Paradigm shift
This house
Labour of love

By Tom Schulz

Translation Henry Holland

Paradigm shift

the human has two legs
with which he can row

the human has two arms
with which he can tread loudly

the human has two eyes
with which he can kiss you and me and the ground

two lips, one upper, one lower
with which he can sow radishes

the human has two mouths
with which he can go right, and left, and jug jug, jug jug

the human has two breasts
with which he can shoo off cold air

two noses, nostrils four
with which he can make love

ten toes, twelve fingers, if they counted right
two nipples, with which he can catch butterflies

 

 

This house

was friendly for generations … the stairs
had wings up which a ship sailed always, while down
was carried on the wind, past our closing eye

I loved the smell of the halls, the flight of the spores
a fungi’s innerness, alive for itself,
cantatas filling a barracks, chambers full of music
A weak pulse beat through your afternoon nap, under the plaster
(a group of gallflies travelled with me
to Bethlehem at tea time …)

The five p.m. bell called the ravens back daily to their places
and things occurred which nobody heard … the lobby wall-sign, the
Paternoster uttered, a shadow falling always from south to north
to me out sieving snow, finding a box between garden and trash-
mooring, which snow melted in, near to the moth-balled
near to the heart, where the stylus came down, fitting
the rusty hand already, which groped for a sagging breast

… and still the leaves give milk and the trees tremble
and still I secrete, grow blisters, am taken in by myself
yet find nothing but ladybirds, who know nothing
of tides, spaces, return … a friendly house of the dead
with rattling boxes and unposted letters

… I liked the smell of the sick lilac, the brown leaf
the quiet which did not die away, a quiet
over the earth, Watch out! Floods from the roof

this house certainly had no unlimited wheelchair access
under marauding dust beams bent in the attic

generations, whose washing froze in the yard, in the corners
with all those sinister harvestmen, full of dust, parent-child contracts
signed, illegibly

a lightning conductor, earth wire leading to soakaways
the birds’ bridges rushed, the sentimental channels run off
unblocked … the house to which guests came

Five were invited
Ten have come

The guests, who each got given a wardrobe, knocked at each other’s
come on out, to celebrate Friday and Monday, and the Feast of the
Spiders …

Hordes of the bearded rowed from the islands into my room, unyielding
as sackcloth … All dealt in water pistols, and showed off
their moles … I was glad when they disappeared
in the small hours, or when one of the chimney-sweeps
grabbed them by the lapels!

The tenants will wax so much in the fall that they will be put under glass

*

The house, a grouted closing wound

No one knew about any of the sky’s blues –
a baby was held out the window. Breathe, little nipper

What it needs: planks, a few nails, the saw, and then
two feet first … when I went out in winter into the yard, I bore
the ash-pail to the bird-flu until
the moon’s spots fell at my slippered feet …

Who was the house, who carried a touch of snow from all the sleeping
up onto its roof?

This house was not a theodiciean no.

for Jan Wagner

 

Labour of love

When we do what we want to do, nothing bothers you. The louse
walks gladly over the liver. Contrary to the one-way street.
Turn right with lactic acid. Once I was an artist. Drank red wine,
ate cake with vanilla ice-cream. Waited for the fairy-tale grandma.
For the bears. Heard just crying under the wallpaper. A whimpering and
a pawing. We put it under the earth. And sailed into the harbour.
Sea without seas. Estate without estates. We drove into the mine.
The blinded-up shafts, the haul trucks and the pit dogs. All blinded by
methanol and hunger. I was still a child. We buried the guinea-
pig in the garden. When we do what we want to do, other
blessings will stir. The rain will delouse our head. Something
will be born to each of us. Homely born. And the two jug-ears
will sail out to sea, and onto cleft lips will be stuck
the four-leaved clover. Once I was a job-centre clown. Crept,
never noticed, between wall and wallpaper. Saw a mob of
graduates and iron-benders. Wrote: at the job-centre, a mob of graduates
and iron-benders. Nobody clapped or laughed. A woman dug over a
meadow and got up off her haunches. Picked up a lead attached to a dog
laden with jam-packed health-food shop bags, three, made of sustainable
cotton. Who trains the dog? What are the kids called? He should sit
down. Lie says the woman. Pacify the earth and permit the seas
to shine. Once we should all be poor. Fall in love with the object which
no one owns any more. Fall in love with yourself. Each with themselves, the
other. Once I was a cuckoo. Shot out the clock and the world was
mine all the time. Sea of all seas. State of all states. Like one and none
no longer belong to us. When we do, what we want to do. Appropriate this.
Us, the owners, traders, transit salesmen. When we do what we want to
do, the trees will become precisely as red and green and blue as that
thrown-off dress. Under which we’re naked, and confide in the half burnt
grass in which we lie. The sweet grass, which grows and sings.

 

 

Translator’s note on “Labour of Love”

I decided to translate this poem because of the layers of pleasures Tom builds up in the prose poem form which dominate his latest collection. After taking in the opening aphorism, the reader of “Labour of Love” is confronted with four, single-clause sentences, which appear at first to be non-sequiturs. What has the louse to do with the lactic acid? What have either to do with the artist? Which brings us to a bigger problem of translating poetry between German and English: how much irresolution can you transmit, irresolution caused in part by the very different cultural context in which German is written? Should you intervene to restore some aesthetic unity? The jug-ears sailing disembodied out to sea, and the four-leaved clover being stuck onto cleft-lips are two of the poem’s most compelling images, and here it’s helpful to remember that German lexis concerning disability is easily three decades behind the English-speaking world: Tom chooses the term “Hasenscharten”, which would translate more directly as harelip. A particular problem in translating this poem was the first line. Tom goes for a picaresque saying, “drückt uns nicht der Schuh”. No colourful English phrase seemed to work here. So I concentrated instead on transmitting the consonance and the assonance of Tom’s line, with the repeated “w” sounds in my first and second lines, and the “do”, “to” and “you” as stressed syllables in my first. The original poem’s lines alternate between six and seven metrical feet, with no end rhyme but with lots of assonance, and with variations on phrases already introduced. I definitely wanted those long lines, and with them sufficient freedom to take advantage of what English idioms can suggest, to reconfigure Tom’s images in a quite different language.

From, Lichtveränderung © Hanser 2015