from Aednan [XII]

Karesuando church village. Winter 1920

The Swede’s fingers 
all inside my mouth

clothing strewn
across the floor


Me thinking 
it was because of my
bad teeth

that the traveling doctor had come


With hard tools
he measured me

learned men
in every nook

With razor-sharp
scratching pens

they went
through me


I could tell that the
short one
was taking shape 
on their papers

Using royal ink
to draw
the racial animal


The shackles
of our obedience

my home-sewn belt


My breasts hung
their distaste blazed


I saw how they
wrinkled their
slender noses

all the while


My friend beside me
was quick to help me
on with my kolt

Then she quietly translated
their questions
about what we did 
when menstruating


Over the doctor’s shoulder
the minister


And I heard him 
say in Finnish:

The way their men drink
makes God cry
and the Devil laugh

And the shame

took root in me

because of my dark hair
and my
dark eyes


Outside the barn
my friend’s daughters
shivering waiting 
for their treatment


And my poor Nila
was fished out

from where I don’t know

A camera was pointed
at his
upset face

until he just
sank through the floor


I watched them trample 
with heavy boots

Tall chairs
were dragged out and they
sat down on him


I noticed how big 
he’d gotten
not a child anymore

there he stood lost
and mute among their 
bare hands
touching him


He should come 
with us to the institution
said the doctor

and finally
my body obeyed


And I went up 
to the men
and pulled the weak one 
from the Swede’s grip


Originally published in the March 2019 issue of Words Without Borders. From Aednan © Linnea Axelsson. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Saskia Vogel. All rights reserved.