Amalie Smith


The swan in the drawing is lifelike, to others: ruffled. Later: helpless. Every day, a new pair of eyes. Where am I? Inside or outside the den. In case of fire, what do you save? The duvet, the crystals, the box of drawings. The sudden stillness of the rosebushes. I am here, on the roof, in the rain. The sky was noticeably darker when the train emerged from the tunnel. Not everything has meaning. Small disappointments open the world with a twist, like a Russian doll. My father's memories are more distinct to me than my own—defined spaces containing solid figures with mutually clear connections: He spots an elastic band shaped like a figure eight at the playground and decides: He will never forget this. A tall boy with pointed shoes kicks him until he bleeds. What constitutes a memory? Chocolate in dark wooden bowls. The weight of a motionless body on top of the duvet, Mum or Dad. Dead weight. The family video camera organises a common memory; we have seen certain sequences with the same pair of eyes. We have to preserve the remaining hours (when the camera is in the cupboard above the piano) ourselves. So many cupboards; a way of organising material. Glasses - Glass - Mahogany cupboard. Ivory - Elephant cupboard. Tusks, a chest of duvets and silence. What do you fill the days with? I forget, where others remember. Expecting letters from anyone. The boy across the street saw me showering from his window. I can see myself from the outside in everything I do. On the ferry I walk on the promenade deck (into the sun) against the direction of sail and there is a tingling inside me, like falling in love. I build my body around such happy events. Can you consider yourself the sum of your own experiences? The connected vessels are porous. The daily encounters full of ruptures. I wake up inside every moment like a severed head. I fail to recognise a former lover. He has switched faces. I am a name. I am a series of preferences. This is how I decide: in every instance I prefer synthesis.


I have seen you in a cat costume, you crawled up a tree and wedged yourself into a Y-shaped branch, striking a crazy pose. Something snaps when your dad gets ill, you roll around on the lawn and under the hedge. Put simply: You develop a sense of immediacy. Jam and cheese and soft white bread. You live in a house with your mum, she has a car and there is a pile of flagstones in the driveway. A house furnished for kids, noticeboards in the kitchen with pictures of them. Then the twins arrive, four big eyes. Four slender arms. They slip down from their chairs when they're finished eating; freckled backs on the floor under the table, like spaghetti and then the girl's hair is in her throat, you pull it out like a fishing line, oh it hurts, it tickles. You spend your adolescence in the basement. Posters curl up and fall off the wall. You lie on your bed or sit at the desk sketching a face from a photograph. Your grandfather, the architect, had the same broad hand as you, he drew so neatly and distinctly that it was truly believable. You roll your own cigarettes. Frost, fields, and roundabouts. You ride your moped into town in February and the sun hits your eyes as you reach the top of a hill.


I take the train and arrive in the pouring rain, I text you: Keep your phone on. You pick me up at the station. Looking out your window, the trees lining the road look like glowing twigs hung from the street lamps. The darkness in your room is a storm of particles, like diving in murky water, eyes searching for light, inventing shadows and shades. Your heart throbs in the most surprising places, the backs of your knees, your groin, your eyelids. You tell me blood is also whooshing through your ears.


The red suitcase with cassette tapes under the sofa is an archive of voices spread across several octaves: our common 'radio.' My dad went to a clairvoyant with a picture of the family, she recorded the conversation and he played the tape for me. I heard my name and a number of characteristics.


You have an open face, a man on the street shouts as I cycle past him. I seldom manage to answer when I receive such unexpected approaches. Later, I answer to excess: the same to you, you're welcome, no problem, anytime. The voice is directed away from the body, and just like the face, it points towards the social. It sounds unreal when it travels through the flesh and the skull to the ear. Often, I don't hear what I'm saying until after I've said it and am able to rewind and replay the sound and listen to the person speaking.


Take a photo of the young face and follow the transport of the face to future generations. I look like my grandmother in a photograph I found last spring when my mum and I cleared out the furniture from our family summerhouse. She is in the living room in her winter coat, before I was born and before it was furnished. Through the window behind her, snow is visible in the garden. She is wearing a woollen hat, hands in her coat pockets, looking into the camera with a gaze reserved for my grandfather.


They threw nothing away: kept buying more and more bottles of wine, forgetting or abandoning their stockpile in the cellar. We found many examples of the same item (e.g. flowerpots or baking tins) when we emptied their house; neatly arranged according to type, but not assessed in relation to each other. The objects were stashed away on shelves in cupboards and in drawers. We laughed in alarm. We walked around carrying black bin bags and calling out whenever we stumbled upon something unusual. The kitchen: a phone journal with entries detailing all calls and callers. The bedroom: tall stacks of folded damask in the wardrobes, a cupboard filled with new deck shoes in their original boxes. The study: a bureau with one drawer filled with disposable rain hats and another with locks of children's and grandchildren's hair with their names attached. Closed with a ribbon, a white cloth bag with a handwritten note (BE CAREFUL!) and a tiny pistol inside, loaded. The living room: plant cuttings in every windowsill. Fifty-two albums with pictures from the last fifty-two years of travels and celebrations. She took pictures of: sights, dinner tables, the food they ate, special occasions or changes to their bodies. I inherited her camera. On the memory card: five pictures of him in the hospital bed (chest puffed out, mouth open), pictures from the funeral, forty to fifty pictures of blank gravestones, two of her in the spring sun in front of the house (weak smile), one of the rhododendron in bloom, four of her swollen legs after the operation, three of water damage in the living room: bowls and pots on the floor.


My dad threw away everything he found unnecessary in a fit of consequence and I am also prone to that kind of fit. I have thrown away a lambskin coat, a stone with rare geological markings, a box of letters, a stationary collection, a serviette collection, a sticker collection, a miniature leather-bound bible, a scrapbook collection, a box of drawings, a pair of suede shoes with fringes and purple pearls.

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translated from the Danish by Paul Russell Garrett

© Amalie Smith 2014
First published in 2012 by Gyldendal as I CIVIL © Amalie Smith and Gyldendal 2012
English Translation © Paul Russell Garrett 2014