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Editorial: Issue 1

Table of Contentsfor Issue 1

issue09-20142

Cover illustration: The original no man’s land logo superimposed on the Berlin Wall. © Jim Avignon, Adrijana Bohocki / photo art Leif Harmsen.

Welcome to no man’s land.

Nowhere has no man’s land blossomed as in Berlin. The fall of the Wall left a green swath through the city and uncharted territories everywhere, a breach into which rushed profit-seekers, entrepreneurs. We are speaking here of the entrepreneurs whose investment is ideas and enthusiasm – whose profit is the same, with interest. They, more than any venture capitalists, have profited from Berlin, and Berlin from them. Berlin’s real economy is the black market of inspiration.
While Berlin’s alternative music and art is already legendary in international circles, its phenomenal literary scene remains terra incognita for most English speakers. A remarkable boom in readings, slams and open mikes in recent years has made highbrow literature as cool as concert-going. And it has created a thriving alternative infrastructure that shapes sophisticated new talents and audiences alike. A prime example is the “literature lab” and magazine lauter niemand. The “lab,” an open mike for fiction and poetry, has been held every Sunday since 1996, its famously spirited discussions a testing ground for young writers who have emerged as some of the most exciting voices in German literature today. no man’s land, the English version of lauter niemand’s 10th anniversary edition, presents 29 of these voices, many never before translated.
lauter niemand does not stand for any one literary school or tendency; both the lab and the magazine reflect Berlin’s dizzying literary diversity. While it is impossible to generalize about the writers included in this issue, certain motifs recur. A good half of the contributors are themselves noted translators, while several work in two or more languages. The image of the “no man’s land,” of the boundaries and interstices between languages, cultures and minds, is reflected in manifold and subtle ways in the poetry and fiction presented here, culminating on the final page, in a symbolic act of “barter” between languages – a transaction from which everyone profits!
In this spirit, no man’s land, too, is a “literature lab” as well as a magazine, a forum for writers, readers and translators and an open frontier between German and English literatures in Berlin and beyond: www.no-mans-land.org

Isabel Fargo Cole
Berlin, December 1, 2006

no man’s land # 1 team
Editorial board: Adrijana Bohocki, Isabel Fargo Cole, Ernesto Castillo, Clemens Kuhnert
Translation editor: William Martin
Translation workshop director: Aurélie Maurin
Project assistant: Leina Gonzalez

Editors’ Note from lauter niemand

Dear readers,
lauter niemand, whose 10th anniversary issue we present here in English translation, is one of the most widely circulated magazines in Germany to publish exclusively fiction and poetry. With its unpretentious format, it is also one of the most accessible. The focus of this issue is on younger writers, those whom lauter niemand first published as unknowns and who have gone on to make a name for themselves over the decade of lauter niemand’s existence. Many are still regulars at the “lauter niemand literaturlabor” and form part of the growing circle of writers, musicians, artists and friends in which lauter niemand finds its echo.
These writers have more in common than a broad spectrum of prizes, publications and readers: their names stand for the unmistakable, personal voice in which their work speaks to the reader.
But what is “voice”? – What we read with all our senses, the way we have learned to interpret these sensations, what we regard as external to ourselves, what we understand as a part of our self: out of all these things we form the Gesamtkunstwerk of our personal cosmos. Its space of resonance, of (self-) definition, gives rise to a sound: to a soul, one could say.
But when we read, is it to discover the inner workings of the cosmos we create, or to despair at the chimaeras of a past we no longer inhabit, at the mirror image of our expectations? Authors take the reality they live, think and dream and translate it into the medium of writing, seeking to share its driving forces with their readers. Their presence, their unique testimony to our time, is revealed in the subjects and means they choose, in their innate tone: the voice.
How can this voice be echoed in a different language, in different contexts, without losing its soul? This is the question explored by the authors and translators of no man’s land.

Adrijana Bohocki, Isabel Fargo Cole, Ernesto Castillo, Clemens Kuhnert
Berlin, October 2, 2006

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial: Issue 1


The Tree


THE AWAKENING ROOM I


recovery room I


THE AWAKENING ROOM II


recovery room II


autumn for me was always
at home



If I had a garden


If I Had a Garden
When the winter comes, …
Language Gives Up the Ghost



here he is
the annihilation of fathers …



khamsin
scirocco



The Bengali Pianist


Hand Lines
Twelve Black Fathoms Deep



Jellyfish
december 1914
anomalies



Journal, Lago Momentane
Souvenir Trip
Mountains of Deer



Bashfulness
The day, squander
Heel Bar



Sadness frightens my gob into silence
the trophy sheep
absolute romantic zero
the opposite of seduction



the boxer
frank lampard
george best
breakfast in nha trang
cyclo riding in saigon



note on Jonah
whoosh
riff-raff: (bosch)
inventory of the world



Taxi Stories


My Private Leningrad
Northern severity …
Landscape
Sunday



Yes Cassandra, Someone Is Ranting to Someone


In Red Eggs
Speech and Silence in Pankow
Fish



Fish


The Air Bridge


Guanabo, Playas del Este, La Habana …
27 lockgates on the way to the sea



STAINED SUSTAINED three new still-lifes
the olympic ceasefire …



hare winter
the destruction of the fish by water
warning lamp lights up
logbook of a journey to the centre of a cow



With All Your Might
Wealth and Scum



Intentions (excerpts)


Chemnitz
An Image of All Consolation
October, November, April
Wolf Spider
Summer Wind



In The Snow


GLAMBECKER SEE
WHO’S TALKING?
NEAR GIZYCKO
FRESCO



champs elysée
quiet days in c.



Portrait: without seeing
Looking like the police
Jauntal Crossing


The Tree

Author: Nina Lucia Bussmann
Translator: Andrew Shields

Mrs. Baier came to me when she wanted to call attention to the branches of the tree. You’re the only one I ever see, she said. My father has to work, I explained. Mrs. Baier nodded. I don’t really want to say anything, she said. And she said nothing. She just mentioned that it was unacceptable how the branches of our tree were growing across the boundary between the yards. Even running wild. The dog sniffed at my legs. Mrs. Baier braced herself to ask the next question: Did we have help now. She was all alone, she said. So where’s she from, she asked, the woman you have, someone from Poland. Not from Poland, I said, and ran away from the dog. He wanted to run after me. The leash was too short. He had gotten my legs wet.
It was a pear tree. You could not eat its pears. They were small and hard. Only one of its branches was thick enough to hang a swing on. The thick branch reached out over our yard from the fence. I learned to swing before I could really run, and it was a long time before I stopped. Every spring, my father climbed a ladder, adjusted the length of the swing’s ropes, and tightened the knots. My mother and I watched. It was the only work my father ever did in the yard. Otherwise, my parents agreed that nature should be allowed to grow freely there. One summer, my mother had a vegetable garden at the end of the lawn. The tomatoes she harvested were small, and never as red as those in the supermarket. Things like that take time, my father said, and patience. It takes a different climate, said my mother, a different climate and different surroundings. Where the vegetable garden had been, a giant green weed was now growing. Nature was running its course.
It made my father happy to stand behind a window and contemplate the unspoiled wilderness of the yard. That’s the pear tree, he said to Amalia, pointing through the glass. She stood in front of him and held the tray with the coffee. Pear tree, she repeated. My father held the words out to her like biscuits for a little dog. She had a hard time swallowing them. There’s a poem about a pear tree, my father went on. He’d learned the poem in school; he still knew it by heart. He looked at me and said, I was younger than you when I learned that poem by heart, and probably that’s the very thing that makes it impossible to get rid of it now. For a long time, he’d considered such learning-by-heart a completely outdated method, but in fact it was still the only way to hang on to things. Whatever’s in your memory can never be taken away, at least. Coffee, said Amalia. Here you are.

Detox
My father doesn’t have time, I explained at the front door. It was for the best, said Mrs. Baier’s son, that he call attention to the overgrown yard. It’s only overgrown, said Mrs. Baier’s son, on this side. It’s like it’s been building up, he added, for years now. They’d turned a blind eye to it until now. He himself could be very patient. It was really none of his business what grew in our yard. Live and let live, he assured me, was normally his philosophy, too. And if someone wants to plant baobabs in his yard, I say fine, he said. To each his own. I’m tolerant about things like that.
But now the situation’s entirely different, he continued. While he’d been sprucing up his mother’s lawn, he’d had to pick up a few branches and fruit that had fallen from our yard. He’d tried to pick up something soft and sticky. That made him look more closely at the matter, which led him to a startling discovery. The entire span of the trunk of the pear tree, from the root up, was covered with a kind of white layer. It wasn’t immediately visible to the naked eye. Only with the help of a magnifying glass had he discovered the ultrafine web. It was half-hidden under the bark, right on the inner skin of the tree. The son wanted to know precisely what it was. He wanted to get to the bottom of things. It wasn’t the symptoms that had to be treated. The number of pests grew steadily, for, of all living creatures, pests were the ones that evolved most quickly and adapted most completely to changes in external conditions. That made it so hard to get them under control. Parasites had a natural tendency to spread, to expand their territory; they weren’t above finding new hosts. My father, I said, really can’t interrupt his work right now. It’s not a good time.
Amalia had on a shiny sweater and her cleaning-lady slippers, she was carrying plastic bags full of garbage to the front door. Excuse me, she said to the neighbor’s son. My father, I repeated, doesn’t have time. The neighbor’s son made room for Amalia and watched her walk away. I see, he said, visitors, and asked me to tell my father that he would like to talk with him, at a more favorable time, about the matter, that it was for the best, then he plunged his hands into his pants pockets and slowly walked past the garbage cans to the gate.
I went to stand at the window and compared the yards. The grass on our side was a meadow. The grass on Mrs. Baier’s side was a lawn. Now Mrs. Baier’s son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren were standing on the lawn. The Baier family looked at the tree, discussing something. The yard had meant the world to Mr. Baier. His passion, as Mrs. Baier was in the habit of saying. His little garden, she said. Only there was he fully human. The son moved his hands while speaking. He stood with his legs apart; his shoulders had become much less inviting and his belly heavier. That made him, in my eyes, even more trustworthy. My father came up next to me and looked at him. Now’s the season, I said, for cutting. People aren’t hard to understand, he said, in theory they’re comprehensible, in practice they’re unbearable.

Purification Process
I’m not a man of many words, were the neighbor’s son’s words the next day. The existence of certain facts wasn’t something for endlessly discussing, but for energetically driving out of the world. The well-grounded suspicion of a case of disease must put an end to the arbitrariness that allows everyone to think and believe whatever he considers well and good. We need a sense of proportion and a standard, binding for all members of a community. Naturally, he conceded, communication’s an essential component of profitable action. Communication, cooperation, and readiness for dialogue were what the son listed. Three pillars. But when one side refuses to communicate, all the others have their hands tied; the system’s paralyzed; the channels are blocked. But he was still interested in knowing the causes. He could understand the fear of the pain of a profound break with the status quo. But after a clean break, a healing process always begins.
An example, he said to me, running his tongue over his lips. Amalia tottered behind me down the hall, carrying a tray into my father’s room. The neighbor’s son kept talking without flinching. Following a specialist’s recommendations, he’d gone through a detox cure, at first reluctantly, then with growing enthusiasm. For a week he’d consumed only herbal tea, water, vegetable broth, and unsweetened juices. After three days his stomach was completely empty. His body excreted poisons it had stored for years. You could positively feel how everything flowed out of you. You felt no hunger anymore. All wants were extin-guished. Completely emptied, the son rapturously repeated. This complete emptying began a radical upheaval. This was the only way, he was by now convinced, it was only by not curtailing anything or compromising, that the purification process could start.
I described the son’s observations for my father and said he seemed to be an expert. My father nodded to himself: how nice to be an expert. Why can’t he just keep his expertise to himself? Why do people always have to inflict their expertise on everything within reach. This pressure. To cut. To cut off. To eliminate. Purify. Clean. That’s the symptom, said my father, the real disease, and it must be confronted.

Coffee
The next day, the neighbor’s son offered me a cardboard box with a pink pattern. It matched his shirt. To go with coffee, he said cheerfully. I took the box from him. May I, he asked, slipping past me into the hallway. He moved his heavy body smoothly, like a ballet dancer. I followed him, full of admiration. In the living room, he came to a stop, turned a half pirouette, and uttered an admiring exclamation about the quantity of old books. Good heavens! Does your father have them all. My father, I explained slowly, straining to figure out where I could put down the pink box as discreetly as possible, my father won’t have time for a cup of coffee. The son conjured a further surprise from behind his back. He showed me a bottle with plums on the label and let me sniff at its open neck.
In my father’s room, Amalia and he were kneeling over paper piles of varying heights. They raised their faces to me, gazing at me as if they were creatures in a deep pit. The floor was completely covered. I scratched bits of paint from the door frame. He’s back, I said. For a cup of coffee. My father’s shoulders sank. In the living room, the son had made himself comfortable, his legs crossed on our sofa while he admired the view of our yard. In front of him, he had laid out the cake box, the bottle of plum brandy, and four glasses.
My father sat down astride a wooden chair. Amalia brought the tray with the coffee. Cream or sugar, she asked the son. He raised his hand in thanks. Food combining, he said. But that shouldn’t keep us from enjoying what we eat and drink. He opened the cardboard box with an inviting gesture. Help yourselves. Don’t be shy. You can afford it. The open maw of the box gawked at me. Inside were pieces of cake as large as the palm of my hand, in three color-coordinated rows. Their tops shone moistly. Except for me, nobody took any. My father supported himself with outstretched arms on the front edge of the chair, following the son’s gestures with a furrowed brow. If you’re going to scorn these little treats, then you should at least be sure to drink enough liquids with your coffee, the neighbor’s son warned with a cunning smile. Coffee dehydrates you. Drink enough liquids, and you’re on the right track. I always preach that to my mother. Only it gets more and more difficult for old people to change their habits. You know how it is. He stretched his elastic upper body forward, picked up the bottle, and filled four glasses. I always say, learn in good time, in the right surroundings!
Have you come because of the pear tree, my father blurted, emptying his glass in one go and putting it down in front of him. The son lifted a hand to placate him. It was pink, corpulent but gentle, as hairless as a lady’s. He did not mention his unlovely observations at all. He thought it was best, he emphasized, if a solution satisfactory to all those involved could be found. Surely nobody could be interested in continuing the struggle of going back and forth in this condition of absolute uncertainty. Sometimes, though, a sustainable solution meant a radical solution. Sooner or later, you had to put your money where your mouth was. At this, my father leapt off his chair without warning and left the room. The son had come to a point in his torrent of words that brooked no interruption. Amalia sat upright opposite him and gave him her undivided attention. I reached into the cake box at regular intervals and worked my way through the rows. The son apologized for his pessimism. He hadn’t wanted to stoke exaggerated fears. Panic was of course the least favorable possible reaction in such a case. In his experience, fear was always something paralyzing. If you were going to be able to handle a danger, you had to learn to assess it. If you stayed too long in your paralyzing panic. Then it was often difficult, or even impossible, to deal with the damage. Then you came up against the limits of what could be realized financially and what people could be expected to tolerate. But, he went on consolingly, it’s not yet clear we have already reached such a stage here. And the most important thing was finally the following motto: Quickly recognize the pest / If you would put your fears to rest, he proclaimed, raising his glass. He buoyed himself and us up in the difficult situation. He repeated himself. He began to talk about fear again. You had to keep a cool head and discuss things with the enemy on a rational basis. Knowledge of the enemy gave you the tools to handle things prudently. The more you knew about the enemy, the more calm you could be while awaiting confrontation. So, in a free moment, he’d taken a look at the literature on garden pests. He summarized his findings: American blight establishes its colonies under the top layer of bark and in the hollow parts of the tree. The typically waxy film makes it largely resistant to spraying. But the nests, at least in the early stages, can easily be removed by scraping them off with a solid wire brush. A clean break’s the most effective means, said the neighbor’s son, of preventing further infestation. So it’s not only unnecessary but even futile and ineffective to go straight for chemical bombs. The simplest household remedy may well have the greatest effect. What was crucial was a carefully conceived plan and the will to eliminate the evil at the root.
Outside, night was falling. I turned on the light. The glass door to the terrace reflected our heated faces. The plants in the yard were no longer visible. The neighbor’s son was in high spirits now. He began to refill the glasses. In front of Amalia, he stopped for a moment. You’re not drinking anything, he cried, upset. I assumed that – I was convinced that was a custom in your – here he hesitated – homeland. That was a word Amalia reacted to. I come from Nidden, she said, Nidden on the Baltic. In the son’s face, a tension disappeared. Ah, he sighed. He listened to the sound of the name in the air. I have to tell you, I. And my mother, she. We thought you were from Poland. Hahaha. That’s how you can mislead yourself. Something was knocked over in my father’s room. In any case, the son continued, still somewhat discombobulated. Not Poland, Nidden. He apologized to Amalia for the embarrassing mistake. Amalia held her head up. She did not seem especially embarrassed. The son explained.
It’s not that his mother was unbalanced. She watched television and paid attention to world events. She took the dog out for walks and prepared her own little hot dinners. Only sometimes things were too much for her. She came to a conclusion in her own mind and that was reality for her. She could no longer distinguish between reality and the world, or – he corrected himself – her reality and the real world. Rather, she lived in a world of her own. On the other hand, though, it was completely excusable and understandable. If you considered the real world out there. The growing complexity. War and misery. Hunger and globalization. With all that, it was completely understandable to want to withdraw into a manageable space. So for him it was quite urgent to at least preserve this space for her. Unexpectedly, he returned to the exasperating occasion for his visit. He put a paper napkin to his mouth and shot Amalia a pleading look. Perhaps you could, he began. A few diplomatic words. More coffee, she asked. He nodded, distracted. It’s an existential situation. Perhaps you understand this. I’m sure, he said to Amalia, you understand. He passed his tongue over his lips. He’d come to show he was prepared to discuss the issue. Nothing more was in his power. I took the last piece of chocolate cake from the box. First I scraped off the topmost layer and made a little brown pile of it on my plate. It immediately lost its shape. The chocolate had gotten too soft because of how warm the room was.
Do you really like it, asked the son, with a high-pitched laugh and a quick, jerky glance in my direction. I wiped the corners of my mouth with my fingers and licked them. Hastily, he turned away and reached out his hand toward the cake box. It was almost empty. In his face, a horrified grimace appeared for a brief moment, but he quickly caught himself. That just tastes too good, doesn’t it, he laughed then, full of understanding, pulling his sleeves up a bit and reaching with pointy fingers for a little kiwi tart. I had left the kiwi. Fruit made me sick to my stomach. The neighbor’s son tenderly considered the green slices on the round tart. It vanished without resistance between his full lips. A little sin, he said, dabbing scraps of gelatin from the corner of his mouth; I can resist anything except temptation, he joked, then quickly became serious again. Actually, he wasn’t supposed to eat such things at all. Swear, he said, I implore you, imploringly he looked in our eyes, first Amalia, then me, then Amalia again, you have to be as silent as a grave. You can’t imagine. You see, he said, cleaning his lips with his tongue, I’m the faith healer in the house. The moral authority, so to speak. If I lose my credibility. Then the whole system will collapse like a house of cards. Everything he’d started. Nothing would last. He stared into the open box. His jaw muscles tensed. His hair was sticking to his temples, darkly wet. His eyes were focused ahead, toward something far away. What’s disconcerting, he said now, more to himself, is that sometimes he himself was beginning to doubt the goals of the supposedly American team of scientists whose knowledge was behind his family doctor’s nutrition regimen. This scientific team might turn out to be a bunch of charlatans. Or even a fiction. A successful power play. Everything would then disgust him. As if he’d put his hand into something. Without warning, in one single moment, the utter meaningless of the whole enterprise would abruptly become clear to him. It forced itself on him like a smell. Without any external occasion. And without reason. If he told anyone what went through his head then. He laughed madly. He’d be institutionalized. He never talked about these ideas; he’d prefer never to have them. Now they came out of him in bursts. He’d be institutionalized. If he uttered even a fragment of his inkling. Called things as they are. The senselessness of our actions. Eternal recurrence. The struggle for existence. Nothing else, an eternal recurrence, he emphasized, of the same, without deeper meaning, but he kept himself, he did, from talking out loud about that, from unsettling the dull satisfaction of others, everything still had to keep going on in the end, and who could understood that better than he did, he carefully kept to himself, he knew nobody wanted to hear these things.
I was completely soft and sticky myself. I could hardly move my body, and my thoughts could not move at all. But, for the first time, I had the feeling that I not only understood the neighbor’s son’s every word but also grasped what he meant. It did not sound well-rounded and elegantly expressed. It no longer sounded at all beautiful. I may not have known just what it had to do with the tree. But something in his words had something to do with me; I felt they were aimed right at me, that they had to do directly with me. Nothing like that ever happened. I was just about to realize something great. The doorbell distracted me. The little girl was standing there. I gestured towards the living room. Go in there and get your father, I ordered her. She was wearing red patent-leather shoes and a hair circlet in the same color. In the middle of the living room, she stopped to take a good look at everything. Her mouth opened. The used paper napkins were lying around on the acorn table that once belonged to my grandfather. They looked indecent on the dark wood. The son took the box in his hands and crushed it until it was flat. Then he poured himself a last glass and held it up close to his eyes. The sweat on his temples had dried. Papa, said the girl, after quickly catching her breath. It’s already after six o’clock. First we waited for you. Then we ate supper. We told ourselves we no longer had to wait. She raised her wrist to her eyes and paused. It’s fourteen minutes after six, she said after a moment of effort. Papa, are you coming. He followed the child.
Amalia held me by the sleeve. Why had he been here. What had he wanted.
I had to think hard to remember how everything had even first begun.
The next day, the rain began. My father left his room at noon. It had not yet got properly light. Outside, everything looked unclean. Decontamination, I said to my father. The neighbor’s son’s ideas came out of my mouth, disordered and deformed. They lost all meaning. Only complete emptying guarantees complete purification, I babbled, you have to get to the bottom of the strategies and the system. My father gazed through the wet windowpane. In the yard, the son crossed the lawn in boots. A black poncho completely concealed his body. The wind blew the plastic from his sides. He looked like a vampire. In one hand, he held a large canister and sprayed brown liquid on the flower beds. Afterwards, he covered the soil with plastic tarps.

THE AWAKENING ROOM I

Author: Uljana Wolf
Translator: Christian Hawkey

THE AWAKENING ROOM I

oh had i only stayed in the awakening room
lost in dreams tied to drips beneath white sheets

where others also couldn’t find themselves
a flock of sheep close to sleep close to god

and consolation and large nurses in white fur
– our shepherds bending softly over us –

if we surrendered one another to the human
riddle of numbers: on a scale of one to ten

how heavy is your pain? – and if there were
no borders that could again define us in

these fields, in the postnarcotic sniffling –
we would stick very close to this our i

indiscernible from other sheep grazing here
beside themselves in the awakening room


German original © KOOKbooks, Berlin 2005

recovery room I

Author: Uljana Wolf
Translator: Tony Frazer

oh if only I’d stayed in the recovery room
dream-lost drip-bound under white

sheets near others who’d also lost their way
a herd of sheep close to sleep still close to

god and comfort great sisterbeasts were there
our shepherds who bent softly over us –

and we introduced ourselves the number puzzle
man: on a scale of one to ten tell me

how much does it hurt? – and there would be
no barrier in sight that could reveal us

from the depths again out of the post-narcotic
snuffles – this time we’d stay quite close by

this self hard to tell apart from other sheep
grazing absently here in the recovery room

Originally published in German by © KOOKbooks, Berlin 2005

THE AWAKENING ROOM II

Author: Uljana Wolf
Translator: Christian Hawkey

oh had i never been in the awakening room
deaf and stranded and rocking in a white boat

tied alongside other boats – yes this is
the last harbor yes this is the damp canal

of sleep where threatening nurses in black
robes stand like judges on the shore

each finger as a strict syringe: drip and
devil my darling can you hear me

and in these locks you can hear nothing
only stillness sanitized otherworldly water

feeding you from tubes drop by drop –
with each swift wave beneath your bed

the sea steals you back into the dream of
star and muzzle far from the awakening room

Originally published in German by © KOOKbooks, Berlin 2005

recovery room II

Author: Uljana Wolf
Translator: Christian Hawkey

oh if only I’d never been in the recovery room
stranded deaf rocking in the white

barge tied up by other barges
yes that’s the last harbour the damp

sleep-canal with black sisters standing
on the banks like judge and jury

threatening with stern finger-jabs: drips
and devils my love can you hear me

and you can hear nothing but this silence
in the sluicegates purging water that

nourishes you drop by drop from the tube –
while with swift blows under your bed

the sea steals you back into dreams of
stars and gags far from the recovery room

Originally published in German by © KOOKbooks, Berlin 2005

autumn for me was always
at home

Author: Maik Lippert
Translator: Catherine Hales

autumn for me was always
simply spring rewound
as though the trees
were pulling back their leaves
I rarely got really
excited about it
with haemorrhoids
but now I’m learning how
to smell autumn
as I’m starting to learn my own smell
at the roadside
in the leaves
the honey agaric of memory
the tales dad tells
of plump strands of mycellium
glowing among the trees at night
Originally published in German by © Edition Thaleia, St. Ingbert 2007

 

at home
what was that again
I’m sitting in the commuter train
thinking of the agony
of fish eyes
in a tin of sprats
do you remember
the red label
kilki w tomatnom sousje
the flat tin
open wide
hard to bear
that staring
people on platforms
mühlheim       dietesheim       steinheim
mondays to fridays always the same
litany over loudspeakers
an inspector suggests that I
should get a ticket
so that we know
he says
where you’re going

Originally published in German by © Edition Thaleia, St. Ingbert 2007

If I had a garden

Author: Orsolya Kalasz
Translator: Catherine Hales

If I had a garden

if I had a garden
I wouldn’t mourn like this
I’d separate mourning from regret
it’s bad enough that I can’t get
the grass that covers graves
out of my head
this is much harder
I have no other choice
than to find a garden
bury my fingers in the earth
& wait for the grass of mourning
to take root deep in the earth
I want to mourn in my garden
& if permission comes from the depths of the earth
for me to ease my fingers out
my nails will be edged in black
by the inevitable
this too I am permitted by words
which permit my mourning everything
even not to want more time
as though I could predict how days
will take root in my forgetting

If I Had a Garden
When the winter comes, …
Language Gives Up the Ghost

Author: Orsolya Kalasz
Translator: Donna Stonecipher

If I had a garden
I would mourn differently
would separate mourning from remorse.
It’s bad enough that I can’t get
the word “mourning-grass”
out of my head.
It’s much harder this way.
I have no choice
but to find a garden, and there
bury my fingers in the earth
and wait until the mourning-grass
sprouts into the deep.
I want to mourn in my garden
and when from the deep
I am allowed to pull my fingers out
my nails will be edged in black by
what was inevitable.
The words also allow me to do this,
the words that allow my mourning everything.
Also to want to be done with it.
As if one could predict how the days
put down roots in forgetting.

When the winter comes

When the winter comes, who will still believe
in its cold?

Then through my aunt’s yard I’ll carry
a bowl holding the steaming
pig’s heart over to the pot.
The snow before my steps
lost its whiteness long ago.

There, where the village ends, who does the winter stillness
meet with a precise thrust
and at the little red beech tree
in the rhythm of whose heart
does the peace then fill,
streaming, its vessel?

 

Language Gives Up the Ghost

Would you like to come over
into my language?
I ask you
you ask me
you sleepless one.
Come
just ask me, yes you me, me you then, again.
Does the gate exist in your language
that opens to the sound of my heart knocking?
Just listen to me, yes you me, me you then, again.
What can the tears do in your language?
What can tears do in your language
when I cart home
from the willow
the weeping willow
the falling leaves
and lay them on your face
do you let them fall, do tears fall in your language?
I ask you, you ask me, yes you me, me you then, again.
Do they want to go back
the guessed words
back to the twilight institution?
What do you give up in your language?
You, the key.
I, I in my language the ghost.
A few skeletons are still lying in the clause.
I’m guilty! You’re guilty!
Who’s guilty!
The goddamned moths are guilty!
You ask me, I ask you, yes you me, I you then, again.
What does the hand expect in your language?
I had her palms, one on each arm
so that something could be begun
be touched, be embraced.
To you she shows only her signs
her sign language.
Can a hand, like a mouth,
sing, or scream
through sign language?
So sing then, sing, scream, swallow yourself,
sob, groan
spit out the bits of sorrow
on a sheet of white paper:
An image. A girl and a wild goose. The goose has one leg lifted.
The girl leans her head on its long, slim neck.
Would you like to come over
I hear you, me, you hear me
so hear
the words we guessed, the guest words
have pushed open the heart’s gate
the leaves, the tears
fall, fall, fall

Let’s exchange
give me the key
you take the ghost.

here he is
the annihilation of fathers …

Author: Anna Hoffmann
Translator: Catherine Hales

here he is

a sick man among sick men
lined up to do battle with big guns
a stockpile of syringes
against an army of bedsores
a drip-feed against tumours
& every morning armed with a marmelade
sandwich       crusts cut off       against his own
self-consuming body

his muscles shrinking
his flesh falling away
the machines whirring

for weeks now
lying at his post       looking at the moon
sword above his skull       licking at skin &
bone       more pain here
numbness down there
staring       shooting tears back into his eyes
everything half used-up

his muscles shrinking
his flesh falling away
the machines whirring

 

the annihilation of fathers
or
shit scared to answer the phone

oh shit       omigod
his blanketed eyes scrabbling for images on the board
making still-lifes from feeder-cups and piss-bottles
bleeding       bleeding on rubber sheets
tugging away at his white harness
so hard to keep clean       she says
a glitch in the body
minced gut disclosing itself
seems “the worst will soon be over       soon with eyes
covered & bound feet”

hurry to bread the wound       grub for the worms
& that’s a revelation       a clumpish       “error”
the stuffed skin of a man like nothing so much as
the wurst of memory
“won’t be long before you’re stuffing me in there”