botanical garden
guericke’s sparrow
the lexicon of superstition

Author: Jan Wagner
Translator: Chenxin Jiang

botanical garden

weighing the words against you –
the couples walking silently along the raked
paths, flowerbeds buried in leaves, trees naked,
the wrought iron flowers of the fence are cool,
the light aristocratically pale
like wax – the greenhouse glinting on the hill.
with its white ribs, fin de siècle,
it reminded me of that whale skeleton
hung in the museum from invisible cables
which seem to rock it. it would catch
your eye as a child, that monster, swept
up onto a beach from primeval depths,
asphyxiated by its own weight.


guericke’s sparrow

“…more precious than gold, it does not
change or decay…”

– Otto von Guericke –

what is this, invisible and yet so powerful,
that no strength can resist it? the townspeople
crowd around meister guericke
and his construction, the vacuum pump,
which towers over the room on its three legs,
complete with the obscene graces
of a mantis religiosa. the luster of bronze,
and the glass sphere, its recipient: inside it,
the sparrow has begun to flicker
like an ethanol flame – the air
tightens. outside the window
plums are ripening, the warmth hums, grass
is growing on the ruins. a copperplate etching
from old magdeburg hangs on the wall.
the infallibility of the pendulum clock,
diopter, pedometer, astrolabe;
the globe on the table, where
the back fin of new zealand has just
cut through the pacific. as if from afar,
the persistent trotting of a horse-drawn cart.
“this dead sparrow,” someone whispers,
“will fly through an empty sky yet.”


the lexicon of superstition

you have to chase the redbreast away from the roof.
instead you sit with the cold view
out the window at your back and cling onto that
thin hazelnut branch.

the sky is draped with black cloth, behind which
they roll the barrels of heavy wine.
the long drawn-out groaning of trees, as though
scaffolds were rocking in them.

and you with your back to the window… behind the panes
the thunder flicks its white blade open
with a deft hand. it’s the redbreast, you should have
chased it away.



that summer, the earth lay cracked
and dry. with alternating current and wires
we made a false weather in the ground,
to attract the earthworms, to offer up each
hermaphrodite on a thin hook. years later

i see their shadows stretch across the sky, gigantic,
in dark clouds, and the world outside the window presents
itself as a cold square. i wait for the knocking
at my door while, behind the glass, the rain
falls and falls. i mistrust every drop.


Originals © Jan Wagner
Translations © Chenxin Jiang