Naja Marie Aidt’s poetry collection, Everything shimmers, is a prismatic and lyrical reflection on the relation between home and abroad, familiar and strange, including the strangeness of the familiar. The poems are about separation both as loss and liberation, exile both as grief and as blessing. They are about individual, family and colonial history, about colonizing or being rejected by foreign land.

Everything shimmers (2009), which was written after the author’s emigration from Denmark to New York, is about place: the old place and the new one, exile and colonization, to feel at home or estranged, separation as loss and as gain. As in her earlier collection, Poetry Book (2008), Aidt lets collective and individual history intertwine, as the poet’s family history and Danish nationality leads to poems about immigration policy and Denmark’s former colonies: Greenland and the West Indies. 

Aidt is known and praised in Denmark for both her sensitive poetry and her prose; she was awarded the prestigious Nordic Council Literature Price for the short story collection Baboon, published in English translation last year. Aidt’s latest published book is her first novel, Rock, Paper, Scissors, which appears in English this August, and which transfers the poet’s sensitive language into stream-of-consciousness-prose in a thriller exploring the moods and lures of an erring individual mind as if they were meteorological phenomena.  

The poems from Everything shimmers presented here, in Susanna Nied's translation, circle around the themes of place, home, exile. The book’s first part consists of 18 enumerated poems, each of them about half a page, telling the story of “the child” from its first to its eighteenth years. The story is not chronological, and the child is not the same child in every poem; sometimes it seems to be the poet as a child, sometimes it seems to be one of the poet’s own children, sometimes a more universal child, or the child as a state you can re-experience as an adult, for instance when trying to make yourself understood in a foreign language: “far from home/ with an amputated language:/ the child in her second year/ no one understands her peculiar gestures/ hoo hoo sounds at daycare/ (she's talking about an owl)”

The poems in the second part are longer and slimmer, having as a reoccurring theme the holidays and seasons of the year, so different from one country to another. The seasonal traditions of the new country seem strange—yet the meeting with the foreign does not lead to a fortification of the familiar, but rather to seeing the familiar as something just as strange. 

The book closes with yet a third poetic schema: normally poems are slimmer than prose, but here the verses are larger than prose lines, with interspaces instead of line breaks. Even the geographical and historical space of the poems grows larger, from New York City to the former Danish colonies: Greenland (where Aidt was born to Danish parents) and the West Indies (where the poet travels as an adult). Foreign (Greenlandish) words appear in the text like unexpected phenomena, and there is a certain confusion or intertwining of time, space, and identity: "dead drunk man raping a sled dog in the twilight   imerajuk   once I found crowberries under the snow   once I read about St. Croix   I couldn't understand how any place could be so hot   and palm trees?   that was when I was a butterfly, mouse, girl, whore, shaman."

Aidt’s poetry is at once sensual and thoughtful, imaginative and factual, freely associating and firmly structured, childish-naïf and grownup-serious, humorous and melancholic, exotic and simple, erotic and harsh. And everywhere in her poems, a reader can find her deepest motifs, the child and the exile, combined by the reoccurring theme of separation: “it's true that one can be separated from one's   children by oceans   it's true: it hurts   it's also true that it may be a relief   that everyone slips out of their role and a castoff skin and a smell of earth and skim milk   as we once slipped out of our mothers...” 

—Lilian Munk Rösing

April Fourth

Once the park was a forest once the city was a colony once Wall Street was a wall once the Indians were on the other side of the wall once Brooklyn was farmland once all the black people were slaves once I was an egg inside my mother's ovary once Martin Luther King was shot in a shabby motel on this day forty-one years ago when I had just turned four once John Lennon was shot and Kennedy was shot once twenty million people were quarantined on Ellis Island once France traded the Statue of Liberty for the Eiffel Tower once there was a Civil War once a black man became President then people sang in the streets once the city was dangerous once it was afraid when the towers fell it was afraid once all the mentally ill people were put in jails once my mother met my father once I landed in Newark with a good hard thump once I bore love like a jewel at my breast once my great great grandmother was a girl writing a secret letter from the chair where I now sit writing and outside:  the sun in a child's eyes


OOH to be a rotten little squirrel
with a twitching tail
to hop, hop, spin, leap
from trunk to pole
and gobble up everything edible
sit bobbing in the oak tree
that for a hundred twenty-two years
has stood right here
and now is mine
for as long as I'm here
staring out the window
far from home
with an amputated language:
the child in her second year
no one understands her peculiar gestures
hoo hoo sounds at daycare
(she's talking about an owl)


A letter is a kiss is a picture of a bride
in a dark green dress, that's how my friend's friend
dreamed of her, it made her happy
and I stretch out my legs on a rickety chair and
think about the word fickle which another friend who now
is dead loved, and suddenly I'm homesick,
but not homesick, but filled with longing for
intimacy, which is about something that most of all resembles
a child in her third year, in magical
connection with the ones she loves, one flesh,
one organism, see the child beaming there on
the lap, happy happy


WELL? So it's going to rain today; I slice Jewish bread
and make a salade noire while the child looks at me and shakes
his head in pity, because there's no such thing and WHOA!
isn't that a truck flipping over right in front of us, it looks like
the street is red with blood, maybe it's a bloodmobile I suggest,
and the child sheds a tear for my ignorance AND for the people who
may have been killed, the bloodman waves his arms, does he need
help? HECK NO, he just could smell the bread, the salad, and the child ("Does he want
to kill me?") he's wildly hungry after that accident --
"You smell like life and chamomile" says the bloodman stroking the child
in his ninth year, who can barely manage to say hello to anyone when reading
comic books, and who looks dejected and misunderstood
in all pictures from his childhood.


An eagle has circled overhead for almost an hour, springtime shimmers in puddles,
the cherry tree a pink cloud that we float on, the eagle dives
and catches a kicking rat, then we catch the train to Brighton Beach where everything is
in Russian where the restaurants sell vodka by the bottleful only
where the child stuffs herself with pickled cabbage and borscht where Chinese brides pose for
photos with the sunset at their backs; that's when you begin to cry
and whisper: Everything's a waste. It's either too early or too late.
But oh. You're too young for that darkness. Do you love someone? No
and yes. Does someone love you? Your face is pale as a moon. Your back in the car
going home. You get tucked into bed but are way too big for that. You survey love
and its absence behind trembling eyelids. Now I'm the one blubbering against your
closed door. Drinking myself sloppy. The child in her sixteenth year has had enough
and longs for more, the eagle in the park rests sated in the cherry tree,
the bride's blood on the sheet, the leftover soup fermenting in the pot
and the moon from your face has risen into the sky where it throws me off kilter,
leads me astray to traps, regrets and late night trips back to when
my own springtime (green, raging) was the very first thing that was my

Thanksgiving, we dig up a skull
from the earth and use it
as a gravy boat. What are we giving thanks for?
Oh, life.
It's not that simple.
Look deep into the water:
A bear grips a salmon
in its great paw.
Soon it will be my turn.
Crush the bones between your teeth.
Swallow the milt.
Water cold as death itself.
Small towns, crabbed from inbreeding.
A door rattling on its hinges.
Then, astonished, I dig a gold nugget
out of the pumpkin pie.
Now we can buy some land,
plow and sow, then
we'll live happily ever after
make it all ours.
Then we'll throw off our borrowed finery,
settle in, buckle down, bear
our burdens with a smile.
I say: centrifugal force!
I say: stop!
But it's not that simple.

I want to buy a hyacinth because now it's Christmas.
But they're not in season. Not in season?
Not here. I come home with unfamiliar
flowers that look like genitals.
An elf eyes me from its
hiding place. We don't have Christmas stockings. You
don't have stockings? We don't want figgy pudding
and sugarplums we want to shoot a pig and eat it,
it has to have an apple in its mouth. We want to open our
door and sing loudly, SI-I-I-LENT NIGHT, make the whole
street -- oh! We have other customs that
suddenly are like a rare, precious gift
we must not lose. Not lose. But the snow
we like. We're happy to have it. We
want to stuff it into our ears and eyes we
wish to cool our boiling brains
and on New Year's Eve we jump off a chair
and yell (you yell?!)

Valentine's Day. A work of art, thin paper
that I saw and can't forget.
What was it about those scissors, so precise,
small tableaux hidden in old paper bags?
Yes, incomparable: a forest clearing. Butterflies in flight
over houses. Waterfalls with leaping fish.
Valentine's Day and Brooklyn stretching out
with its dusty streets, low buildings,
an industry one can't believe
still exists. And the man with the dog greets me
every evening as if we were old friends.
The fruits of the ginkgo are green and firm on the tree
but soon they'll be a stinking mess:
Have you ever smelled a corpse?
No, I whisper,
not yet.
He shoved a card at me, it was made of
blushing cardboard:
"Be mine!"
I turned on the charm.
He bit my arm. I had to stand on tiptoe
to keep my balance.
The leaves of the ginkgo are hearts on strings.
I can see the harbor from here. Sunset.
The gift of rashness is
a blown kiss; a little ship
on a Danish river.

you say that Bedford still holds as a concept   that the big apple too has a core   I don't know   I go in and lie down   one can stand in a gallery with a sour drink in one's hand   have a crush on a handsome man   one can   one can never get tired of the Brooklyn Bridge   I'm lying down   I've lain down   it's true   that the magnolia was in bloom and now it's not   that there's a bar around the corner   that I like the sunset from the west-facing window   that things penetrate deeper deeper and stay there   or no   are laid down helter skelter over old experiences memories   suddenly something that happened last summer has become memories   it's true that I never get tired of coming up into the glare of the street, up from the subway's humid darkness   never get tired of glare or humid darkness   never get tired of the red plush bar where the women are so svelte   where the waiter has a grand piano tattooed on his hand   I've lain down and gotten up and now I'm lying down   you say that I should drink more milk   look at more eighteenth-century art   that the core is firmly anchored in the apple   that the core is the heart of the apple   that the heart beats so fast because it's excited   I sigh   I turn on a light   I fix a meal of beans and leafy greens   it's true that one can be separated from one's  children by oceans   it's true: it hurts   it's also true that it may be a relief   that everyone slips out of their role and a castoff skin and a smell of earth and skim milk   as we once slipped out of our mothers   it's true that it's not death but life that's incomprehensible   it's a shock   how are children and parents connected and do they have to be   why is the pain of separation so great for the child and so liberating for the child who has grown up   don't ask stupid questions   you say   take a bite of the apple while you can   for that's the core of life   you do so much when you don't have to do it   and when you do have to do it, you don't   you say   how can anyone understand you   how can anyone understand you   it's true that I often sit on a loveseat and drink   it's true that intoxication makes me beautiful; it's a clouded mirror   that I never get tired of the magnolia in bloom   that I had only powdered milk as a child   that we poured it down the sink   that my sister looks like a rose when she wakes up   that my cousin gave my grandpa a pastry to take along to the grave (a custard tart)   that sometimes I feel liberated   as if a mountainside had been lifted from my back   that other times I feel I've lost my life   that I'm just now understanding    how long it's been since everything   and never again    never again    sex in a back courtyard against a wall    never again that exact fuck, that exact taste: metal, mint, booze    but now   now   all of Williamsburg still holds as a concept   you say   "diversity/grouping"   the sun is gone   I lie down   I'm washing my hands now   I lay down   I'm reading a poem now   I've lain down   images stream through this space

as a boy I was always cheerful and carefree   but I wasn't a boy   a butterfly is what I was   a mouse in a hole   a sled dog, howling at the moon   and the nights were-- they were--black, deep   a cluster of houses there in the middle of nothing   and the mountainsides were   everywhere   like towers and spires in a kingdom   there's a page torn out of the book   there's something gone, vanished   as every day vanishes   and leaves maybe a scratch, a shiver, something happy and yellow   a smell (vanilla, wet fur)   hands that lift you up and shake you   until you shriek   one  can travel to the old colonies   and see remnants   ruins   one can imagine the exploitation   the desperate attempt to hold onto something Danish   a tea service a little flag   a mill on a hilltop   the Danish West Indies are called the Virgin Islands now   the street is called Hope Street   no one here knows the Danish word for hope   I'm sitting in the shade looking a gecko in the eye   watching a lizard battle a scorpion   the lizard wins   if one goes for a walk in the jungle on St. John   one might get hit in the head by a coconut   maybe one deserves it    a sugar cane plantation rises up out of the green landscape   one can see the slaves' quarters   and close one's eyes so that everything comes to life   one can see the whip swung at a child's back   the master dead drunk, raping someone   but suddenly the path comes to the beach where sea turtles graze peacefully in the depths   pelicans fly low over schools of fish   and it's like paradise, like the dream of untouched land, like a virgin's sweet-smelling womb   make no mistake   this place is ravaged by tornadoes    by rains that make everything slide away   there is no right to vote   there are drunks begging tourists for a dollar   an enervating boredom found only on islands: we could sail there   and there   and back again   back again   we-could-have-a-beer   once there were three queens in this kingdom   (Mary, Mathilda, Agnes)   they incited the masses to riot one raging night; blazing torches   We must have light!   Mary's voice hoarsely thundering   it was eighteen seventy-eight   the town vanished in flames   people turned into charred corpses   I'm sitting in the shade looking at a parrot (red)   at the ocean (turquoise)   at a man rinsing an octopus in a bucket (green)   hands lift you up and shake you   quaking islands   they were sent to Copenhagen   they were sent to jail   picture this: three black queens before the Danish High Court, early morning/drizzle   a strange laughter (hoarse, melodic): now, fuck you, Danes!   but the king of the kingdom honored them   they went to tea at the castle   they got a shiny medal   slavery had long since been abolished   but it hadn't   I'm sitting in the shade listening to the children sing   they sing about Mary   but I think about a poem she wrote: Fan me, white missus! until the day breaks   the white woman moves the fan over the black woman's body   coolness comes, balance   picture it   think about the word nigger-Dutch   vile word for Creole   parts of West Africa were matriarchal   that was where the slaves came from   all the plantations chose a leader   she had to be fearless   firewater came to Greenland too   a person could earn a quarter delivering beer to the old folks' home   a person could die in a snowdrift in clear weather   dead drunk toothless   or: dead drunk beautiful woman giving someone a blow job in the harbor shanty for a bottle of booze   qanga kingu?   a smell of sealskin, urine   it was a comforting smell, a good smell   when I was a boy   it was beautiful hymns, oddly shifting tones   the voices fell and rose   odd laughter   dead drunk man raping a sled dog in the twilight  imerajuk   once I found crowberries under the snow   once I read about St. Croix   I couldn't understand how any place could be so hot   and palm trees?   that was when I was a butterfly, mouse, girl, whore, shaman    hoarsely thundering   everything rises and falls   rain, wind   love   rivers and glaciers overflow their banks

the images stay in the brain   why those images and not others   the exact sight of your face turned away in a foreign city long ago   in a taxi   good-byes, only to be left in tied-up traffic, lost   or the feel of my foot in a kamik   a kamik   and at a mik, reindeer fat beading the surface of the coffee   this was the city you left me in   now it's not foreign anymore   it's just me that's foreign   as a child I learned to tell the difference between snow and snow   between night and day in the dark   between night and day in the light   everything looked the same but wasn't   one   can travel and like an image of freedom stay in one place for a few days and then escape   nobody misses one when one leaves   the sun goes down while one is on the train   the sun makes spires and towers glow   like the wind, one can sweep over the world    but if one stays  put (kamik stuck in the door) it's different   each place requires participation   and suddenly one is noticed   as something anchored to the earth   as something with habits   she always leaves the house early   they like music at night    then come advances, like having a crush   we want to get to know each other   what is that   how does one   what?   we get to know each other   as we are in the moment   as we introduce ourselves: we play ourselves: miracle!   it's possible   secrets in the twilight stay hidden as they're supposed to   that's what crushes are about   we imagine the rest   we imagine   imagination is worth its weight in gold   a stranger is moving in   the neighbor brings us a cake   it's a gesture we never forget   the image of the neighbor, light coming from the left, an airplane crossing the sky over his head   the neighbor says welcome   I hope you'll be happy here   and we say thank you   and mean much more than that   much more   a cake has saved us   sheltered us   invited us in

you say:   an African boy was bitten by a python in a coconut palm   he lay in the mission hospital, ill, and read a book about Greenland    he got well and was now an African boy with a vision    he wanted to go to Thule   he didn't get that far, but almost   a whole settlement ran away in fear the first time they saw him   this was in nineteen sixty-four   and then: boiled dog, quivering mattak, a seal heart dug out of the warm body for lunch   what do you say to that   you say   does that say anything to you   suddenly I remember a lot that I'd forgotten   I say   a kiffaq   a boy named Pavia   a Danish tradesman's scornful words about a people who migrated across the ice from Canada long ago   how can anyone put down people who have made that journey   how can anyone put down his hosts   now I understand that the four-part hymn-singing was introduced by the Moravians   that the drum dance was forbidden   that promiscuity was necessary to avoid inbreeding   that those who live in a harsh climate need to scream with laughter   that those who live in a harsh climate need to be harsh themselves   that the craziness appears in the fall   that it was labeled hysteria    but it's a function of vanishing light, boredom, isolation   I remember that there weren't any dry cleaners   that my father had to send his suit to Copenhagen   that my mother got cucumbers in airmail tubes   that she raised marigolds in a coldframe   that Pavia was handsome and always had a cold   that the kiffaq had children with Danish men who promptly left her   that we melted snow for water   that we used a bucket as a toilet   that that that   you say: the African boy taught himself the language   he was mauled by a dog   it had rabies   he immersed himself in the culture   he fit in there   the women sewed him bearskin pants   we are all guests   you say   at night uncontrollable commotion from dog fights, snarls, howls   the snow a greasy puddle of blood   the open steaming body of the narwhal   a certain way of walking in order not to slip, fall    I never fell   we are all guests   you say   everything else is illusion   no one owns the earth   belonging is not ownership   you say   and it's true   as it's true that Pavia hanged himself   that my mother's marigolds   were a sea of nodding suns   that I loved the old women's burning eyes   that I loved the young girls' round arms   dimples   that we were Danish fuckers   that like the African I spoke a difficult language   that I lost it   a world vanishes when one leaves it   it's shameful   it's a sorrow   just the trail of images remaining   here we drink soda pop in the snow   here we find crowberries under the snow   here I learn the word for melting snow: aput aalersoq   here we fly in a helicopter over the inland ice   here I stand on the pier and wave goodbye (never to return)   here snow   and snow   snow

Susanna Nied, a former instructor of English and comparative literature at San Diego State University in California, is an American writer and translator. Her translations have appeared in publications such as APR, Poetry, Granta, Tin House, and Two Lines, and in several anthologies. Among other honors, she has received the Landon Translation Prize of the Academy of American Poets, the American-Scandinavian Association/PEN Translation Prize, the John Frederick Nims Memorial Prize of Poetry Magazine, and been selected as a finalist for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.

Lilian Munk Rösing is Associate Professor in the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and a literary critic. Rösing has published (in Danish) Reading the Child, The Catechism of Gender and The Return of Authority.