the american light

By Nadja Küchenmeister

Translation Harry Roddy

Tell the teacher we’re surfin’
The Beach Boys

I

one day i was struck by the american light. it was a warm
summer evening, just back from the river wuhle
dragging a pulsing bundle of gnats and various

aerial bugs. we had black rings under our nails,
hair damp like after a bath, throats scratchy
from the emptiness of an afternoon aflame behind us,

clay crumbling from our pants, crumbling with each step:
a hint lay there like a fuse leading to the scene
of the crime, and even if you wanted to follow it,

at first you didn’t follow. we came swarming with clashing
splashguards, in the stamping march of a company,
starving and parched: we shaved the meadow

with our wide treads. sounds escaping our throats, animal-like,
almost pleasant, how they made our pulse palpable in thumb
and index finger, wild throbbing even in our knuckles.

we would later be called home. i still remember how far the street
seemed, with hardly a car gliding by, and how a bird,
a buzzard perhaps, circled the housing estate screaming.

 

 

II

yes, this american light hung mornings from the balcony
and in the evenings sparkled on the kickstands. where
it came from, i don’t know, but from then on it no longer slipped

out of sight, which was odd. i couldn’t look at the clotheslines
without feeling a pull in my stomach. i couldn’t go into
the cellar without seeing it in the chalk-white walls, or in the paint

of the cellar doors…it shone here too. broke through tiny little hatches,
dotted the wardrobe, and where the hedgehog had wintered
in its nest of wool and paper crouched a yellow square, waiting.

it was the same for me in the courtyard: my light got tangled
in the badminton racket. thrown back from a window, a flash,
it photographed me. glowed in the floral pattern of the awning,

then a white something trembled, mirrored by my watch, over
postered walls and softly grazed the fabric covering our campbed.
we were always together now, my american feeling and me.

the lines in front of the stores got longer. one gradually lost
all context. that’s all people talked about, but no one was bothered
by the waiting: all the way to the hairdresser’s they stood, quacking away.

 

 

III

such excited quacking! at breakfast they stared
hysterically at their plates, oh well. but what really made me
wonder: my light got brighter, day by day, and somehow

even more american. and still no one else felt it. the clouds
for instance were lit up from within and on the playground
the little cake-tins glowed like fire ripped from the sun.

was it just a trick of the sun? maybe. i already had the sun
under suspicion, as at times things want to tell you
something, but they don’t know how. and so i stayed still…

never said what i saw in a little puddle before the main
door: a well full of light! and when the commuter train
arrived in the station and sparks sprayed under its wheels

i kept these exploding stars and even the flickering
of my lids to myself. and if i’m to be honest:
it wasn’t that hard. i already knew, had noticed

early on, one can’t share what’s on the inside.
one shared enough as it was. the lines in front of the stores
diminished, but the quacking continued unabated.

 

 

IV

elbows poked from aprons, braced themselves against great
clamor, while we sharpened our spears in the courtyard, on
windowsills fitted out with pillows. the kitchen voices talked

the end of a utopia into being, or something like that. i really
didn’t listen and the others’ ears were still ringing
from all the screeching on the wuhle. the picture

of the bloody ripped-up duck and her cut-off duck feet,
beak teetering in the duckweed, all that left a burning
image on my retinas. but we didn’t have to report on the mud,

not on our hair, sticky with fear, not even on the griesinger hospital
and its mute guests. we carried our survival back home
like a fresh wound and no one said a word.

then there was my light! it came rolling up from the wuhletal station
and lifted me in its bright glistening and twirled me through the air
and showed me the way into the doleful city…next morning,

as a sunray cleared away the fog and the silence that had spent
the night on the meadow, it gushed over gülzower street,
the hedge and the ping-pong tables: the full splendor of america.

 

From Unter dem Wacholder. © Schöffling & Co. Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2014.