Those Present

By Dorothee Elmiger

Translation Alan Robinson

This is a memorandum from the future.
 

     A bird is sitting peacefully on the shoulder of Michael Ibo Sperberbaechel, the boxer. Light falls into the room through the windows, just missing the creature. In the kitchen, John Klein is making coffee.

      Elfi Baum, the student, and Hans-Peter Finsterhaus, the famous trumpeter, have just arrived and are shaking the snow off their coats.

      Marie-Louise Ach, a textile designer, has been working silently for some hours at the kitchen table, her child Hannes is sleeping in the room next door, and the poet Franz Abdu has also fallen asleep in an armchair; he had a long journey to get here. A typographer is leafing through a book.

      Silvia Tobler and Marion Jacobo, academics, are standing at the window. These are those present; they speak softly.


    This is a chair, they say. This is the kitchen table. This is Elfi Baum’s coat in the hall. They say: This is a summer, an autumn, this is a winter. They say: This is a European city. They say: This is an American landscape with trailer. This is a southern mountain range, continues someone tentatively, this is a spring. This is a soldering iron. This is a carpet knife and this a sewing machine. This is a sickle, someone adds, and this a hatchet. This is the last village in the valley. This is Italy.

      And they resume: This is the bird on the boxer’s shoulder, which is sleeping and breathing peacefully. This is the deepest gorge in the mountains, this is the highest mountain in the land. This is the university. This is the brewery. This is the spindle factory. This is the flat of Elfi Baum, the student, says Elfi Baum, as if to herself. These are the boxer’s gloves. So this must be a boxer. This is spring, yet again. This is the bed that Hannes sleeps in. This is the bed that Marie-Louise Ach sleeps in. This is the table where the typographer works. This is the ring where the boxers stand. These are the poplars in front of student Baum’s kitchen window.

      This is the present. This is the Weser, this is the Rhine, the Spree, the Sitter, the Emme, the Danube, this is the Po. This is an American landscape, with not a soul in sight. This is an American landscape in the Southern states. This is Berlin. These are Mother and Father Baum on a trip through primeval forests. This is a rear courtyard. This is winter. This is a year. This is a continent. This is a continent in the future. This is a night in the city. These are trains, buses, cars.

      This is yesteryear which echoes softly. This is the mouth of Hans-Peter Finsterhaus, the trumpeter, playing a song which winds through the slow afternoon hours ever upwards, far beyond the roofs to the heavens. This is a sudden darkening of the sky as a thunderstorm gathers, this turmoil which rages and thunders far above. This is the bird’s body on the boxer’s shoulder. These are European towns. This is the sixties.

      These are the years 2011 to 2061. This is the future, and this is the past.

      This is John Klein making coffee in the kitchen, says the typographer, glancing fleetingly at him. This is a foreman. This is a double bass player. This is a farmer. This is the bright morn. These are three empty offices in Hamburg docks.

      This is New Year. This is New Year. This is New Year. This is New Year, and someone is standing at the kitchen window, watching the fireworks and musing on the feelings that arise; that was me, murmurs Marie-Louise Ach. This is the poet Franz Abdu. This is the moment when Marie-Louise Ach falls asleep.

      This is an apple, one apple, these are two. This is death. This is the poet Franz Abdu reflecting on death. This is an American landscape with Bob Dylan, without Bob Dylan, with Bob Dylan.


    This is not the present. This is the journey through the past. This is the mouth of Finsterhaus the trumpeter in the future. This is Franz Abdu, dreaming of a crate on which three men once sat and armed themselves with long sausage spits. This is the same dream, when some others tried to climb onto the crate, but by then it was already too late, the sausage spits already sharpened. This is speaking reflectively, says Marion Jacobo, who is standing at the window, and this is a stream, it flows rolls reels falls into the ravine. This is the ravine. This is the ravine where it’s always cool and the moss smells good, do you remember?

      This is Europe. This is the central European time zone. This is time as a whole. This is death. This is death not yet. This is the fear of time passing. This is the fear of oblivion. This is a female refused asylum seeker. These are two male refused asylum seekers, these are five male refused asylum seekers, these are thirteen female refused asylum seekers. These are five hundred and eighty male and female refused asylum seekers. This is a spoon, this a fork. This is a knife. This is an unfamiliar face.

      This is my, this is my, this is my hand writing here. This is my hand writing in the future. This is my mouth that is speaking and will speak. This is a cordless drill. This is a bandsaw. This is a sawmill, this a hammer, the sickle, a hatchet. This is the illumination, the luminescence, the lamps below ground. These are the lightning flashes of a distant storm.


    This is a minaret. Hans-Peter Finsterhaus comments: This is a winter night and this the keen wind that cuts through you. This is the day at 4 pm, when everything is still distinct, but evening is already lurking on the farthest horizon. This is the end of days. These are still early days. This is the national border. This is the retreat into the Alps. This is the securing of the border crossings. This is the profound sadness. This is an apple, this is an apple, are two. This is Elfi Baum in the lecture theatre, says Elfi Baum of herself. These are the ones with the sausage spits on the crate in Abdu’s dream. They are the same ones, they call out incessantly, even shout hoarsely: But then it was already too late, but now it’s far too late, hey, Order! down there. This is the bird that sleeps and sighs on Sperberbaechel’s shoulder.

      These are five recruits vaulting over a horse. These are five recruits forming a triple-decker pyramid. These are five recruits, who have been running round in circles for eleven hours, I saw them myself, laughs Franz Abdu in his sleep.

      These are the mountains in the pallid light, the failing light. These are some animals browsing. This is the fox’s earth, a fox is barking inside. This is the memory of that. This is an expulsion from a public square. This is a sports club. This is the Brunnental Gymnastics Group. This is the mixed choir. This is the swimming club. This is the Harmony Brass Band in uniform, it’s new, this is the Harmony Brass Band’s new uniform. This is the student fraternity, these are the probationary members, these are the prospective members. This is the Grapes the White Horse the Lion the Crown. This is a family of four eleven minutes before their deportation. These are five recruits, who are still running round in circles. This is the Bear and this the Sun.


    These are fourteen foreign-looking men selling drugs at Herisau station. This is Robert Walser standing at Herisau station. These are fourteen foreign-looking tourists being welcomed at Herisau station by the tourist officer waving a small flag.

      This is a minaret on Säntis. This is an Alpine stronghold. This is a nation. This is a statesman. This is a civil right. This is a Swiss. This is a true Swiss. This is the very opposite of a Swiss. This is a Swiss woman. These are twenty-one schoolchildren, who can draw the outline of Switzerland by heart.

      This is the firmament, the stars O so low in the sky, then the sun again: This is the sun. This is the sun, which then again has risen, this is the sun, which once again has risen. This is the sun in the South. This is the sun in the West. This is night.

      This is a catastrophe. These are the ones who sneaked over the border, these are the black sheep, the intruders. This is the foreign rabble, dead tired. These are the dead tired. This is a makeshift shelter with windows. This is a makeshift shelter without windows.

      This is the poet Franz Adbu, his arms flailing helplessly. This is Hans-Peter Finsterhaus, desperately playing an upbeat.

      This is the fear of the days to come.

      This is exchange, quid pro quo. This is a job. This is work in general and this is then oblivion. These are the dead. These are those absent. These are Silvia Tobler and Marian Jacobo, determinedly standing at the window.


    This is an honest attempt and at the same time a failure. This is my contribution. This is my hand writing here. This is my imagined hand in the future writing here, while John Klein is making coffee, the stream is plunging into the ravine, five recruits on the sports field in Frauenfeld are playing dodge ball and two asylum seekers in the last row of an aircraft with blankets over their heads are being transported out of the country.

      This is the onset of darkness. This is me, Hans-Peter Finsterhaus, walking home at night, says Hans-Peter Finsterhaus. This is the first frosty night of the year. These are the days to come, preying on my mind, says the typographer.

      This is a love. This is a runway. This is a harbour, this a quay. These are hills, valleys, cross-country buses. This is a penis. This the foreskin, the glans nuts berries, thicket, undergrowth. This is the skin with its many blemishes. This is the history of bodies, of skin, of gender in the future. This is a breast, a dark courtyard, the door, the field, the hollow. This is the indeterminate landscape.

      This is sex. These are some questions, posed afresh. This is the gender question. This is the body question. This is the question of what connects the body with freedom. This is a body, to be seated on a chair and bound as follows: at the ankles, at the lower leg, above the knee, below the hip and with a special rope contraption around the shoulders and then pushed into the aircraft. This is the reality. This is a report. This is a poem. This is a list. This is a proposal.

      This is a memorandum from the future. This is reality, and this is reality, this is reality too, says Marie Louise-Ach, bent over the kitchen table. This is reality in the future. This is an essay about reality in the future. These are a thousand birds in the yard. This is Lake Fählen, this Lake Lucerne Walen Constance, a flooded gravel pit. This is fictitious. This is invented and not true. This is fabricated or rather: feared. This is today in thirty years’ time.


    This is Franz Abdu dreaming of the ones on the crate, who strike up a singsong to the beat of the hammering sausage spits: But then it was already too late, bet then et wes elreedy tee leet, bit thin it wis ilriidy tii liit. These are the ones sitting on the crate, ever more numerous in their swan song, singing: But thun ut wus ulruudy tuu luut, bat than at was alraady taa laat, they scream. This is power. This is its exercise. This is exerting force. This is an exercise. This is just an exercise. This is harmless. This is not the emergency. These are preparations for the emergency. This is a warning of the emergency. This is an Alpine stronghold. These are seven hundred and eleven male and female refused asylum seekers. This is one apple, one apple, so two.

      This is Elfi Baum; I am at my wit’s end, she whispers. This is John Klein, who in his despair makes coffee again and again, says the typographer. These are the dead tired, says John Klein, mere shadows of their former selves, who have disappeared in the shelter without windows, in the container, in the furthermost corner.

      These are the shadows in the rooms. These are the ones whose names no one here has ever heard. These are the ones with terror breathing down their neck.

      These are the ones with the supermarket vouchers. These are the ones who spend their days in the supermarket cafeteria. This is oblivion.

      This is the emergency, says Marie-Louise Ach, in a loud voice now. This is exerting force. This is not an exercise. This is not a poem, and this is not fictitious. This is the present. This is a continent. This is the central European time zone.

      This is a performance-oriented society, this an identity check, and these are five recruits still running round in circles. This is the silent boxer with the sleeping bird on his shoulder. This is Marie-Louise Ach, whose child is sleeping in the room next door. This is still capitalism. These are in front of the window the birds, the thousand. This is a restless sleep. This is discontent. This is the discontent that my hand feels. This is my mouth that is speaking here and will speak. This is my mouth that is twitching here, a shout, a shout, a roar.

      This is the moment when I fainted, Elfi Baum recounts. This is the moment when I stood up once more, recounts Michael Ibo Sperberbaechel, the boxer.

      These are in front of the window the birds, the thousand, they are laying their eggs, arranging their feathers, whirling upwards in the sun that will soon have departed. This is the rear courtyard, this is the mouth or the memory of the city.

      These are the three on the crate, the seven, eight or eleven with their never-ending swan song. These are the ones who allow only one another to sit on the crate. These are the ones who say that the crate must be defended. These are the crate defence measures. These are the ones who guard the crate with their rifle sausage spit penknife. This is an ode to the crate.

      This is an evening lullaby, so the child can sleep well, says Hans-Peter Finsterhaus. This is the desolate evening lull, after the child has fallen asleep. This is the announcement in the evening TV news that criminal Nigerians will soon have it coming to them.


    This is the truth. This can’t be true, says Michael Ibo Sperberbaechel. These are the birds, the thousand. This is an apple, one apple, these are two. These are the children, who sing that the crate may buckle, and the little mouse chuckle. These are the ones on the crate, who retort that by now it’s far too late. This is a human, this is a human. This is a human being.

      This is the question of whether this one or that one is human. This is the question of what kind of human being that is. This is the question of whether you can live well without windows. This is the question of whether you can fly well with a blanket over your head. This is the question of who, in the emergency, will be allowed into the Alpine stronghold. This is the question of whether in fact all’s well. This is the question of when the crate will buckle. This is the question of what it sounds like when a little mouse chuckles. This is finally the question about the contents of the crate, and this is an apple, one apple, these are two.

 

Die Anwesenden,” NZZ [Neue Zürcher Zeitung] Folio, September 2010