November’s post

Since it is a month of remembrance, I wanted to share a poem. Not everyone goes to war, but most of us have battles to fight day-by-day. Please read of a kind of battle that people like my grandmother may have had to live as they spent their lives grinding out a living as a servant.

Title

by Knud Sørensen

Danish domestic workers were required to maintain these books from 1832 to 1921. Issued at confirmation, the book held record of employment, conduct, and wages for the individual.

Every first of November

she took out her Record of Conduct book

and laid it on the table in front of the man

on the farm that she now would be leaving

and the man got out a pen and ink

and tried the pen on his fingertip

or on the corner of a piece of scrap paper

and then he remembers his glasses

and gets them and sets himself down

and writes slowly and carefully

and with the proper pressure on the downstrokes:

The girl Karen Jensdatter has served me

loyally and with good conduct from the first of November last year

to this date, and he

dates and signs and she

curtsies and says thank you, thank you for everything

and she walks out the door and she still holds open

the Record of Conduct book so the ink

has time to dry, and she thinks

that now begins a new year in a yet unknown place

with a yet unknown master and mistress and maybe

with some yet unknown luck, and sometimes she also

has to go to the churchwarden to report her move

from one parish to another

and every first of November she hopes

that it will be her last first of November of this kind

and the years pass and all the young farmhands that have property

get married and the years pass and not until she is

38 does Kresten inherit

his parents’ house with no land and she gets

her last entry in the book and her real life

begins,

as a sharecropper’s wife, mother

to a pair of girls who quickly

are too young for her

and full of insecurity

and go out into the world with new

authorized Record of Conduct books in their hands.

“Skudsmålsbogen” ©1980

Translated from the Danish by Michael Goldman

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015

__________

Knud Sørensen (b. 1928) was a certified land surveyor for 28 years, during which he became intimate with the changing Danish agricultural landscape. A book reviewer for fourteen years and board member of numerous community organizations and cultural institutions, he has written 37 books and won over 20 literary awards, including a lifelong grant from the Danish Arts Council, and the Great Prize from the Danish Academy in 2014. He lives in Northern Jutland. This is the first appearance of Sørensen’s writing in English.

Michael Goldman: “I taught myself Danish in the summer of 1985 to help win the hand of a Danish girl. We have been married now for 24 years. I have loved Danish literature from the beginning, and I am pleased to be introducing Danish writers to an English speaking readership.”

Questions:

What emotions rise in you as you read this poem?

What would you say to this woman as she watches her daughter leave?