The First Night Song

Author: Yoko Tawada
Translator: Lúcia Collischonn


I call her Elbe,
with weeping harbour eyes.
You should not give a woman the name of a river.
Christiane or Christina
she should be called, maybe Christa.
I call Elsa Elbe, when
the harbour turns on its reading lights
With the L the tongue touches the godless
The neighbours ought not to know
that we like our showers cold.
Suzanne Valadon painted me
as I was sitting on the shower floor.
In the painting Elsa soothes
my hair from behind. She is also naked,
since we are the bathers from the year
No towels at hand and
the art remains wet.
We stand as though painted.
As a postcard I could
at least buy us back.
Elsa sits naked on the balcony
and dries her head-thicket.
Thirty years old,
her heart is that of a minor
when she steps back into a
chalky-white girl and
sits in the classroom.
Twelve years old then in the same
city with the same name.
Next to her sat a boy
with freckles, Christian.
Mr. Music Teacher dragged him from the chair,
placed him in between the pianos.
The offshoot, the little prisoner.
The boy must become
a man. Sing!
in the name of music he was threatened
and drilled
in G(o) minor
When the machine guns fall silent,
the officer becomes a music teacher
Christian, a conscientious objector like his uncle
grits his teeth.
The imprisoned music
with striped notes.
The teacher pulls him by the ears.
His ears get longer
and longer, until they reach the lofty
heights of art)
Rabbit ears can hear better
Can you hear the trout splashing?
In the well before the gate?
No? A hopeless
case, decay.
Elsa was next.
Choke, Cough, Swallow.
Every song a sorrow.
exposed and ridiculed,
she thought, but no one
in class laughed at this.
All together now!
The command smells like a gargle,
From the young fish mouths flowed
and Schumann-shock.

Elsa hums on her balcony
A ferryman in a blue plaid
shirt sighs and stands still under a
Lorelei, who got lost and
found in the Elbe.
In one single night
decades flow by.
In place of music comes a Mick
with cranberry lips and thick
From the LP sleeves bloom
colourful, blurred, curvy.
The record is the black moon.
Elsa lays out Mick and
takes the arm of the Queen Bee off
the solar disc from Sony.
The spike stabs.
An electro leak
or an electric guitar?
Shallow wounds sit in a thousand grooves.
Sound, swift, sonorous, shrill.
Mick meows,
the big cat has scratches in his cheeks,
sticks his plastic tongue out
unashamedly universal.
Under the needle the turning of
the disc ghost.
Wavy, he soothed the soul
of the schoolgirl with injured
mucosa of the soul.
The Stones fell from her heart
and rolled down the slope
and with them her burnt childhood.

Elsa danced with her chin.
The full moon had never abandoned her
since Romanticism, since the Stone Age
always the same old yellow LP,
the moon with acne craters
is not a smooth mirror.
The mute fishwoman combs her dyed blond
Green containers are unloaded
from the tired mothership in the harbour.
Her captain is called Jesus from Jeju.
The metallic belly painted with a far
I hear in the wind the quiet humming
of a dead engineer.
That average man Hans Castorp
is resurrected from a
well-feathered death and is building his
Noah’s Ark with Koreans.
The full moon dives into the black
oily water.
Where does the oil in the river come from?
How often does a tanker sink in the oceans?
Not often enough to turn over the revenue.


 Ein Balkonplatz für flüchtige Abende, konkursbuch Verlag, 2016.