interval of two years since expositing the first part in April ‘16. Hopeful, that as many of the customers, visitors and villagers would notice the small-scale exhibition and have time to stop and stay for some moments at each poem with a picture or two aside..! It’s been both a joy, excitement and privilege to share; especially to show and try to open up the contents of the texts to the foreign colleagues of Villa S for the month.

shared i-n-s-p-i-r-a-t-i-o-n-s ;->

What a HOLLOW feeling I was left with after the dear colleague-writers quite suddenly left the second last early morning already! Fortunately we did have some chats way about literature, our readings and writings earlier, a couple of late night fun joking in the kitchen and the hall about musical preferences as well.

Alas, I feel my words ruin the overwhelming experiences I’ve had in Villa S, my <3, the new-born symbolic flake of experiences escaping the view.

Truths is, I cannot – maybe even will not describe it all, but let the following tanka-poem to summarize.

The very truth is: my attachment to Villa Sarkia has grown ever deeper each time I’ve visited, lived and worked (t)here. Passing January proved, that I’m helplessly involved (engaged?!).

Must all have been a dream, which bursted before the last sequences – the last 48 hours which I had to, needed to and wanted to lead through on my own again.

To my amazement I re-wrote the essay on renga as well as compiled a re-renga of the tanka- and renga-stanzas of past writers, made a whole kasen of 36. I was given new poems for my dear long poem (from the creative power of who-knows-who) and trust to recite the so far whole through for a few but important times in the hall, added another chapter as the rhythm goes. Re-editing of the garden-letter-essay calmed down into more replenished and polished form. There was even and just enough time to translate the last poems of the 2nd collection of B. K.  and to print the versions out of these all. Time to go around the lakeside and the island wilderness once more during the last blue sunset hour before collecting the exhibition with the most valuable comments and signatures by the visitors, to tie some more talking threads together with the librarians.

amaryllis fainting and blooming – like creativity

Time to wish Good Byes after sharing varied, immemorial moments both with colleagues and those dear acquaintances, who have become friends each at their own pace – even new ones. Time to play some consolation music, minor and major, melodies of rhyme and rock.

Missing every seemingly little nib and nibble.


Lumen hiutaleet

laskeutuvat hiljalleen

valkealle vaipalle.

Syvään lämpöön peittyy

yksinäisen kylläisyys.


Snowflakes settle gently

down on the pale duvet.

Deep in the warmth

covers up the repletion

of a loner.


Płatki śniegu

na białej pieluszcie

cicho położą.

Głęboko w ciepłość

pokrywa się sytość



Pia Johanna Krook

woodmousie – from the tale of Thumbelina – or Issa’s haiku