… but
On the big wheel
Five lines

Author: Kurt Drawert
Translator: Steph Morris



I understand my friends
in the East
less and less. Here between
the Hamme and Weser rivers

I know no-one.
Sometimes the deaf-mute
farmer from over the way
greets me, or an official

arrives as decreed
to deliver just what
I’d feared
with a casual gesture.

I was settled
nowhere and nowhere
was I at home, I confirm
without sadness. So what

should I seek out
if I stay.
What should stay
where it is?

The smell of wet
mildewed wood,
of rotten floorboards
clings in my memory,

the night-time discussions
were worthless
and have been sold
to the four

winds. Voyeurs
who knew better,
with the safe stasis
of the long winter

for support, with fine lines
broken apart
on a desk
in some sorry office.

Their silence
on that score,
my friends from yesterday,
is deafening, gone today

because yet again
it’s about missing
the wrong word
at the right moment, the kickoff,

the next stop down the hill.
I’ll get to the point now:
You lied to me. I
was someone else

at the heart of those soiled years.
But when, for a second,
I forget my name,
I totally understand

that foxhole of language
and feel regret
and view the rot
of conscience in its entirety

with leniency,
just as the autumn light
melts into the meadows
at dusk

and it all sinks
into the mist like tired
maltreated animals. But
I don’t understand it.

Yet my muscles
have relaxed and
the ostracised farmer
greets me.

Kurt Drawert, 1992



there must be some legacy
with which the history of the body
– which, as silence will win
over remembrance,
I sometimes draw on too,
like an album of snapped sensations –
as well history itself
– given that the country within will crumble
like a ruined fortress
its name lost,
which you enter as a stranger
speaking another language –
can be elucidated.

Kurt Drawert, 1993



Those were the days,
when there was a thing
you had to shift.

A mission bound
to fail at that gradient,
each time knocked back

and sent plummeting,
a punishment
only in an underworld

run by charlatans
with no feeling for the joys
of repetition

at least while matter
was part of the equation,
with no laws

to concern you unduly.
Since your acquittal
you’ve been drifting around

gazing at the void
in your hands,

Kurt Drawert, 1996



I’d forgotten how we would meet
then, in those towns now full of
orphaned anthems

in search of a fatherland. In the ruins
of the last war a peaceful,
fatherless calm could be found.

I came here as a child, disturbed.
Here we had it good. Here language
stayed out of the body.

Later, at a tricky stage in life,
just as some of our voices
broke, with others it was

the spine, you recall.
I was gifted with
silence, there.

There, the grass is shooting up
already. The dip in the ground,
surely the place I dreamt of love,
is filled with grit, puddled algae
and oil, squashed tin cans,

a scorched patch. Even the earth here seeks
to deny its past. It had long gone dark
but I stood there still. Everything I heard
was alien. What I thought.
And it was day.


On the big wheel

When the axis of the turning wheel
links the rising cars
and the falling cars
along an even plane
there is a neutral instant
in which each are at
eye level.
Then the inevitable happens.
Pride is pride again, and a fall, a fall.


Five lines

I want to be like that again,
in love with a sense of love,
like a ship darting into the ocean,
blindly proud. And hearts are hearts
and stone will be stone, until the sails rip.



From:  Poetry of the German Democratic Republic.  S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2009.

Aus:  “Ortswechsel,” “… doch,” “Wo es war,” “Im Riesenrad,” “Fünf Zeilen,” “Sisyphos.”  Lyrik der DDR.  S. Fisher Verlage, Frankfurt am Main, 2009.

Artist for Rent

Author: Feridun Zaimoglu
Translator: Steph Morris

‘Nora Sillinger,’ she said. ‘Come in.’
A cat stared at me from the hallway. Looked like it wanted to jump up at me.
‘Stay right by me!’ Sillinger said, and the cat obeyed her.


© Feridun Zaimoglu

‘How do you plan to work?’
‘I suggest three sittings,’ I said, ‘mornings after breakfast, afternoons, and evenings. One and a half hours.’
‘I can work with that. Do you need to be alone first thing?’
‘Then we shall have breakfast together.’
She picked at her blouse. Tiny dark stain – a crushed mosquito? A monogram. I looked her in the face. She’d had her teeth whitened. She didn’t like being looked at. A difficult model perhaps.
She asked what I wished to drink that evening. Dry red wine, and water. She left and the cat followed. I put a clean shirt on, brushed my hair and tightened my laces. A loose shoelace might annoy her. I stepped onto the balcony. Children in the courtyard, a girl with a lisp, screaming. I felt imposed on by their mothers, their lessons in free development. Women exhausted me. They found themselves a man, he proved a disappointment, the daily grind made them bitter, they started domestic fights, the man lost interest and they fell out of love. The lisping girl noticed me and threw a handful of sand up, which the wind blew back in her face. The mother ran to help. I decided the time had come, and went downstairs.
She heard my steps and called me into the kitchen. The animal was chewing a chair leg. ‘You scrub up nicely,’ she said. She assumed I had made an effort in order to improve her mood. I didn’t disabuse her. We ate spaghetti. I asked for a spoon. She shook her head; ‘you turn spaghetti against the bowl, not a spoon. Spoons are for sauce.’ I was her guest. I had to behave and didn’t argue. Then she said, ‘the etiquette in this house is to eat Bockwurst with your hands – a family tradition.’ Then she said, ‘you may not talk while chewing. You have a half-way decent singing voice.’ Then she said, ‘you suffer from emaciation. You look like something from the arse end of the day, the late afternoon. You need to cough it all up…’
She had a tongue on her. It didn’t bother me.
‘I was not a happy housewife,’ she informed me. ‘I was frequently spat at; I didn’t care.’ I finished my supper, my glass of wine; she filled it up.
‘The sittings will take place in the living room.’ Her words. She yawned, covering her mouth. I got the message. ‘Just leave everything,’ she said. ‘I have a dishwasher.’ Just as it seemed she had dismissed me for the day, she spoke of the risk she had taken. She didn’t know my work. She had never heard of me. Was I one of those artists who do the rounds to no avail? Or the kind who rise to the surface like grease and scum? There’s not much in it, I said, and she shrank back as if I’d said I practiced witchcraft. Couldn’t believe I was undiscovered. Museums were exhibiting mouldy scraps and clutter; at a young artist’s opening recently she’d been invited to admire dead flies in rusty, flat tin cans. An irate bourgeois lady: I sat and listened. I asked her to wait a moment, ran upstairs, ran back down, and handed her my portfolio. She leafed through the collection of loose sheets, studying the drawings in their sleeves. ‘You are the inverse of art.’
‘Inverse as in backside?’ I asked.
‘No, like the other side of a coin. Where do your pictures hang, aside from our mutual acquaintance’s gallery?’
‘In my flat. And in my friends’ flats.’
‘All of women,’ she said.
‘I’m not interested in observing men.’
‘Very sensible. The background in this picture,’ she said, ‘it looks like bonemeal mixed with yolk.’
‘It’s just paint.’
‘Do these women have names?’
‘In a sense,’ I said. ‘They’re called the astonished woman, the hungry woman, far-sighted, unfading…’
‘No. You have to find some new titles. Unfading – give me strength! Do these women really exist?’
‘Pure imagination,’ I said.
‘This woman has a hand like a flipper. Design or incompetence?’ she asked.
Night-time, in the kitchen of the woman employing me. Night-time, tired and fractious – a new city, new people. What should I do – an about turn? Like a fan opening up, I went into a rant. About the new elite, curators and decision makers, rewarding the trendiest and noisiest. Ornament dead. Painterly mystique beaten senseless. Many resorting to counterterrorism via handicraft. Gristly, fermented theory, codswallop from America; pseudo-intellectual bull sold for millions. I spoke, but then felt silly, and fell silent. She simply said, ‘Well, good night.’
Dismissed at last. In pyjamas, later, in bed. Fire and fever; hot forehead – momentum from the build-up. No. Shivering fit. Cold sweat. Drank two glasses wine fast then lay down. Sillinger was still up; I heard a newsreader. Politics infuriated her. She switched channels. A natural history programme. I listened to the animals’ cries. Fire and fever; sweating. I drank some water, writhed in the bed, fell asleep. Woke up. What was that sound? Stood at the window in the dark. A man stood below, waterproof jacket, pressed trousers, baseball cap. A man in the back courtyard just before dawn – he could not be there by mistake. Now what was he doing? Pebbles rained against the window I stood at. I grabbed my shoe from the floor, flung the window open and hurled the shoe at him. I missed. He fled. The cool dawn air was good; I stared blindly ahead. Creaking floorboards behind me: I turned.
‘Soon they’ll all find out,’ she said.
‘That you’re here. These men are prepared for a confrontation.’
‘With me?’
‘You are a man; that makes you a rival.’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ I said. ‘Why don’t you go to the police?’
‘To report people walking at night? That’s how they’d present the facts. At best. You should calm down and go back to bed. You don’t look good.’
‘I think I’ve caught a chill.’
‘Get some sleep,’ she said, and left my room.


My shoe was outside in the courtyard. Clean shirt, clean socks, yesterday’s trousers: I stumbled downstairs. Saw the tips of the cat’s ears, asleep behind a cushion on the sofa. Saw the ribbed rubber caps Sillinger wore on her thumb and fingertips. Page turners. She took the gauntlets off and put them on the open newspaper.
Breakfast for two. She explained: stray pensioners, they fell asleep in front of the TV, set their alarm clocks for an ungodly hour then went out to throw stones. Her head was a pouch of desires; they reached deep inside. At least two biros, with tight grips, in their breast pockets. A cat, a newspaper, I thought – did I see something else? I stood up and dashed into the drawing room, returned with a handful of paper strips. She had torn up a drawing of mine. A temple facade, flagged with inscribed banners. On the roof a woman in make-up – resembling her. Clearly she couldn’t tolerate this.
‘A fit of rage,’ she said. ‘I will reimburse you naturally.’
My losses so far: one shoe, one picture. After a little haggling we agreed on three hundred euro. She used money to burn out evil impurities. I stuffed the notes into my trouser pocket, asked to be excused for five minutes and went to search the courtyard, even checking the bins. The stone thrower had taken my shoe with him. A trophy.
She was waiting on the doorstep. ‘You will have to get out of the habit of walking around in socks. Here are some shoes and socks of my husband’s – he has no need of them.’
‘My thanks to the deceased,’ I said. She flinched. The sitting took place in the drawing room. Portrait of a lady in a white blouse, bloodless lips, hair up, rouge, eye shadow, mascara, fine, strong features. She had no truck with people who shoved leftover food around their plates. Not a woman who huddled by the radiator on cold nights. Shading for the forehead: soft pencil held sideways. Mark the hairline, pencil in the left hand, swoop of the brows – seen from my left – drawn with an arc. Pencil in the right hand. Right eyebrow done.
‘You work with both hands,’ she said.
‘Did you teach yourself that or could you always do it?’
‘Always done it. I have a weakness for damaged left-handed women – on paper, not in real life.’
‘You’ve got yourself a rather crude proclivity there.’
‘Sit still, please,’ I said.
Transition from neck to head – a mistake, rubbed out, corrected. Better. Dimpled chin. No, no flat hollow on the chin. Back to the eyes: she was looking at me. She was watching me work, with a smile. Her smile didn’t fade. She really was amused. Eyes light blue, a woman’s gaze. Harder than I thought to catch this look. Half an hour, then I had succeeded. I turned the piece of paper round, we remained seated. ‘Do you recognise yourself?’
‘If I had small children, I wouldn’t employ you as a tutor.’
‘What are you trying to say?’
‘You are meant simply to be copying me,’ she said. ‘Instead you seem to be trying to fathom me out. Those are not my eyes.’
‘We see ourselves reversed in mirrors,’ I said.
‘Is that so?’
‘Yes. I believe we are distorted in photos too.’
‘That there is an object with signs of wear and tear. That thing there is not me.’
‘Your word is my command,’ I said, and screwed the sketch up.

She suggested we run the first and second sitting together. I reached for the next piece of paper, told myself to keep it simple, held the pencil as if noting down an address. Frowning forbidden. I was standing on a snake’s tail; I would get bitten if I got it wrong again. A woman, early fifties, well groomed and attractive, no money worries. Don’t make up stories, I thought, put the black on the white, control yourself. The lady of the house in portrait, static, in daylight. She asked for a minute’s break. Rotated her head, vertebrae clicked softly. I bunched my hands into a fist, pumped them, banished the pain. Onwards. Sitting still, drawing seated. I showed her the result. She said, ‘Much better. But I see one mistake.’
‘Some people do have banal faces. Made up of two equal halves. Two semicircles welded into a globe. With the join running from crown to chin…’
‘I get it,’ I said, and screwed my right eye up, held my right hand up flat to obscure the left half of her face: rage and trauma. Left eye, left hand, right half hidden: gentle and smooth. Different muscles, different mechanisms, different air breathing through this side. We arranged to meet in the evening.


A machine, turned human. A shredding machine. Man shredder. She shredded all feeling, all warmth. Her god-given right. I would survive. I was just the artist-for-hire in her little palace. Sillinger had described the saddle slashing incident to me, and the inquiries she had made, the grating silence in her head. Who were the suspects? She didn’t know.
‘Perhaps it wasn’t a man,’ I said, ‘but a child.’
‘Children do graffiti,’ she said. ‘This required grown-up nerve.’
She had a new saddle fitted.
Enough sketches, enough drawing. I wanted to start on the painting – I released her from the sittings. She bought an easel, plastic sheets to protect the carpet from splashes, falling paint and falling sweat, paper tear-off palettes, pigment thickener, cheap paintbrushes in plastic sheaths. She had saved jam-jar lids. I congratulated her. Good for mixing paint. Grim weather, the city veiled and swimming in rain. The water dripped from awnings and eaves in strings of pearls, both thin and thick. I began. Staring ahead: the cat nosing at a bird’s corpse. Staring at the canvas: ninety by fifty. Delineation first. Pinned-up hair – important. Background – sky or drawing room? Cityscape or burgundy velvet curtains? Sillinger hated complicated patterns. She liked simplicity. More intelligent than her portrait. Representation, not a window onto the soul. Don’t tear, don’t cut. I worked into the night. Her animal rubbed at my trouser legs. She sat still on a chair behind me; rustling cloth from time to time, her tights crackling as she crossed her legs. She wasn’t a machine now, I could tell.
I felt nothing. Just thirst, no hunger. Blue outline, a gazing woman on a dusky pink ground, a string of lanterns – I painted it out; the taught cable looked like a distant horizon. She laughed, and I turned. ‘You’ve finished,’ she said.
‘And it will dry quickly.’
‘Then I’ll fix it.’
‘What with?’
‘With hairspray.’
‘Really? That’s hardly professional.’
‘Will you stop whinging just for once,’ I said. ‘Try accepting something for a change.’
‘You must be tired.’
‘Because I’m answering back?’
‘The painting will be ready for framing tomorrow.’
‘Maybe I won’t want to have it framed.’
‘You will.’
‘Why are you in a bad mood?’
‘Don’t play games with me. I’m not some pensioner stalking you.’
‘Should I pay you now?’
‘If you have the money in cash.’
‘I’ll be right back.’

She gave me a moment to calm down. I was not going to apologise to this woman with a grievance against everything. I allowed myself some mean thoughts: move to Switzerland, get older and greyer there, delighted that no-one spits on the pavements each time you go for a walk. Enjoy the company of perfect ladies and fearful men. Crack up. Drop dead at eighty-six. Your bloody life…
Sillinger returned, called me to the table, counted out the money I was owed, still standing, placed the notes in an envelope and handed them over like a trophy of war. Business concluded. She asked about my plans for the following days – I got the message. Next day, after breakfast together, I would leave. She smiled in anticipation. Soon it would be just her and the cat, walking around her legs. In bed I reflected. Now she was removing her makeup. Now she was slipping into her nightdress. Now she was shaking out her pillows. Now she was regretting inviting an unknown painter into her house… What was I doing? I hated her. She hid herself like a mouse in a corn heap, always popping out, no peace in her presence. Tomorrow the search for a new client would begin. My hollow refused to warm up; I wriggled out of the papery larva, it crumbled into dust in the night. A body which did not want to be enveloped, eeriness – that strange word in my head. Down the stairs, into the kitchen. There she sat, her hand flat in a pool of honey on the table top. Slightly bent, her nightdress tight round the shoulders, scent of some herbal ointment. Silver strands in her hair, at the back. Was it right to watch her from a distance? She said, ‘You have eyes which get wet when you’re not even sad. Stupid really.’
‘Always these little insults,’ I said.
‘Don’t take it so personally,’ she said. ‘Sit down.’
I did as she said. She never asked; she gave instructions.
Her hand in the pool. Shiny fingertips.
‘I take it you haven’t gone mad,’ I said.
‘No. There but for the grace…’
‘Are you alright?’
‘What kind of question is that?’
‘Have you eaten anything?’
‘Next you’ll be feeling my pulse.’
My hand on her hers. I lifted it up, pushed her gently towards the kitchen sink, washed the honey from her hand using both of mine, wrapped her hand in the teacloth and rubbed it dry. She gazed at me the entire time.
‘My husband.’
‘He broke his back.’
‘Nasty,’ I said.
‘Let go of my hand,’ she said.
‘Of course,’ I said.
‘Stay another day. As a favour.’
‘If it helps.’
‘It will,’ she said. ‘What has happened to your hair?’
‘My pillow is my hairbrush.’

From Der Mietmaler by Feridun Zaimoglu © 2013 Langen Müller in der F. A. Herbig Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH München, All Rights Reserved

you may take this house as an outpost

Author: Daniela Seel
Translator: Steph Morris


you may take this house as an outpost
of my conscious being for example
in the nooks and crannies creatures
scurry without an eyelash between them I tried
to track them for ages but could not capture
things which slipped so swiftly by
forced to squint continually perhaps it was a trick perhaps
I lacked equipment I wanted to get a grasp
but was in no position to develop the habit
of being a bee spider mouse this house
has no brows beneath which I might withdraw
blinking what would I then know
of that concocted cat
had I the nose of a rat


Original © Daniela Seel
Translation © Steph Morris

Samples from Hans: An Account

Author: Eleonore Frey
Translator: Steph Morris

I. The Wild Man

Shut out

A door, as wide as Hans is tall. Behind it music, voices, laughter. Light falls through the cracks, through the windows in the brick wall. It is painted black, as is the door Hans is knocking on, beating his fists against, throwing his entire weight at. He braces himself into it, mustering his full force, braces with one leg bent, the other stretched, pressing into the ground. Slips down. Picks himself up, switches legs. One more go. The door creaks, but stands firm. Hans eases off, swearing. He has invented the swearwords himself, words which allow him to curse at the top of his voice without actually swearing. Because otherwise, he realises, that would not be polite. A window opens above him. A girl looks out. Then another, and another. They laugh.
“Lea,” he shouts over the racket.
“She’s not here,” someone shouts. Hans raises his fist.
“Catch,” someone calls, pushing her way to the front, and throwing a can of beer down to him. It is Lea, his sister. When she was little she was proud of Hans because he was the tallest of all the men she knew. Now, ever since the neighbours’ children taught her that her brother was abnormal, when someone asks her who they saw her with yesterday in the middle of the street, arguing – or saying nothing – she says, “I don’t know.” Or says, “that wasn’t me.” Behind her stands her boyfriend Herbert, with his arm round her waist as if she were his property. The can of beer falls to the ground, explodes.
“Thanks,” Hans says. Kicks the split can. It lands in the gutter. The window shuts and the noise is shut in.
Hans goes away. Not far. As soon as he is out of sight he sits on a bench. Plays dead. This is his safety valve, because as long as he doesn’t move, the birds’ twittering stays stuck in their throats – and his rage too. Till finally it breaks out through his narrow windpipe, wordless but loud, rising up to resist the onslaught of everything going against him. It doesn’t matter what he does; it’s no use.
“What did you say?” a passer-by asks, standing still now.
Hans looks up, stands up, walks over to him, not too close, and says: “I was talking to myself.”
“Did you understand what you were saying?” the man asks.
“Yes,” Hans says. “I said, there’s no point in me saying anything. I don’t want to say anything, I said. I just want to be by myself, then go home.”
“Do you know the way?” the passer-by asks.
“There is no way,” Hans says. “I have no home.”
“Where are you going to sleep then?” the passer-by asks, and is unsure if he is doing the right thing, getting involved in things which aren’t his business.
“I don’t know, maybe I’ll go to my flat,” Hans says, stepping from one foot to the other, starting to walk, now he has remembered how to do it.
“So you do have a home,” the passer-by says.
“No,” Hans says, turning round before he goes. “My flat is not a home, it’s a dump. There is nowhere you can put your foot without treading on something, things that are in the way: shoes, broken cups… There is no-one waiting there for me, not even an animal.”

The passer-by walks on. “What does he want from me?” Hans asks. Out loud. But by this time the man has vanished into the crowd, where every person is the same as the next, everyone following the same rhythm. For Hans, who has different music playing in his head, the other’s music doesn’t count. He follows his own rules. Sometimes he stumbles into one of the posts growing out of the asphalt here and there. When the thing he stumbles into is a human being, he often gets a deliberate shove or a nasty look. When it starts to rain, umbrellas open everywhere around him; hoods are drawn up over heads: measures which put an end to the game of glances. The unprotected ones walk with bowed heads, faster than before. A few of them dive for cover, making use of anything available: a porch here, a bus shelter there. Hans keeps going. He feels good. He isn’t bothered about getting wet. The rain runs down his face, under his collar. He stands still, throws his head back, opens his mouth and flares his nostrils. This is what the wild boy did, who lived like an animal in the woods somewhere in southern France a long time ago. Hans saw the boy in a film, saw how he received rain like a gift, thunder and lightning with joy – even later, after he had been caught, washed, clipped, trimmed, clothed and sent to school. I like rain too, Hans thinks, and takes his glasses off so he can see the world as it was meant for him; not the way the others’ corrective measures have shaped it for his benefit, but the way it is to him and only to him. Now he can barely see a thing, only the glow of the streetlight above his head, blurred – but what a great way to see it! In this spreading, softly fluctuating light, the night looks like a pleasure garden. “Like the Tivoli,” Hans says out loud. “Do you remember?” he says to himself, and recalls the tree of lights, full of red hearts, the crazy roller coaster, reflected in the lake and stirring up the water from top to bottom, and, eclipsing all the slighter memories, the eternal snowstorm in the ghost train, which wasn’t cold, instead made of light, a whirlwind within another, and another.

When he wakes from this dream, remote from the people rushing past him, he puts his glasses back on, so that no-one can mistakenly glimpse what they shouldn’t see: the thoughts condensing in his head, clustering together then flying out. This is a theatre which belongs to him alone. Sometimes he acts something to himself, physically, wherever he happens to be, pretending to be Mack the Knife, for instance, or a shark. But as this is the wrong thing to do in public, it causes more displeasure than amusement. In certain delicate souls it can even provoke fear. This can lead to difficulties. And so he contains himself and postpones the play till later, till he has a stage where no-one can see him. Leaning on a wall, he stays standing till the rain has stopped. He shakes himself, makes one determined stride, then another. Forgets himself, hesitates, then decides to walk through the night – not just in any direction, as he usually would, but towards the brightest light he can see at any one moment. The result is that his feet trace a labyrinth though the city, making their way to the traffic lights and then to the illuminated fountain and from there straight towards a car. Blinded by the headlights, he leaps aside now, and trips over himself. The man in the car winds his window down and rails at Hans, his main point being that he takes no responsibility should Hans have hurt himself. Hans says nothing. The man is not satisfied. As, however, Hans continues to stare at him fixedly, he is left to deal with his dissatisfaction as best he can. He now makes a wordless gesture too – shaking his head – winds the window back up and drives off. Hans examines his left knee. It hurts. But, Hans says to himself, it’s nothing.

It is nothing, and doesn’t make him limp as he walks now, straight to his bar. This is where his nights mostly end, or, you might say, where his life begins, night after night. His refuge is called The Dog in the Bush. No-one knows why it is called The Dog in the Bush because as far as Hans can see there was no reason in the slightest to turn the proverbial bird into man’s best friend. But Hans has learned that there are things which no amount of contemplation can explain, because they are inexplicable. In the same way there is no explanation for why his sister Lea has shut him out of her party, which is no doubt still in full swing, there where he tried to barge his way in, there where he has known everyone since they were children. And now, although he has hands and feet just like them, they treat him as if he was not a human being but a creature best steered clear of. In his bar, on the other hand, everyone greets him when he enters. He isn’t at home here either, because he isn’t allowed to stay any longer than the others. But he can sit at the bar in peace and listen to the music rippling down over him from the ceiling, woven note by note into the reddish, flickering light. “A beer,” he says to Susie, who would be his girlfriend if only she wanted to. And his money buys him a beer. He gets a free smile too. And on top of that a question:
“How are you?”
He cannot answer it straight away. The thing with Lea doesn’t concern Susie. “Not like you,” he says finally, once he has finished his first drink and can see the second standing ready in front of him. This helps him control the confusion, impossible to penetrate or describe, which has held him captive.
“How am I then?” Susie asks him.
“How should I know?” Hans says. “I can’t see what you’re like inside.” Susie has a diamond nose stud. It wasn’t there yesterday.
“Thank God,” she says. “If everyone could see what people were thinking, where would we be then?”
“In paradise,” Hans says. The people there are transparent; he learned that from his father, who read it in the book he always reads when he has nothing else to do. The book is to his father what The Dog in the Bush is to Hans; he is at home in it like a badger in his burrow. Susie starts to wash the glasses. “The way it works in paradise is…” Hans continues. But she isn’t listening.

Hans has to go now. Everyone has to go. Mostly in pairs. Hans walks up the hill alone. That’s where he lives. Alone. Standing at his front door he realises he has lost his keys. What can he do? There’s no point in ringing. He isn’t in, so he can’t open the door and welcome himself home. He is locked out and there is no-one who would take him in this late at night. Having thought for a while, which gets him no further, he takes a log from the stack of wood resting against the wall under a tarpaulin, lies down in the porch with the log as a pillow for his head, and falls asleep.

Heavy shoes

Hans, the wild man, has let his beard and his hair grow till he can no longer see out. Beneath the thicket of his moustache, his mouth has become a red-edged wound, but it mustn’t be allowed to get overgrown, because even though Hans speaks less these days he still has to eat and drink: that is what keeps humans alive. And Hans is without doubt a human being, even if he would rather be a tree. A tree can be as shaggy as it wants. Unlike Hans it doesn’t have to listen to people – including his mother, who claims to love him the way he is – saying that no-one should be allowed out in that state; he should be cropped and scrubbed, or locked up. The effect is achieved anyway, because people give him a wide berth when they see him. Which is fine by him, because while they might think he stinks, as far as he is concerned they stink too, in a different way, a way sensed in the mind, which has a nose of its own and can tell who is rotten under their shiny skin, and who isn’t. It isn’t just his hair which disgusts people; his hands are red and chapped. When he has to get a grip on something, doing up the buttons on his jacket for instance, he starts to jitter. Specially when he puts his gloves on. So he throws them away. But not his jacket, although it is frayed and grubby; he needs it against the cold. His trousers end a good two inches above his heavy shoes – which have lacked laces for some while. This means Hans cannot lift his feet when he walks; he can only shuffle, dragging the shoes along with him – slowly; left… right… It’s the way he walks. It works.

Ideally he’d rather go somewhere he actually wants to go. Or stay in bed. But every so often, though increasingly seldom, the orderly person within him speaks up, telling him he should be in a certain place at a certain time. That means: go to work. In the nursery. That means get up early. That means hurry to the station to be on time. The music in his head now reflects his struggle to get up and out. It has disintegrated, no longer music, just noise, blunt like the foghorn blast a ship uses to announce its arrival when it sails into a harbour in bad light and needs everything out of its way. That’s the kind of ship I am, Hans thinks. His legs don’t really want to obey the helmsman in his head; they rebel, continually straying from the straight and narrow. This annoys the more fleet-footed of his fellow citizens, as he discovers when they tell him so. He deliberately doesn’t reply to these remarks, and they usually look away as quickly as possible. But by then it is too late; the unflinching gaze with which Hans scrutinizes them, as he does everything which gets in his way, stays with them even when they have long turned the corner. And not without reason, because when Hans looks at something, he looks unsparingly, seeing everything there is to see, noticing not just that someone’s eyes are two different colours, but mercilessly observing every spot and every awkward hair. When he stops looking for anything in particular, the face he is gazing at turns into a full moon. That means it conveys nothing to him, no matter how brightly painted. The mouth is no longer a cherry; it is a red mark, soon just a stain, then a gap. And the skin is no longer white as snow; it is a crust, far from flawless, which holds what is under it together and hides it.

So it is hardly a surprise that Hans does not want to touch a woman, not even with his eyes, although he knows that this would be expected should the occasion ever arise. As his love-life to date has been played out solely in the subjunctive – aside from the kind of intimacy which can readily be purchased – the occasion has never arisen; in reality – an incident, a stroke of luck, and afterwards life is different from before… He can only satisfy his wilder desires through commercial transactions; usually by going to the street where the addicts solicit, where the other wild men look for their women. Now and then he finds a woman there who is wild like he is. He can be on a level playing field with her, and not only because a price has been agreed for services rendered. He can speak to her without having to remember that the wild ones’ way of speaking is like a foreign language to the tame, whose compensation for their lost freedom is that they call the tune when it comes to speech, because they are swimming in a torrent of words, whereas the wild men, and the less common wild women, must make an effort with every word, and once they finally have the words, they do not flow effortlessly from their lips; they piece themselves grudgingly together, one after another: stone on stone, the yes, yes, no, no of the bible. That has its advantages. In both novels and real life, speech often rushes ahead of thought to cause confusion, escalating with every sentence and spiralling out of control. These situations don’t occur between Hans and the wild women. For as long as the mutual understanding lasts, all is well with the world. If only it would last longer for once. But that will never be, Hans knows. Because these spellbound girls have made a deal with death. Every day death helps them get through life, offering an artificial heaven for a few hours as long as they give it the remains of their time, a little more each day, until finally it refuses to release them at all.

Although Hans is a wild man and finds his women on the street, he sleeps in a bed – well into the daylight hours after long nights. But although sleep is what it’s called, he doesn’t actually sleep. He lies there, immobile, so that the bed beneath him doesn’t collapse as it has been known to when he rears up and tosses himself from one side to the other, overcome with restlessness. He does this trying to sleep, something you can’t try to do; you can only let it happen. And so he gives up trying and stays wavering between day and night. This is where the dreams live, and he is happy to accept them, as long as they mean him well. He likes them best when they surround him with kindred spirits, when they are populated by wild folk living in the woods. The people there survive on berries and wild honey, on beetles, snails and crickets, taught the skills they need by the wild boy, who Hans has never forgotten since he saw him in the film. Because he is that child. If only he could live like that, without clothes, he thinks; if only my hair and my beard were so long that I could wrap myself up in them like a coat, my soles so tough I wouldn’t feel the hard pebbles when I walk barefoot through a stream. When the wild boy is cold he creeps into his cave and covers himself with earth and leaves, Hans remembers. Like an animal, he thinks, for as long as he has his eyes shut. And when he opens them again, the child is clearly a human being, because although he can’t speak, he has language in his head, and thinks – like me, Hans realises. And he knows that, even though there are very learned people who think otherwise, just as he mostly knows that his hand is his hand. When he no longer knows that, things have gone wrong.

When, continuing to dream, he thinks of the woman who found the wild boy while looking for mushrooms, he remembers that he has heard that mushrooms are neither plant nor animal but something else, something in between, which very few people know exists, which gives a name to mushrooms’ neither-nor status, which positions them in the natural scheme of things, where every plant and every creature has its place. And earth and fire and water and air. Hans has read in one of his nature books that mushrooms’ shared characteristic is that they are connected under the earth by an extensive network known as mycelium. And that, consisting almost solely of water, they need a lot of rain, from which they build the strange forms in which they emerge from the ground over night – alone, in clumps, in groups, in mysterious rings: the poisonous Fly Agaric, the Horn of Plenty, the red-bloomed Saffron Milk Cap, and the delicate-shaded Shaggy Ink Cap, which, no sooner has it appeared, melts away into a slimy, dark mass. Where mushrooms like to grow, so does moss. Close up, rocks overgrown with moss look like forests. As if spellbound. And when you look up, the grey lichen strands dangling down from the branches seem enchanted too; they are the beards of the wild men, Hans says, half awake, and, disturbed by the curious humanity of nature, closes his eyes again.

And returns to dreaming, although he is actually awake. In this dream, the fairy-tale story is that the wild men are vindicated. Which he is delighted about. And his dream is now as vivid as life itself, lucid and vibrant. Under their hides, the wild men wear robes of velvet and silk, so they are always ready should their hour come to peel off their skins, each in his way a prince – with clear eyes, but no beards. When they come into the world for the second time, in their real form, they are all without exception the sons of kings. And the idiots who have scorned them till now throw themselves to the ground when one of these wondrous new-born creatures looks their way – out of fear one of the powerful gentlemen might revenge himself for what was done to them when they were still bear-skinners and you could kick them if you felt like it. There is no danger of this, because the princes are not thinking about what happened back then but about what is happening now and what is coming next: the princesses, who will appear on the horizon without fail when they catch wind of a prince. The most beautiful takes Hans by the hand and leads him to her castle. She has been promised to him for all eternity, for she is the embodiment of a fairy tale. Hans knows that in the castle everything will be fine, and turns to the wall in his sleep, to avoid the light which seeks to banish his dreams and usher in the day. Or something else will come, and that will be fine, he thinks, as he passes from one dream room to the next now: out of the frying pan into the fire, from water to flames and then over the mountains into a cool, green valley.

And Hans dreams, offering the princess a green rose which he found in his sleep. As the princess goes to take the rose, he wakes up. This time there is no going back. No more dreams for today. With much difficulty, he decides to get up and begin the day, which, being grey, does not entice him. Nor would it if the sun were to shine, as bright as it can, because it hurts the wild men even when it just glances off their noses; it continually reveals that the world is not made for them, not the way it is now, everything always over straight away, and how can you get your bearings when nothing stays as it is? Instead yesterday’s grey hairs are red, the good weather bad, and the woman who smiled at Hans in his dream has already forgotten him. He gets up, takes a few steps with closed eyes and, when he finally, reluctantly, opens them, sees someone in the mirror he doesn’t recognise. He will have to climb into this person before he puts his clothes on and then he is what he was before his vindication; a stranger in his own skin.


From Muster aus Hans by Eleonore Frey, © 2009, Droschl Verlag, Graz
Translation © Steph Morris

Germany Shuts Up Shop

Author: Dietmar Dath
Translator: Steph Morris

12. Deutschland’s undoing and doing-up

The country didn’t know what had hit it. It was suddenly wedged inside itself.

It was picked up and plugged by time, used as its own stopper. Every inch of the country was sealed along stretches of partly-interconnected indentations – not to be sniffed at. The inhabitants could no longer keep track of the boundaries between districts: the autumnal Eichsfeld landscape along the East-West border at the edge of the Thuringia lowlands was filled with dead cars, wiping out an indeterminate number of people, who didn’t however fall straight from the sky, instead oozing out of cracks and splits which had opened up everywhere. Layers of the atmosphere along many individuals’ horizons were suddenly indistinguishable from the hills, and began slipping down between them. The mainland on the Baltic ceased to be properly distinct from the sea. For three minutes in Hamburg, where one single St Nicholas’ Church had previously stood, two flickered against a turbulent sky, sunset red and midday blue at the same time. One church’s spire drilled down into the bad wartime memories of the other, and visa versa, without anything being damaged other than the brittle wits of a few fishwives who happened to be looking that way the moment the unimaginable took place. A large Monday with camels dumped a load of rivers and halved losses replete with gossipy singularities on the beach at Warnemünde, while the rolling hills of Saarland were dotted with fur-free patches running into each other, grey, giving a couple of bank holidays grief along the way, which, with an evil hiss, allowed themselves to be abolished. Myriad sense-defying insanities gushed out of the toilet drain of Paderborn’s Heinz Nixdorf Museum straight into the past – into Friedrich Nietzsche’s brain in fact. The Mecklenburg mountains were shifted thirteen centimetres to the left and then, as if the whole madness had changed its mind, flipped back into their original position, with ghastly consequences for thousands of frogs. In the havoc and wreckage around a third of the population of all major cities came to a sticky – or twisted, tangled, dangling and distended – end.

So-called foreigners, people who according to the obscure, tribal blood-laws did not belong, and who had always been embedded in a different space-time specificity and another dream-orientation from that of the local race, did not survive the events: the Swiss slid down walls like spilt milk; Afghans went up in tiny spirals of smoke; the Chinese and Taiwanese expired with a empty echo; Italians who had lived there for twenty years and Turks born in Düsseldorf forfeited every molecule of water in their bodies and sank in a fine dust to the ground. With a sound like ‘sarra’, a current blew damson-blue through doubly dubious time. Twelve intelligent octopuses, employed as bus and train drivers in 2036, fell out of the truncated future into Cologne cathedral, where they were battered to death with clubs and stones by a horde of Neanderthals. After a period of thirty Planck units the country, now rejigged and stoppered inside itself, rearranged itself, from north to south and from east to west.

Minor irregularities were observed: Hamburg’s dry docks protruded briefly from the Wiesental valley in South Baden; the Oktoberfest slid screaming down the Zugspitze peak and Bonn University fell into Lake Constance. After twelve further Planck units most of these aberrations were subsumed by the suddenly prevailing de-coherence effects and settled at the lowest attainable level of energy.

Vaults split wide, palaces in flames, creation halted, life without continuum, the turds doing turns, shattered secrets, God bleached, exuberance of the food of all wrongness.

The devil’s arse was sore, so much had shot out at once.
A dog barked.

Excerpted from Deutschland macht dicht by Dietmar Dath.

Call Me Servant

Author: Milena Oda
Translator: Steph Morris

Part I: My Name Is Servant

My name is servant.
And I request you to address me as such; I am Servant and am called Servant. An individual does not, as people imagine, require a first and second name. My name is Servant. When people persist in asking ‘what are your first and second names?’ I turn away and refuse to listen. The gentlefolk claim not to comprehend me? How else should servants indicate their servitude? They are astonished, shake their heads, stare at me and still will not understand. ‘I cannot assist you with an answer sir.’ They ask me again, trying to unnerve me. ‘Your name is Steven Servant?’ No, my name is Servant. I have no answer to questions such as ‘Why do you call yourself Servant?’ It pains me that I must hear words such as ‘unfortunate’ and ‘pitiable’, must continually point out my vocation. You do not see a Servant? You have not noticed my resplendent livery? People rely on patterns, and if they are missing, the world dims around them. Servant is neither a Christian- nor a surname; my name might have been Footman, Valet or Right Hand Man. I could also be called Aide, Adjunct, Attendant or Lackey, but no word better describes my character, always ready to serve, than Servant. I have always been the quiet accompaniment to the loud melody: chestnut seller, newspaper deliverer, keeper at the military museum, porter, doorman. I began as a lackey and I wish to finish as one.

I am enthralled by subordinance, its self-effacing constraints. My sense of self is insufficient (a servant’s sense of self) and I cannot and will not live in liberty. Independence is unbearable to me. I shy away from freedom and free time. I panic when I don’t know what I have to do. I can only do what is required of me. I seek release from the burden of individuality and willingly put myself on a lead. I want to be available to my master day and night like an object, for the master is incapable of basic tasks and only the Servant can fulfil them for him, only he wants to. The Servant is air, his master’s air, who needs it to breathe. Only a good master knows how to treat the servant; if you wish to show your Servant consideration you must allow him to sense your superiority and you must never release him from your sphere of influence.

I am always dressed in my livery (except during my morning and evening ablutions) so I believe there is no reason (any more) to call me Leonard. I require a lengthy pause for breath when I hear the word ‘Leonard’ or must speak it. If I deliberately call myself Leonard, it means I wish to leave a long, deep scar in my body. I have to leave something there, someone indeed, who I wish to be… so I am disparaging about myself. There really is no-one left to whom I am Leonard. And certainly not when I face people in my livery. I stand before him in my livery and call him, ‘my master’! He knows full well what it means – to me – to wait patiently by someone with the obedient composure of a servant.

I advocate traditional serving values. I am the embodiment of a court attendant’s courtesy. The searching gaze of my wide-spaced eyes betrays my innate servility. ‘Alongside your utter obsequiousness there’s also a certain honesty to your plucky little cross-eyed face,’ the mother used to tease me. My eyes are wet and bulbous, and I have ‘water on the brain’ with a broad forehead and protruding ears. She called me ‘my baboon’. I have large ears – an unmistakable sign of a congenital developmental disorder. My colourless hair points to a serious degeneracy. Nature made me ugly. When I open my mouth I reveal a cleft between my two front teeth. I think of this repugnant gap every time I have to speak; I would rather use sign language. I stutter over the simplest greetings. Uttering even a brisk ‘Good morning’ is difficult. I have no desire to wish anyone except my master a good day or a good evening. It is required of the Servant that he exchange words only with his master. Forcing me to speak has a crushing effect. My stutter consciously restrains me from contact. I maintain distance from anyone not interested in me as a Servant. I like to serve in company where I can genuinely be of service. I deploy every resource of my soul to uphold my servant psyche.

In the morning I look in the tiny mirror with one eye closed, in order not to see more than my chin and jaw while shaving. Leonard never looks in the large mirror when he is naked. Only the naked man is called Leonard. How inept this Leonard is. I abhor Leonard’s degenerate masculinity. A hideous individual. I am overcome by a ghastly angst if forced to see myself without my livery. I detest the asymmetry of my body. It is ten years since I last saw my deformed frame exposed in a mirror. This grotesque sight causes me pain and embarrassment. When I see myself naked, I beat and tear and hate myself. Leonard’s ugly physicality is a mixture of the ridiculous and the merciless; nature made a joke at his expense when she begat him. How damned similar he is to a poor cripple in every detail of his own wounded, malformed appearance! How disgusting to be like such people! I am precisely like them. A vile hound. Naked and debased, Leonard barks helpless on his lead.

If I put on my finest livery and pull on the exquisite white silken gloves, the bland individual Leonard becomes a snappy, dapper Servant. Then I stand in front of the tall mirror and admire the allure of the attractive Servant before me. What release: an unleashed dog’s euphoric cry! The moment each morning when I see myself in the delightful livery is a vision of style, a feeling of joy. I begin my service with renewed courage and resolve.

And I do not answer the question, ‘why do you wear your livery outside of your working hours?’ I remain silent in line with Rule 8. I, the Servant, wear livery day and night, and this livery is my skin, my ego. The livery allows me to call myself I, raises my status. It is the highest honour to wear the livery constantly, and to be clothed in it in the presence of a master. This is dictated by the most important rule, Rule 1.


Part III: At the King’s Court

Not yet an English palace, but a master requiring ‘assistance for scientific purposes’. I repeat the requirement, the precise nature of which remains unclear. How strange it is to travel across the city. For the last fifteen years I have barely left my street. My environment has consisted of the four roads surrounding the house I live in, the daily walk in my sortie-livery sufficing.

The journey through the city makes me alert. I stand taut in the bus; I neither talk to anybody, nor gaze inquiringly at anyone. I do not have the strength for strangers’ gazes. My legs give way, my long body buckles, out of my control.
Along the streets, my pace breathless. The people are loud. Following the pavements, lost in the traffic, saved by a friendly gentleman – he could easily be my master. I walk fast down a narrow alley. Fear of the unknown. I see myself as a fearful person, although I have long waited for this unique moment. I must be free of any doubt. Dazed by the journey, I hear the noise of the streets in my gut. There is the house. At last! I stand at my new master’s front door. How long I have waited for this moment! I hear myself ring the bell. I am not told his name. I address him for now as ‘sir’. He will soon reveal the title the humble one is to use when speaking to him.

Half past four on the dot, you’ve managed it. Pull yourself together Servant. Were I not now here at the door, I would be arranging the four-thirty tea-time ceremony, would be taking delight in serving my good master Earl Grey in green china cups with fruit scones. I long for these strong, static, aristocratic traditions; to be one of the finest servants around.


‘Enter!’ A man’s voice calls from behind the door, a voice leading me to expect something noble. How pleasant it is to hear the command ‘Enter!’ – a foretaste of ritual and of a real master! It is a good start.

I step inside. Through the dark passage straight into a bright living room. A small, rotund man with a square skull and a wide, round face sits in a wingback chair by an open window in the huge room – he reminds me of a Swedish bulldog. His sallow, unresting, green eyes observe me earnestly, curling eyebrows arching up as if the man were forced to endure acute pain. His small, open mouth breathes loudly and with effort, and his eyes reveal exhaustion and inertia. Is this the master? I check my posture and my standpoint.

Then the sight of his living room – such chaos! Everything in a mess. I understand now; I have been summoned on account of this disorganisation. He needs a fastidious assistant such as myself. With my acute sense of structure I will create impeccable order amongst his books and papers, make every intractable corner beautiful; I cannot abide negligence.
He heaves himself up from the armchair and cries out, ‘Bohumil, how tall are you? I need to know precisely. Detailed knowledge is my business. I approach data and facts meticulously. Do you know the exact length of your limbs?’

‘Of course, sir.’ I bow in compliance. ‘I am 1 metre 97 tall, my arms are 1 metre and 3 centimetres, my torso is 97.3 centimetres long, my legs 99.5, my feet 33.4. Should I continue?’

‘Highly interesting personal details. Every determinable number relating to your person is of great interest to me. My research field is man and the world as a mathematical figure! You understand what I am saying?’

A pause. He is waiting for my ‘yes’. I am silent. I will not pronounce a ‘no’.

‘You do not I see. It is most simply defined. It is a mathematical – algebraic – discipline! I collect numbers, sums, amounts. I am a well-known number collector. The series of numbers on my sheets is like a series of fine, sunny days. The figures radiate, golden in the sun. The fine weather holds out for as long as I sun myself in it. Continue.’

‘Right thigh 84.4 cm long with a circumference of 68.3, left thigh 86.2 cm and 72.1 cm, right hand 34.3 cm long, 1.4 longer than the left. The right thumb is 15 cm… I know the size of every part of my body by heart, thanks to my bespoke liveries.’

‘Yes, indeed. Discoveries learned through practical application. Brilliant! It is truly a wonder that you know all this. You too are stalked by facts expressed as sums Bohumil? Yes?’

I nod. Why is he calling me Bohumil? Why has he still not asked my name? Call me Servant! I have uttered my heart’s desire 11,638 times.

‘Astonishing! Extraordinary! A kind of aura!’ He offers me a coffee and asks me to sit by him.

The servant cannot – he will not – sit down. He does not consider expressing this inappropriate wish.

‘I would rather stand, thank you. I can answer better.’ (Rule 2.) At the same time I maintain a pleasant, calm expression.

He takes a deep breath, opens his mouth wide and continues to speak. ‘Numbers are ticking everywhere. They are continuous, like a clock or like the stars in the cosmos. Like a butterfly escaping its chrysalis, I cast off the earthly using numbers. Through figures our world becomes more intelligible, more wonderful. Mathematics can indeed exist without mathematicians. Did you imagine I was a mathematician? No, I am a professor of linguistics! Do you speak Czech?’

‘No!’ I force the ‘no’ out. I would love to soar above every question and not hear them, not answer any question I do not know.

‘No matter. There is a wealth of ignorance; one must simply acknowledge it, as Montaigne said. Do you know Montaigne? The third volume is on the second shelf above you.’

Hopefully I will soon understand every word he says. I concentrate solely on the words the stupid one knows, without inquiring as to their significance. They need only provide a mirror to my servile existence; the simple one needs nothing more. I bow respectfully.

He fixes his eyes on my obedient posture: feet adjacent and parallel, legs pressed together, hands aligned to the trouser seam, arms clamped to the body like a grenadier! A serious expression, mouth closed, head held still, eyes like a Great Dane, determined to be the best possible manservant. Now he is noticing how attractive my livery is – or is it my exceptional size which interests him?

‘What is the matter, Bohumil? You are shaking and shuddering. And why are you standing so stiffly by the door?’

‘I am waiting, sir.’

‘What? What for? Do come closer. Come here. Do you want to be a member of my mathematical club, my right hand? Anyone applying for a position here today must reckon to undergo a personality text. This does not involve determining professional abilities; the test provides information on the very personal strengths and weaknesses of the applicants.’

‘Yes,’ I answer immediately, going red. The servant may not redden however, as dogs do not do this either (Rule 11).

‘Seeing is all, Hebbel said, and you will see too. Look at all my books, newspaper cutting and papers: 3,456 periodicals, 12,567 newspaper cuttings and 7,233 books. My search does not just follow any old system! The planets have their system, as Giordano Bruno showed. And the heavens have a theory too; see Kant. I file articles, books and periodicals strictly according to the system “used and unused”, adhering to a scrupulous discipline: used on the right, unused on the left! It makes sense to categorise the people out there in this way too – as I see them, count them and asses them. I sort them into orderly and disorderly. The sum total: 5,789 disorderly and 3,123 orderly people observed within a period of five years. 5,789: how many disorderly people the world contains! My retreat into passivity and anonymity has truly been the best solution. I was confronted with this disorder too often and experience has proved the best teacher of all, as Caesar said.’

My face falls, white as chalk. I do not understand him.

‘Before you arrived here, at 16:15, I saw 28 people pass by, of which 16 were unknown to me, 12 were faces already familiar. At 8:15 on the other hand, nine were standing in the bakery, three at the newspaper stand and four were drinking coffee in front of the bakery. With binoculars one sees this clearly. I am interested in the question, “How many?” The precise number – no stories, no chit-chat; the subject under discussion is the figures! I explore a kingdom of numbers, using the traditional method – I count. Counting is a natural human activity like eating and excreting. I transform each word, each bird, each object into numbers. I dissect everything into numerals. In my opinion I thus confer a higher significance on everyday objects, as did Pierre de Fermat, Isaac Newton and C F Gauß. My greatest desire is simply to arithmetise the world around me each day. I want to make a breakthrough. I am converting everything into a system of numbers. This is more than a stamp collection or an insect collection, yes, soon I must cease this; a counting voice – no it is my voice counting – pursues me constantly, day and night! That is why you are here Bohumil. You are to save me from decline. You will note the numbers down from time to time, but you must also protect me from the sickly attacks of arithmetic mania!’

He sobs. I do not know what I should do. I stand, awkwardly. Should I offer him a handkerchief? That would be a sensitive sign of concern for the suffering of my master.

‘How romantic mathematical structures feel! The daily contemplation of quantities – Highly romantic! A continuum from linguistic poetry into the poetry of numbers. As Einstein said, the numbers offer so much space for intuition, we must simply allow the speechless connections and collisions and their sparks to shine like the midday sun. In thinking, speaking and writing, numbers repeatedly appear; Gödel demonstrated this. And according to Wittgenstein thought must not accompany activity.’

I struggle with every word this gentleman says.


‘He who eats beans is a loner who likes to live cloistered and rarely achieves contact with other people. The Japanese nutritionalist Dr Kaichin Kurichama has pioneered a new branch of scientific enquiry: fruit and vegetable psychology. By analysing the various elements found in species of fruit and vegetables they eat he can sort the character and talents of the person into solitude and togetherness. He uses the most rigorous academic methods in his work, he wrote to me. What talents do you have? Bohumil, don’t look so astounded. Your incredulous face! It is by no means unusual. You will see how much I like to eat beans and what effects they have. One farts – yes it’s true. Willhelmina has complained and no longer wishes to cook beans – as if farting were inhuman. Do you eat beans? What do you eat?’

‘Lentils,’ I answer quickly.

‘Lentils? Then you too fart, and by the way you are too withdrawn – above all when it comes to the female sex – no wonder. He who eats beans and lentils must withdraw… Or are you suffering, are you afraid? What of? Bohumil! But I love to eat lentils too. My best friend ate cucumbers every day with a passion and was a thoroughly gregarious person. He made friends rapidly and was liked by all, a genuine dandy! He also found it hard to say ‘no’. All thanks to the cucumbers. Successful with money, blind in love – because I like peanuts. I hide my sensitivity behind a rough hull, in horror of sentimentality. All because of cherries, which I consume with a passion. According to Kurichama that makes me intolerant, very intolerant. Is that not the case? Of course it is. I am after all a professor. A distinguished person. Do you like cherries and peanuts too?’

I simply nod again.

‘On the very first day we have discovered so many things we have in common! My Bohumil. My visionary, my poet and writer. Amor dei intellectualis!’

Why does he continually call me Bo-hu-mil? What kind of name is that? He calls me a poet and writer? Me? He must be mistaking me for someone else!

‘Your rigid head, your cramped eyebrows and lips are swollen. Are you in pain? Like me, no doubt exactly like me!’

Why does he not ask after my particulars, instead of playing a game I don’t understand with me? As a servant however, I must understand everything, immediately, without asking myself what sense the master’s questions, commands or behaviour make. As a servant I may not ask ‘why’ (Rule 6). My rules radiate through my head like a ray of sunlight guiding me. To keep on your toes is the trick.

‘Bohumil, how tired I am, always having to look for someone and ask if he can count, or if he wants to learn a foreign language. The greatest artists can do both and that is us! For my research it is necessary to be an artist of life. To comprehend the celestial bodies each night and determine the results arithmetically, with intelligence and aptitude. Do you understand me? Yes or no? Here lies our illusion.’

‘Yes sir.’ I offer my master my ‘yes’, accompanied by a gentle bow.

I participate in the conversation with renewed strength. Even the servant must resort to wiles to please his master, without necessarily himself finding pleasure in the conversation. My reverence for my master is genuine however. I am making assumptions about what he is discussing, taking the risk I may be misunderstanding him. Then my master might penalise me in accordance with Rule 4, banish me to the punishment corner. Through inexperience I am placed in a very awkward situation. I ask myself how this will end. I make sure not to adopt a questioning grimace; my acquired calm can easily abandon me when I have to suffer an ordeal. The fight inside me is exacerbated by my inadequate intelligence. But I repeat Rule 6 to myself: the servant must not think or reflect; he simply carries out instructions which have already become habit, in every minute variation. I retain the firm belief that I have not practiced all these years in vain. I will not add bitterness to the pain of rejection.

‘I can no longer bear it. The numbers are destroying me! They are robbing me of my health. Too many numbers jostling all around me! I have a burning desire to end this endlessness. I hereby announce: the end! Bohumil I wish to call stop, to achieve it with your help … I am exhausted. I am on my last legs. What luck that you are here now and are breathing the same air as me – sometimes it is stuffy. We will make it fresh again!’ He looks fevered. His despondent face crumples and his mouth sticks out. ‘Now it really has to end, a definite end. I wish to be the opposite of Pi. I long for an end.’ His body shivers, he tumbles and I leap towards him and hold his heavy body in my arms. ‘I beg you, such a highly adorned servant as yourself must surely be the best assistant for my scientific purposes. We will experience a great deal together. Stay Bohumil. I need you. Have you noticed, I have given you a truly honourable name. Do you know this, my poet and actor?’

He is pleased to own the Servant? I can belong to a master? He calls me ‘Servant’! I can hardly believe it. Now I stagger too – has he recognised the Servant? Is it really true, or is he deceiving me in his fever? Only the strange name I find hard to take.

‘Your devotion and passion makes you interesting. Very important in a poet!’

In me? I answer him: ‘Thank you, sir!’ I bow modestly, barely moving from my obedient position. It is really true. I take these words of honour on board. I bow deeper, much deeper than Rule 2 dictates. Can I possibly be this happy?!

‘You are my stroke of luck Bohumil.’

‘My dear, dear master, I thank you, but do not anger yourself over your most respectful, ugly Servant. I am wretched, that is the truth, but no doubt you can fathom the servant’s soul standing before you in his livery. Rest assured, as a devoted servant I will always keep a watchful eye on my master, who must always be certain that I am here for your highness.’ I congratulate myself on these fluid sentences. I am proud of myself!

‘No problem, Bohumil. You are a true poet and actor. You are an extraordinary person. I am delighted that you wish to stay. Do you wish to stay, my amor dei intellectualis?’

I find it hard to open my mouth, but I blurt out, ‘Yes, my King!’


From Ich heiße Diener © Milena Oda
Translation © Steph Morris

A longer translation sample can be found here.

it is

Author: Carl-Christian Elze
Translator: Steph Morris

maybe this is it: a third twist, a third force
resting amongst the body’s many bulges, the lobes of lungs,
a third cataract, the blood curled tighter; blood
flows faster here, falls further there, where things are good

the stillest lakes are found far flung
and not all animals look as they look in the books
and the banks can be green, can be steep, your axe meets
something soft, you find redness-deadness when you dive.

it’s not said it’s so; it’s simply said;
it’s certainly said, it is, it’s hazarded
it is; it’s hazarded, finally said and finally final!

stop it now! who said that? who’s grating?
stand up straight, who said that? who’s aggravating?
so, good, it’s the blood, is it? is it me, me finally?


Original © Carl-Christian Elze
Translation © Steph Morris


Author: Volker Sielaff
Translator: Steph Morris


A village lad, I grew up with flies, with their
Humming. Some time or other they just fell
Down past the tiny glass panes, and no-one ever wanted

To brush them away; they lay there for days,
Their legs lifeless, left dangling from a bloodless body
Which could no longer hold them,

Caught in the rainwater ridge on the toilet window ledge,
Where they glistened a good while longer, sated leaden blue or
Sulphurous yellow, while the others’ wing-music

Carried on cheerfully … as they did today, between the cherry tree
And the sky, at around half the tree’s height,
While opinions were passed round, and I switched off,

From this sluggish afternoon, coffee and cakes,
My eyes turning to the darting up and diving down,
As if they were all tied to an invisible thread,

Here under this blueness which has nothing more to say
A swarm of flies weaving its clear web
Through the summer air.


Original © Volker Sielaff
Translation © Steph Morris

Of Nappies, Worms, and the German Having-Kids Championship

Author: Volker Röhlich
Translator: Steph Morris


[Excerpted from The Stumbler (Der Stolperer)]

The lady with the beehive hairdo was kind of like a relative.
Pretty soon after the first time I met her, on that very cold day the November before, I met her again. In the sand pit; and now it was early summer. The lady with the beehive had a name; and my mum told me it. Her name was Auntie Lizbeth, and I was supposed to call her that. Only she wasn’t really my Auntie; just a neighbour, my mum said. So in the sand pit she suddenly talked to me, because I kept kissing Bertie. Bertie was a boy my age from the next block. Really Bertie was my first best friend. Bertie had a lovely face and golden hair. When the sun shone on his hair it glowed, and then when he smiled as well I always wanted to kiss him. And I did, every time. And Bertie liked it; well he never told me not to kiss him.

Anyway, she came up to us.
It was only me she talked to; she said I couldn’t kiss Bertie all the time. “Boys shouldn’t kiss other boys”, she told me. “Boys can only kiss girls,” she went on to explain, “but never other boys.”
“But I can kiss Bertie,” I said to her.
And I showed her one more time; I gave Bertie a quick kiss. Seeing as he was sitting right next to me in the sand pit.
“Look, Auntie Lizbeth, I can kiss Bertie.” Bertie laughed. Suddenly she held both my little hands and looked me in the face very seriously. She said that boys were not allowed to kiss boys and I had to stop it right now; it was for the best. She made me scared; she looked so strict.
She must have had a word with my mum. Because my mum said something to me that night, over tea. My mum told me too that I couldn’t kiss Bertie any more. She said too that boys couldn’t kiss other boys; that boys could only kiss girls, and never other boys, because that was what was right; not the other way. I didn’t quite understand, somehow, because I really, really liked Bertie, and he really, really liked me. Anyway I was not supposed to kiss Bertie any more, and I didn’t, not any more. But I still wanted to, all the time, specially when the sun shone.

I was also the kind of boy who wanted to be like his dad, and stumble. I started to stumble about wherever I could.
I stumbled in every room in the flat. I stumbled on the street and on the pavement. I stumbled down long hallways. I stumbled in precincts. I stumbled in gardens and in fields. I stumbled in corner shops and department stores. I stumbled at the hospital. I stumbled at the zoo, at the swimming pool and by the pond. Twice I even stumbled in church. The old people there stared at me very sternly. I stumbled just like all the other kids my age really.
I stumbled over bumps and dips; I stumbled over edges and ridges.
I stumbled up stairs and down stairs. I stumbled over wrinkled carpets and wooden floor-boards, when they poked up slightly.
I stumbled over tree roots growing back out of the ground. I stumbled over stones lying on paths. I stumbled on my own and holding my mum’s hand. You could do a bit of stumbling anywhere, any time. When I couldn’t find anything else to stumble over, I stumbled over my own feet.

The bigger kids were always stumbling deliberately in the sand-pit; over the sandcastles and sand-cakes us little ones had built, and they always laughed about it. The sand-pit was right between the three blocks of flats on our estate; in the middle of a big patch of short grass. There was a high metal slide, which led into the sand-pit, and a little bit away from the slide was a much larger climbing frame, with a roof on it, all made of metal. And there were three wooden benches, for the mums; somewhere nice to sit while they minded their kids while they were playing. There were also mums who liked to mind their kids from the windows of their flats. And there were other mums who didn’t mind their kids at all, but the other women, the ones sitting on the benches, minded their kids for them too. One person who was always minding the kids was the woman with the beehive, Auntie Lizbeth, because she didn’t have any kids of her own, and that must be why she liked looking after all the other kids.

Anyway, as well as stumbling I was getting very interested in differences. From our living-room window you could see the other people’s little houses, over the road from our estate, straight across from us; other people not in blocks of flats; in little houses.
The little houses actually belonged to the other people themselves, the front gardens too, and the garages which came with them, all belonged to the people over the road. The block didn’t belong to us; and the flat didn’t either. The blocks didn’t have garages. And our flat had a special name; it was called a social flat. The others were also called that, social flats, and none of them belonged to the people living in them. That’s the way it was; my mum explained it to me. But I didn’t know why, because I couldn’t understand the word ‘social’. My mum couldn’t explain it to me; it was still too hard for me to understand what social was.

All the little houses were painted a different colour. But all our three blocks of flats were painted the same colour; brown. And every front garden outside each little house was different from the next. All the front gardens were fenced off differently, with little walls or bushy hedges or wire fences. And they were all full of nice plants; there were even garden gnomes standing in some of them. One family had even dug themselves a pond, and there were real fishes in it, and there were loads of gnomes standing round it. One gnome really was always doing a wee-wee in the pond, the whole time, without stopping.
In front of our block, same as on the big patch behind, there was just short grass, but each of the little houses also had a much bigger back garden that went with them.
I heard that from the kids who sometimes came over to our sandpit. And in the back gardens the people planted things to eat, generally fruit and vegetables; all kinds of things, even cherries and strawberries and other fruits, and other vegetables as well; potatoes and cauliflower, radishes, onions and celery.
There was only dandelions growing on our patch of grass.
Only rabbits could eat dandelions, and the only person with rabbits was the old man. He came from time to time with a sack and chopped off the dandelions. Then he stuffed them into the sack and took them off to his rabbits, who ate them all up.

At the weekends the people from the little houses washed their cars in front of their garages.
Dads and sons generally; they got the cars all soapy then sprayed them with water.
I often watched it from our living-room window. But I could see more than that, because the people sometimes left their doors open.
Furniture, wardrobes, mirrors and pictures, proper painted pictures in gold frames, and flowers in big pots. Even better, late afternoons you could see into the little houses and watch the people. When it got dark they switched the lights on in their rooms, and only pulled the curtains across their windows later. So you could see really well into the rooms, see their furniture, old cupboards made of real wood with carvings on them.
And nice chairs with turned legs, and more pictures on the walls:
Proper hand-painted ones in gold frames; and books on shelves, lots of books.
Loads of books.
If I climbed up onto our window sill I could even make out the carpets in the rooms; real carpets, oriental ones. And the patterns on the carpets were ornamentations; my mum explained that to me once. And sofas and armchairs made of real leather, which the housewives polished till it shone.

Our furniture was totally different.
No pictures on the walls. We didn’t have any books, except my dad’s wild-west stories, which didn’t have pictures. My dad had a few of those, not very many. They sat in the dresser in the living-room, a unit made of fake wood.
That meant not proper wood; dark brown veneer; ‘antique walnut’ was its full name.
There were no proper carpets with pretty ornamentations in our flat. We had wall-to-wall mottled brown and grey carpet; its name was ‘acrylic’, and it wasn’t oriental; it was made in a factory. But our sofa and our armchair were made of leather; brown fake leather. My mum didn’t need to polish it; it stayed shiny anyway, for ever. In our kitchen there was another cupboard, which wasn’t made of proper wood either. But this was called something different to the one in the living-room; the one in the kitchen was called ‘formica’.
And our chair legs were not turned.
That was impossible, because they were made of steel rods, and you can’t do turning on steel rods.

Really my mum had a baby every year. Except one year, then she had two at once; girls; twins. So I thought perhaps we could become the German champions, because of the song on the radio, which went, “A baby a year. A baby a year. Till we’re the German champions here!” So I wanted to know if we were the German champions, so I asked my mum. She laughed and said no, and said that the Stroller family could well be the German champions. They lived in a different block from us. The Strollers had nine kids, but we only had five at the time; five kids, including two little twin girls.
The Stroller family didn’t have any twins. So I decided that from now on all my mum had to do was only have twins, and then in a few years we might be the German Champions, seeing as the Strollers obviously couldn’t get twins. My mum just laughed at this, and then she said it again; that I really was a daft little lad, and laughed while she said it; like she often did: said that, then laughed.

There were loads more nappies at this time, when we were getting to be loads more kids. Loads of nappies hanging on the line: white cotton nappies. Square nappies and longish nappies; they got filled with pee, filled with poo, and washed; in three buckets. Which stood in our bathroom under the sink. The nappies landed there in the buckets to be soaked. Dropped in soapy water in the first bucket to loosen the worst, then rinsed in the other buckets before they got washed. Rinsed by hand, by my mum, with her bare hands.
We all peed in bed, all the kids; often, very often; for ages; in bed or in our nappies, the bigger ones of us in the bed and the little ones in their nappies. There was my brother, one year older than me, who only sometimes wet the bed; then there was me, and I still wet the bed pretty often. Then came my oldest sister, but she was one year younger, and she wet the bed nearly every night. Last of all, at least for now, there was just my little twin sisters, and they peed in their nappies, every day, several times in fact; for ages. My mum had loads of washing to do.
Nappies and sheets; every day she was busy with the buckets in the bathroom; every day she rinsed the worst out of the nappies first. She rinsed the sheets roughly by hand in the bathtub before they went in the wash.

Anyway, the three-part mattresses, with the head-rest which belonged to them, were generally soggy from all the bed-wetting. So my mum took the mattresses out of the large, old, dark brown half of a double bed every day and stood them upright against the wall, to dry out. My mum and dad slept in the other half of the large, old, dark brown double bed. And this other half of the large, old, dark brown double bed was in my mum and dad’s bedroom.
Anyway we played with our mattresses too.
Once they had dried out we built a house out of them; a playhouse.
And in the evenings just before us kids were supposed to go to bed, my mum fitted the mattress back into the bed. That night too, she had fitted the mattress back into the bed as usual and put all of us kids to bed like she always did.
Then she turned out the light, like she did every evening. But we switched the light back on again.
We couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to, so we decided to play a bit longer instead. My mum looked in on us a few times through the evening though, and each time she switched the light back off.

One of us always switched it back on though.
And we carried on playing. The playing often got rough, very noisy and rough. Then my dad came in and told us off, loudly. Sometimes, often really, he’d be stumbling slowly towards us while he told us off, trying hard not to drop his bottle at the same time. Sometimes he sat with us on the edge of the bed and drank out of his bottle. He was generally cheery and funny then, but not always. Sometimes he wasn’t in a good mood, when he drank from his bottle on the edge of our bed. When he wasn’t in a good mood it upset my mum. She got suddenly nervous, and was angry that my dad was sitting on the edge of our bed, drinking out of his bottle; that he was in a bad mood and that he was complaining a lot. He either complained about us kids or about other people, like neighbours or workmates. Sometimes there was no end to it.
That must be why my mum got angry, because she kept telling him to let us kids go to sleep at last. But my dad took no notice.
He only went off again once he felt like it. That evening my dad had already taken himself off a while ago, to my mum and dad’s bedroom. And us kids were playing as usual in our bed. The bed was really good for jumping on, because of the metal springs in the frame, further down, under the mattress. We really liked playing circus, and we pretended we were performing trampoline tricks. Obviously we pretended we had an audience too, watching our show with bated breath as we jumped up and down, and turned pirouettes and even somersaults. In the circus this was called ‘acrobatics’, but we’d only ever seen the circus on the TV.

I can’t remember which one of us was jumping when we heard the sound; like something tearing, like cloth tearing. Suddenly there was this dip under the sheet; you could see it clearly, a sudden hollow which couldn’t just have come from three of us, or even five, just sleeping cuddled closely together on the bed.
One of us lifted the sheet up. And then the screams began. Screams coming from us, all of us. All of us at the same time, and all of us very loud.
We had to scream, in the middle of the night, all at the same time, because we could see them; we could all see them, all of us and all at the same time we started screaming in the middle of the night because of them. We looked at what was under the sheet and kept screaming.
With every second our screams got louder. We all had to scream loud, and we all started crying, all of us, all at the same time, loudly and bitterly. Because we could all see them, very clearly; the maggots, all the maggots. The mattress had split. The dip was actually a hole, and this hole was filled with maggots; hundreds of maggots. Long and white, squirming about in the hole, flicking restlessly this way and that, squirming over the ragged edge of the hole, which stank too, because the straw was mouldy. We screamed even louder, and bawled, bitterly and loudly.
We stared at each other, at all our brothers and sisters. Stared into the horrified, screaming faces of the others, and looked just as horrified ourselves, and screamed just as much. We couldn’t stop it.
And the maggots, which looked more like worms they were so big, started creeping over the ragged edges of the hole in the mattress and spreading across the area around. That made us scream even louder and my mum and dad burst into the room at last; my dad first, my mum right behind him. Their faces were already horrified when they entered the room.
It must have been because of our screams. My dad was furious, without knowing exactly what was going on. My mum was worried; she wanted to know exactly what was going on.

No-one had to say anything. They could see for themselves straight away; the hole in the middle of the mattress. And they could see the maggots for themselves; the way they squirmed and turned, side to side, this way and that.
‘You deal with it’, my dad said to my mum. And walked off.
Went back to their bedroom.
My mum… was horrified, wanted to scream, wanted to cry, wanted to despair, wanted to give up.
And didn’t give up, and didn’t despair, and didn’t cry, and didn’t scream either.
Instead she ran into the kitchen and rushed back with newspapers in her hands. First of all she tried to calm us kids down, because it was late in the evening really. She managed to get us just to sob for a while, since we still couldn’t stop being horrified.
Then she unfolded a sheet of newspaper, held it in both hands and reached into the hole, right inside the mattress. She reached in and grabbed a clump of maggots with both hands. Then she turned the paper over and crunched it up quickly. Now she was holding a paper ball in her hands, full of maggots.
Holding the ball, she ran quickly back into the kitchen and threw it in the stove. She had to keep on doing this, and the whole while we were sobbing; it turned into endless sobbing, because we really couldn’t stop it.
My mum burnt all the maggots in the stove, in big balls of newspaper.
Finally she managed to burn all the maggots, and afterwards she did her best to make it clear to us she had burnt them all . By now our sobbing had simmered down to light whimpering, endless whimpering of course.
She led us up to the hole so we could take a look into it ourselves. But there were still one or two maggots in there. She got them out too; she picked them out with her fingers and wrapped them straight up in newspaper, which she quickly put in the stove.

While she filled the hole in the mattress, to which end she took some towels and stuffed them in it, she tried to help us understand how it could have happened.
She told us about the flies, which sometimes flew over the mattresses while they were leaning against the wall to dry. The flies flitted around in the sunlight on the mattresses and while they were flying they hid their eggs. In the mattress, where the hole was now, the flies had hidden their eggs, which is where the maggots came from; all the maggots came from all the tiny eggs, which came from the flies.
Now our whimpering had changed again, while my mum was talking. Now it was just shuddering, endless shuddering, where your lips quiver, quiver and quiver, and you can’t make it stop, as if you are really freezing, which we weren’t.
Finally my mum pulled the torn cloth on top of the mattress together and smoothed the sheet back over it. And she said that we could lie down again now, but none of us wanted to, and it made the trembling turn straight back into whimpering, endless whimpering of course, which didn’t last long before turning back into loud screams again, from all five of us kids. Endless screams.

I was in between five and six years old then. I was always exactly as old as my mum had kids. And her round tummy was saying loud and clear that I would soon be six years old.
What could you do?
We had to get back into the bed to sleep. Where else were we supposed to sleep? There was only this bed for us kids.
Somehow my mum managed to get us back into the bed, all of us. We were allowed to keep the light on, all night. Somehow she also managed to get us not to talk about it, not with anyone, ever.
My dad didn’t do anything. But two weeks later he got new mattresses.

I never knew where from.


Original © Volker Röhlich
Translation © Steph Morris

The Bengali Pianist

Author: Mike Pickert
Translator: Steph Morris

(Excerpt from Chapter 6)

Cornelius lives

… I remember the former Prussian art gallery where Cornelius is being exhibited on Wednesdays from twelve till four, from the time when leprous equestrian monuments lined its steps and blind, plaster-eyed, sandstone putti propped it up, autistically sensual. But today the gallery has been given an aesthetic cleansing and Cornelius is the only art on show.
Half naked, painted pallid white and trailed with blood by the make-up artists, he hovers, stretched between two steel cables, his legs spread above a sharply pointed stake and, mechanically raising and lowering his jaw, silently simulates an infernal shriek. At the foot of the artwork is an engraving; undulating sickle-shaped forms like thorns, etched with calligraphic correctness into a copper plate. The Egyptian artist delivers a reading to the bearded audience then pays Cornelius his fee in cash, allowing the spectators to count along with him. Finally dates, cereal pellets and stones rain down on Cornelius from on high before he leaves the stage wearing a streaked robe and a crown of NATO barbedwire.
“How was it?” I ask Cornelius once the performance is over. Still blinded by the lighting technician’s artistry, he rubs the floury make-up from his face and leans against the beheaded sculpture of a Germanic general.
“Same as usual,” he sighs. “Could have been worse. Once freed you can only fall. And on the way down the imagination has full rein.” He puts on his glasses and with them acquires his physician look, and the contortion returns to his face, knotted and perforated. His eyes turn in opposite directions, the whites gain optimum power and he holds his chest as if overcome. He seldom talks about the pain. His depths are delicate as paper.

After Cornelius’ performance we leave the building by a side door, to escape the banner-waving Koran students in front of the main entrance. They have pursued us more than once with telescopic truncheons and petrol canisters out to the estates at the city’s edge, right to the final bus stop at the rubbish incinerator, where the air tastes of beer-tents and heated scrap metal. We are not interested in a repeat performance and willingly seek out the periphery. We give the boot camp for replication criminals at the west end of the park a wide berth. Heads down, we pad like panthers along the unwatched metal fence, for two kilometres nothing but barracks and chain-link fences strewn with shreds of cloth, then we go our separate ways.
Cornelius still sometimes tells me what was important to him: “That someone was there, that someone whose judgement I trust sees that it’s really true. I would never be able to describe it afterwards like that,” he says.
But before he burrows any deeper – gets political, polemical, sentimental – I turn right, into the Boulevard of the Immigrants, in order to view the rear of my main client’s building from a distance, the Blumenstein Institute. There is a piece of wall from which you can see the research wing, beyond the moats and electric fences, and I climb onto a ledge and picture Dr Grimm, leader of the research department, and chief experimenter, who approached me a few weeks ago about a second kidney donation, and for whom I now shout, “you’ve already got my hands, what more do you want!?”

Through the park it’s barely five minutes’ walk to the retired tenor’s house. Here only my hearing is required, nothing more. Two armed guards in military mixed-salad green loiter in front of the portal. They examine my papers and pat me up and down. I lift the stumps of my arms over my head like baguettes. Shortly after, the housekeeper opens the ornate door cautiously, although not without exertion. In summer she lets me straight into the courtyard where the snowy-haired singer sits enthroned on his rattan bench, framed and delineated by climbing roses, close to the splattering fountain, a later addition, from the Wilhelmine era. Half an arm’s length from him, the fountain spouts out a cupola-shaped water mushroom, like the roof of a glassy synagogue, and the tenor cools one hand while the other conducts through the air like the neck of a retching swan.
At his nod I take a seat at the edge of the fountain and the tenor welcomes me with twitches at the corners of his mouth, and with sentences like “our ashes will be strewn in an aquarium” or “Sharia-Schmaria” or “tempus fugit” or “death lies in the guts”; all sentences which in reality are not said by him, but by my thoughts, thoughts in which there is only Cornelius.
He stands up and crosses the courtyard, his secluded reservation, while I, still under the spell of the blooming Moorish park I crossed to get here, think about how one winter Cornelius and I found a dead animal there on the football field,
… and how, utterly silent and bewildered, Cornelius began stamping on it, both feet at the same time, as if he wanted to get inside the stodgy body, emptied of breath,
… and how he stood next to it in his clumpy orthopaedic boots and bit at his nails while saliva ran down his chin in long threads, drawn out by the wind,
… and how I took him then to his flat, to what he called his “wallpapered concentration-camp,” where the rooms crackled from the cold, where the walls were hung over and over with aerial photos of derelict cities, the ceiling decorated with airplane debris,
… and how I perched on the sofa between crusty towels and magazines full of photos showing fat, sweating women, naked, dark and oily as if embalmed,
… and felt how with every breath I took, the walls around me tightened like a pneumatic tourniquet,
… and the looks swooped through the room like pigeons’ bodies, and every look went straight through the things, through the furniture, wallpaper and walls, through the aerial photos, and the naked and sweating women, past everything and through everything, till everything seen had been seen through and changed entirely, dissected simply through seeing,
… and I still know how the walls pressed relentless against me and I jumped up, restless, then sat down again, jumped compulsively up and fell down again,
… and that suddenly I could no longer sense myself, and felt as if I had no organs, light as gas, but still incapable of leaving,
… and that Cornelius started clearing out his fridge, as if remote-controlled, and tied up the salami, the meat, and the half-eaten burgers in see-through bags, where they smeared brown streaks like comet-tails across the polythene walls, while the room began to stink of innards and Cornelius spoke of unsustainable situations, of second cousins and second-degree frostbite, of gangrene from wounds and gangrene from frost, situations where disgust erupted abruptly, of disjointed visions and analogies which were never there, of diagnoses which no one other than him knew,
… And outside it began to snow; the flakes floated weightless through the frost, and Cornelius knelt next to the fridge and retched and spat emerald-green slaver into the vaporous depths of the freezing compartment,
… and I stared ahead, towards the window, towards the light, and saw the grinning x-ray images and tomogram exposures hanging outside the window, grimly veined celluloid where lumpy forms stretched into filaments; all the evidence, fluttering in the wind, which he had continually brought home back then, from tropical medicine clinics and casualty departments, from congresses and author-ities, from emergency operations, countless visits, anamneses leading to panic, everything financed via a plethora of credit scams …
… while Cornelius, hugging the plastic bags, suddenly sat right on the edge of his folding bed and swore to me, again and again, that he was totally incapable of describing temperatures objectively, of telling others whether it was warm or cold, saying to others, to strangers, “I’m boiling,” or “I’m freezing.”
“All temperatures make me nervous,” he said, and tore the clothes off his body with jerky, drag-queen gestures.
He placed the bag with the salami remains on his stomach, then drew it slowly up to his chest, where his ribs stretched like heating pipes through the glacial skin.
… And I shouted at him; “just stop it once and for all; I can’t take these constant mortality displays. You’re obsessed with this ridiculous self-loathing!”
But he began humming in a soprano-bright tone and pressed the salami bag against his forehead, his mouth open wide. I saw no teeth, only his brownish gums, while the polythene bubbled into blisters around his forehead,
… and I kept hammering away: “you have a place to live! Be thankful you have a roof over your head! What more do you want? A hospice-apartment is not a Jugendstil villa, but it’s better than nothing” …
… and with both hands Cornelius rammed the bloated bag against his forehead till it split at the edges and the salami slivers slid over his eyes and down his entire face,
… and he threw the half-eaten burgers, and salami slices against the window, towards the x-rays and tomograms, till the window was shaded epidemically and the room started to darken: with the snow whirling at it, the jack-frost on the panes, the tomographic images, and the comet-tail traces of salami on the glass …
… and I ran out of the room, my eyes blurred; out of the house, onto the street and to the bridge, and threw myself against the iron railings, shuddering in revulsion and bending forwards to bury my face in my stumps,
… and then from the bridge to the park nearby. I searched the whole park systematically; first for people and then for corpses,
… and then with the corpses back to Grimmeisen Bridge: thwacking and thwacking the balustrade in wide sweeps, swiping at the railings with the human substitute, the frosted cadaver, for ages – minutes, hours – till I lost all strength, still unable to let it drop, till the bones under the icy carapace broke and the slippery thing slid down, released from the stumps of my arms,
… and as if numb, as if unconscious, the parable of the cold struck the canal’s reflective surface, beneath which the sinking had already begun.
… and for months I didn’t touch a single piece of meat, a single human being, a single carcass, not one salami, not even a breaded steak in Schrill’s restaurant, because the pattern of sinews and fibres had lodged itself in my mind as something which can fly at night.

… But now the tenor is showing me his roses, white, clipped roses in his courtyard, where the flowers’ shadows fall on us like bruises or eczema. Then he strikes a posture by the fountain, draws air into his lungs, mimes pregnancy in front of his stomach with both hands, and sounds his cathedral organ like a wholly fulfilled person. “Can you hear the tragic element?” he asks me. “It has nothing to do with the phrasing; it is very simply the timbre, quite distinct from practice, or habits one acquires. It is as if the tragic were tattooed into my vocal cords. My organ is without parallel anywhere; no one shapes the tones like me. Yet no sooner have I started singing, it becomes too much for the majority; too much richness and too much drama. One should sing for silent films. But now, at the end of my career I only give private recitals. It is important to be true to one’s voice. And now: everything I could never sing, was never allowed to sing, everything which never made it to performance, exclusively for you! Yes, you may listen to me and for this I will pay you a fee. It’s worth your listening. Listen to me for God’s sake!”
I hardly have the chance to nod before he asks: “Do you know what it’s like on provincial stages? Or what lurks in the orchestra pits there? Burnt-out prams and wrecked condom machines! Skipping ropes, prisoners’ ID-tags, dogs’ jawbones, sucklings’ skeletons and gas-mask filters! And one just sings above and beyond it all, unruffled, above and beyond all of it, because the Opera must never sense one is afraid of it. My God!” he kept saying. “My God! I can still see them now, as if they were here, unimaginative, aging beings, who no one protects us from – prompters with hair clips between their lips, falling asleep without any shame. Make-up artists who drink to oblivion. Even the lighting technicians withdraw into the all-pervasive darkness. And behind the curtain, fallen military aircraft and detonated missile canisters. That’s provincial! No glamour, I tell you. Nothing to shimmer like the skin of a chameleon. No one claps, there is no applause; a sudden silence simply descends. It makes one’s stomach turn. You see only want-tattered costumes – and sing out into blank incomprehension. Amongst philistines and people who spit on composers! You feel there as if you have made an emergency landing, as if planted in a long-dead garden. And when the curtain finally drops it’s as dark as a worm’s nether regions.”
“Cornelius?” I ask him. “Cornelius?” And stretch my stumps out towards the tenor –
but the tenor is already inside, beyond the French windows periscoping around in front of a wall of bookshelves in search of photograph albums. His lips thin as wire, he shows me photos of himself: yellowed card body-bags with zig-zag edges, orchestras standing as if about to be executed, jaundiced creatures in dusty dinner jackets, conductors expiring in ecstasy. Then he laughs, bright as a bell. “Oh, pictures, pictures! When I look at these extinct gestures I hear solely the motifs. I’m wandering lost in a prosthesis shop. Nothing more than memories. The world of the Opera”; he says, “no place free from sound,” and points to a small, neckless figure submerged in the folds of the curtain. “The world of the Opera: it has no followers, only detainees!” his finger covers the small, greasy head. “The world of the Opera! And that there … was me!”

One hour later I make my way home, back through the park, and look near the football field for passers by willing to talk, and then, meeting no one, for traces of a dead animal.

Standing at my east-facing window that evening, exhausted in my twelve-square-metre Arctic, my weary, emaciated reflection does not amount to a whole figure. I think I can see Cornelius outside on the street, under the bazaar-bright lights, can see him just before closing time reaching into his oral cavity and touching his gums, jaw, and pharynx till the corners of his mouth split, then clutching and feeling himself all over with restless, fluttering hands, continually searching for new anomalies along the relief of his own body.
I close the blind because I can’t cope with him right now. But in the morning, before it gets light, I will put a pen in my mouth like a starving bird with a twig, and write the whole story with my teeth and lips, everything as it really was, his story and mine, our shared, inseparable fortune.

The last thing I hear before falling asleep is a trickling cascade from Mr Taraghore’s piano, the Bengali pianist’s études. The cadences gradually descend into an endless, sluggish sultriness, but contain no hint of tiredness. Two or three doors away in a room crackling with static Mr Norisoto cuts through the air, his limbs swelling into metaphors, flinging the shadows of a solitary far-eastern martial art against the flamingo wallpaper; shadows which cannot be bound to his body; patterns angular, but still free.