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Issue number: 2022:2



by Olivia Bergdahl

translated by Linda Schenck

Olivia Bergdahl is a prominent Swedish stage poet and writer. She won the Swedish Slam Poetry championship when she was 17, and has since toured throughout Sweden, Europe and the USA. In addition to her spoken-word poetry, she has published two acclaimed collections of poetry and two works of prose, including 2022's Vård & Omsorg (Health & Care).

We are here delighted to present a translation of Olivia Bergdahl's poem Europa (Europe), a searing interrogation of the concept and legacy of 'Europeanness', in Linda Schenck's translation. A recording of the poet performing this work in Swedish can also be found on her website.

Read a translated excerpt from Olivia Bergdahl's Vård & Omsorg in SBR 2022:2.

Blonde woman with hair tied back, nose piercing and leather jacket
Olivia Bergdahl. Photo: Ludvig Duregård.



You tell me I'm safe
though the wind is wailing
with winter at my back everything’s unwieldy
the cold is deceitful, excuses abound
time heals, time heals, the scars stay around

and I touch it,
I touch it to give it a name
it evades my grasp and is all just the same,
the name is Stockholm, London, Manchester, Copenhagen,
the name is Srebrenica, Dresden and Mariupol,
Guernica and Kharkiv, a strategic military goal
the name is Budapest, Paris, Sarajevo, Prague, Bordeaux
the name is arbeit macht frei and iron curtain also

Isn't that right Europe,
I’ll just try to understand
'cause in the mirror I see
that I own you, Europe
it's etched in my skin
a tattered little continent I've worn very thin
where I’m fairly mobile, can choose where to live
but Europe – you’re supposed to be a place
so why do you act like mother?
Like a blood tie
a family
the relations I never claimed

I touch it I touch it
I want to know to have it named

the name is Congo, Algeria,
the name is Utøya, Berlin
the name is East India Company
the name is racial biology
the name is Brussels, Warsaw, Kyiv,
Stalingrad, Madrid
the name is Nice and Lampedusa
time heals time heals
though we skid

You tell me, Europe,
you say: look where I live
all these beautiful churches, bridges, castles, cities there
Mine, too, my birthright
these borders, these seas
But how can they be mine if they are not mine to share?

Es tut mir Leid, Europe,
desolée, forgive
rubber rafts, life jackets, holes like a sieve

so we choose our own abuses
and then we choose our shame
the map's not hard to read, but it's tough going just the same
when words become language and languages law
I looked in the mirror and here’s what I saw:
You own me, Europe!
Christen me daughter or son
and no matter how I shout
that is where I am from

so I touch it touch it
'cause I need to know the name

the name is Leopold and Ludwig
the name is Charles and George and Peter
You said never again
You said of course no more walls
No you don't use the word race,
but you say culture
the name is Orbàn,
the name is Putin,
the name is Pegida and Le Pen
like a golden dawn
though you said never ever again

but it is still Jesus always Jesus
it's Columbus and Linnaeus
it’s my body in the looking glass
‘cause since I pass
as European
the name is Hitler, the name is Stalin, the name is Franco, Mussolini
the name is Dublin
the name is Schengen,
the name is Bossi-Fini

That is you, Europe,
you who could have been a dream
And I know that you can hear me 'cause your gaze has a soft sheen
So Europe, j'accuse ... I deny you and I know
you give me all the world except generosity
so I christen you Hypocrite
Killer Miller Wild

And then – you shrug your shoulders
as at one you love, your problem child

Since you know that I am safe it feels
you leave these winds to weep
the shield I have is skin and name
time heals time heals
but how can I forgive

that I am in the safe securest place
when I rest in your embrace

For more information on Olivia Bergdahl and translator Linda Schenck, please refer to the translated excerpt from Olivia Bergdahl's Vård & Omsorg.