Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Vellamo is a Water Spirit Woman

Mun isan isan kauppa. My dad's dad's store. My paternal grandfather, Joakim (Joel) (Viita)Maki also ran a saw mill and a trucking company in Kauhajoki kotipitaja [county]. This photo is not in my photo album; rather, I stumbled upon it online, on Kauhajoen Museon website. I think my cousin's daughter, Johanna, put it there!

My dad as a young boy with his dog, Jeppi. His mother was a no-nonsense woman, too, just like my maternal grandmother, Fanny. My eno [mother's brother], Alpo, told me a story once about when he was a young man and had gone out partying with a group of young men, including the Maen pojat [the Maki boys]. Alpo, who lives in Tornio, told me they had gone out to a dance and had a bit of fun. Quite a bit of fun. When they came back, reeling and boisterous, my grandmother Hilda Elina (nee Kauhajarvi), beat the living daylights out of all of them with a stick.

Kauhajarven sisarukset. Siblings from Kauhajarvi. I don't know these folks, but I think my grandmothers on both sides most likely did. My paternal grandmother of the beating stick, her maiden name was Kauhajarvi (Finns used to take the name of the place and the land features of where they lived as their last name when needed for church records). My maternal grandmother, Fanny, used to live in Kauhajarvi, which is just down the road from Hyyppa. Fanny and Sylvester had their first farm in Kauhajarvi. All of my grandparents, as well as other relatives, are buried in Kauhajarvi graveyard. Most likely these folks are there too.

My aunts as young girls, or the female line of Hilda Elina and Joel. There was a sister named Laila, too, but she, poor baby, only lived a few days. Maybe she is in Kauhajarvi graveyard? Only Vellamo, the tallest one, the one with the high broad forehead, who was known famously as Joel's indispensable 'adding machine' at his general store, is alive now. She is 95.

Five years ago I wrote a poem about a water woman; Vellamo is her name. Vellamo is a water spirit woman. You can find her in the Kalevala.


My 90 year-old aunt

is a salmon woman

She swims beneath Baltic waters

in all her finery, a skirt of scales


behind her.

She wears no headband,

Strange, too, is that she is beltless.

Having forsaken

the seven blue dresses

and six golden camisoles

she splashes


sending ripples spiraling


After the ninth wave

she raises her head and appears

to lone men fishing

on misty points in boats

that cry tears

She presents herself

to the hook:

“I’m not your supper!” she shouts,

taunting the fishermen.

“I’m not here to be cut up into pieces,

to be consumed by you!”

“I’m not your breakfast, your lunch,

or your supper!”

Then, slapping her tail,

my 90 year-old aunt,

sister to the fishes

and companion to sea tides,

slips under the surface

and continues

her salmon dance.


frisellaster said...

Dear Northshorewoman
I like this poem very much, and based on your bio, I think we are sympatica. I would like to publish this poem in our little magazine, The Poets Touchstone which the Poetry Society of NH puts out quarterly. I am both editor of the magazine and President of the society - both posts I would gladly pass on to another BOD member. Anyway, we are doing a program on the Kalevala in October, so this all would fit nicely. This is a very good poem!
Pat Frisella

northshorewoman said...

thank you, Pat. Yes, I would be honored to have my poem included in your publication and look forward to reading the Kalevala edition of The Poets Touchstone! (I love the name of your 'little magazine'). Touchshones are so crucial. In the pre-Christian Finnish tradition, water stones scripted with lettering were knowledge/spiritual touchstones. In fact, I believe that the Finnish word 'kirja' [book] comes from the kirjava (wondrous designs) stones of old that told stories. I will email you!