The Moment

My book, The Moment, published by Splice, can be ordered here.

Think primitively, said Kierkegaard. Start from your deepest concerns, which your cryptic everyday self conceals. Uncover the secrets you keep from yourself and others. Sweep away the boxes you’ve been taught to think in and think for yourself for once. A tall task.

I miss touching S., having her body near me, the private pillow talk that couples have. I’m so far from people now it seems like I’ll never come back.

Then start from the ground up. Think it all through from the beginning and start again. Open yourself and God will tell you you’re not alone – even if in a sense you were living alone the whole time.

My whole being cries out for love, for something different. Nothing in my face or movements betrays it: I’m Danish after a

ll. Denmark is considered one of the world’s happiest countries. That’s always confused me. It seems too real to me, with its lifeless suburbs and perfectly sensible people. So real it’s dreamlike. Happiness here means nothing and no one out of joint: no cracks, no one out of the system.

Hayfever, brainfog. Despite the discomfort it’s a relief to have an excuse for not being able to connect things in my head. It’s a bit dreamlike, walking through the park – which is full of blooming flowers these days – but not like the grey dream of the past couple of years. I feel better.

I told myself before I left Vienna that it would take two years to get over it. Now how would I know that? I didn’t think it when I walked past the building sites in the North Harbour that winter day when she told me the Russian had moved into our flat. I hoped a crane would drop a breezeblock on my head, or the wind would sweep me into the freezing water. It was a pleasure to imagine.

In dreams, as everyone knows, things and events are often out of joint. Yet sometimes there are lucid moments when you can almost see through the dream and have the power to change it, for example when you can suddenly fly where you want. I’m starting to think one can sense one’s future in the same way. You sense where the dream is going and bide your time until the right moment.

The only real question I’ve asked myself in these past two years is whether it was fate or chance that led me here. But now the question seems wrong, and unsolvable, it only led me in circles.

The difference between writing, say, an email and typing in this journal, even if you write the same sentence; there’s an abyss between them.

And from the depths of falseness God answers, and my world seems vanishingly small. No matter where in the world I am.

*

Yesterday I went to see the building where Kierkegaard wrote The Sickness Unto Death and his autobiography. It took me a while to spot the plaque. His flat was above a tanner’s business, and he was bothered by the stench of entrails in the gutter on the street below. His solution was to move to the neighbouring building, where the smell was just as bad. Today the tanner’s business is a skincare clinic.

MAY

The North Harbour, where my flat is, is a massive construction site, with half-built corporate buildings, a metro station, ugly modernist apartment blocks – and behind it hundreds of shipping containers stretching out to the Sound. When I stick my head out the window I count five cranes. On the street are two scaffolds and stormwater protection works. I hear the tok-tok of a train pulling into the station and an underwater thudding: they’re building another artificial island to make room for more buildings and prevent flooding when the rising water comes.

I go to the Aldi by the station, walk past the Little Mermaid and around the ramparts. I last about a week at a time here before I pack my rucksack and cycle to my parents’ place in the posh part of town, near the city’s biggest park, my crows, and the zoo, where I walk about looking at the animals in their cages.

*

My mind’s muddled after all this time alone. I don’t know if I’m good or bad, how or where I should live. I’m starting to think in Danish. Unnerving as always to live among Danes and listening to how they think. I passed an ad for a political party on the side of a bus stop today:

Community.

Community.

Community.

That hasn’t changed, I think to myself. But it rings extra hollow now.

*

Now a quiet evening sinks over Copenhagen, with that sweetly melancholic Danish light the old painters captured so well. It makes me so uneasy I have to go out and bike halfway around the city.

*

A dream last night. I was in a sort of compound: a mix of a festival site and a slum. Someone took the food I was carrying and threw it up a stairwell, where rats swarmed on it behind a corner. I tried to get it back but had to retreat. I left through a gap in a fence, where I saw my wallet, which had been trampled into the mud. I hadn’t realised I’d lost it.

*

Please God, I said when I walked by the church yesterday, out of nowhere. Please God. It made me feel better for the rest of the day, even if it seemed false as I said it.

A few words come now and then as if from far away. What a relief it would be to speak in proper solitude rather than in this lame dispersal. Rilke said to write as the first man. What did he mean?

I take the laptop to the park and sit at a bench, open a bottle of beer with my lighter, and look at the artificial pond with its spurting fountain. Pink-footed geese graze on the lawn around me, which is covered in their droppings. There’s a palace on the hill on the other side of the pond. I write a few lines of a translation I’m working on, then click over to this journal. What to say?

This park was constructed in imitation of the French and British styles, with tree-lined avenues and little Romantic touches: pagodas, a waterfall, grottos. All carefully manicured. Danish poets walked around here waxing lyrical in the nineteenth century. Now it’s full of tourists and lycra-clad joggers.

*

Malinka Stalin, they called him, his Russian friends in Vienna: Little Stalin. He turned up at her dancing class. During lockdown he invited her to the park to dance. She’d be gone for hours. He gave her Russian delicacies. I cycled over and watched them dance. How naïve I was. She watched me let it happen. I thought about fighting it, but what was there to fight for, exactly? I was always elsewhere in my head. Can I blame her?

After I left and he’d moved into our flat, into our bedroom, I became convinced he was a Romeo spy. It gave it a sort of logic. Now I have no idea where they are. I’ve learned that these kinds of convictions tend to get blurred over time. I’ve missed her terribly, but I guess those feelings will get blurred too.

APRIL

Woke up at dawn as usual to pee and lay trying to sleep for two hours while the mind turned and played its usual sordid tricks. I must have had a hundred little thoughts, memories and fantasies.

As soon as I’m idle – which I am much of the time these days – the first thought is about S. and her Russian in Vienna. Amazing how the mind bites into things and just won’t let go.

*

On my daily walk in the park to give raisins to the hooded crows and jackdaws I went through the little wood instead of around it. Still the pair of big hooded crows that always find me first flew up to me. It was the highlight of my day. I know to turn away while they eat; they don’t like to be looked at. Some of them will hide their raisins in secret places.

Sometimes I go through the place at the other end of the park where people take their dogs, and watch the dogs jump at each other and their owners. They seem stupid compared to the birds, who can easily do without me. It’s the only place where I see Danes chatting freely to strangers, as if they can only do it through their dogs.

*

Every day these past two years the mind has liked to imagine their various scenes together: S. and her Russian. The mind loves imagining that. Lately it’s come up with encountering them in one of those pretentious Viennese cafés. What happens next in these scenarios is usually vague, as in a dream where whatever you do is ineffectual.

*

When I’m not at the mercy of the mind I try to think about fate and chance, but I’m never sure what I’m trying to get at. Why exactly did I end up here? It’s hard to see beyond chance. Fate always seems to trump it. You understand backwards and live forwards, they say. But my memory’s getting unreliable.

*

Took my bike on the train to try to get to Havreskoven forest. Cycled through a typical dead Danish suburb and got lost several times along a motorway, as usual. The strong headwind blew my cap off. It’s still cold here. Ended up on the outskirts of the forest. The ground was still covered by dead leaves and needles. Almost nothing had sprung out. Even the evergreens looked wan. A couple of stagnant ponds. No waterfowl, hardly any birds. I wondered if the ground had been polluted by the nearby factory I’d seen on the way. I did see some ravens by the side of the motorway picking at rubbish on a grassy verge on the way out. It’s the first time I’ve seen them in the wild. The way the sun brings out the purple in their feathers. I should have stopped there and gone back. But one never knows exactly what to do.

Some kind words from Steve Mitchelmore:

If such things matter, and they don’t, my book of the year is Peter Holm Jensen’s The MomentAs I wrote in April, it’s one in which the writer seeks “a modest, self-effacing place within the intersection of time and eternity” and can be read again and again for this reason, as one’s deepest concerns, otherwise diluted by public pantomimes, take form in the patience of attention. To recognise this again is always a surprise.