Archives

khamsin
scirocco

Author: Dominique B. Renard
Translator: Catherine Hales

khamsin

on days like this the south wind binds
the drought-struck people in blankets

the towns are dusted in mildew
steel scaffolds kneel in the sand

the great lake is nightmare       is mass to negotiate
is calamity

and hope for a dozen insects of the air
is in the drops that the windscreen washer
wastes on the car’s dark metal


scirocco

it dries the tears it brings to our eyes
and draws the moisture from leaves

the wind-scoured streets shiver in the bright dry air
concrements crumble from overgrown walls

bright smoke drifts across the valley from foothills
and ash colours white shawls held over faces

a street trader silently offers his last fruit for sale
when evening comes he’ll give it as a gift to the gutter

The Bengali Pianist

Author: Mike Pickert
Translator: Steph Morris

(Excerpt from Chapter 6)

Cornelius lives

… I remember the former Prussian art gallery where Cornelius is being exhibited on Wednesdays from twelve till four, from the time when leprous equestrian monuments lined its steps and blind, plaster-eyed, sandstone putti propped it up, autistically sensual. But today the gallery has been given an aesthetic cleansing and Cornelius is the only art on show.
Half naked, painted pallid white and trailed with blood by the make-up artists, he hovers, stretched between two steel cables, his legs spread above a sharply pointed stake and, mechanically raising and lowering his jaw, silently simulates an infernal shriek. At the foot of the artwork is an engraving; undulating sickle-shaped forms like thorns, etched with calligraphic correctness into a copper plate. The Egyptian artist delivers a reading to the bearded audience then pays Cornelius his fee in cash, allowing the spectators to count along with him. Finally dates, cereal pellets and stones rain down on Cornelius from on high before he leaves the stage wearing a streaked robe and a crown of NATO barbedwire.
“How was it?” I ask Cornelius once the performance is over. Still blinded by the lighting technician’s artistry, he rubs the floury make-up from his face and leans against the beheaded sculpture of a Germanic general.
“Same as usual,” he sighs. “Could have been worse. Once freed you can only fall. And on the way down the imagination has full rein.” He puts on his glasses and with them acquires his physician look, and the contortion returns to his face, knotted and perforated. His eyes turn in opposite directions, the whites gain optimum power and he holds his chest as if overcome. He seldom talks about the pain. His depths are delicate as paper.

After Cornelius’ performance we leave the building by a side door, to escape the banner-waving Koran students in front of the main entrance. They have pursued us more than once with telescopic truncheons and petrol canisters out to the estates at the city’s edge, right to the final bus stop at the rubbish incinerator, where the air tastes of beer-tents and heated scrap metal. We are not interested in a repeat performance and willingly seek out the periphery. We give the boot camp for replication criminals at the west end of the park a wide berth. Heads down, we pad like panthers along the unwatched metal fence, for two kilometres nothing but barracks and chain-link fences strewn with shreds of cloth, then we go our separate ways.
Cornelius still sometimes tells me what was important to him: “That someone was there, that someone whose judgement I trust sees that it’s really true. I would never be able to describe it afterwards like that,” he says.
But before he burrows any deeper – gets political, polemical, sentimental – I turn right, into the Boulevard of the Immigrants, in order to view the rear of my main client’s building from a distance, the Blumenstein Institute. There is a piece of wall from which you can see the research wing, beyond the moats and electric fences, and I climb onto a ledge and picture Dr Grimm, leader of the research department, and chief experimenter, who approached me a few weeks ago about a second kidney donation, and for whom I now shout, “you’ve already got my hands, what more do you want!?”

Through the park it’s barely five minutes’ walk to the retired tenor’s house. Here only my hearing is required, nothing more. Two armed guards in military mixed-salad green loiter in front of the portal. They examine my papers and pat me up and down. I lift the stumps of my arms over my head like baguettes. Shortly after, the housekeeper opens the ornate door cautiously, although not without exertion. In summer she lets me straight into the courtyard where the snowy-haired singer sits enthroned on his rattan bench, framed and delineated by climbing roses, close to the splattering fountain, a later addition, from the Wilhelmine era. Half an arm’s length from him, the fountain spouts out a cupola-shaped water mushroom, like the roof of a glassy synagogue, and the tenor cools one hand while the other conducts through the air like the neck of a retching swan.
At his nod I take a seat at the edge of the fountain and the tenor welcomes me with twitches at the corners of his mouth, and with sentences like “our ashes will be strewn in an aquarium” or “Sharia-Schmaria” or “tempus fugit” or “death lies in the guts”; all sentences which in reality are not said by him, but by my thoughts, thoughts in which there is only Cornelius.
He stands up and crosses the courtyard, his secluded reservation, while I, still under the spell of the blooming Moorish park I crossed to get here, think about how one winter Cornelius and I found a dead animal there on the football field,
… and how, utterly silent and bewildered, Cornelius began stamping on it, both feet at the same time, as if he wanted to get inside the stodgy body, emptied of breath,
… and how he stood next to it in his clumpy orthopaedic boots and bit at his nails while saliva ran down his chin in long threads, drawn out by the wind,
… and how I took him then to his flat, to what he called his “wallpapered concentration-camp,” where the rooms crackled from the cold, where the walls were hung over and over with aerial photos of derelict cities, the ceiling decorated with airplane debris,
… and how I perched on the sofa between crusty towels and magazines full of photos showing fat, sweating women, naked, dark and oily as if embalmed,
… and felt how with every breath I took, the walls around me tightened like a pneumatic tourniquet,
… and the looks swooped through the room like pigeons’ bodies, and every look went straight through the things, through the furniture, wallpaper and walls, through the aerial photos, and the naked and sweating women, past everything and through everything, till everything seen had been seen through and changed entirely, dissected simply through seeing,
… and I still know how the walls pressed relentless against me and I jumped up, restless, then sat down again, jumped compulsively up and fell down again,
… and that suddenly I could no longer sense myself, and felt as if I had no organs, light as gas, but still incapable of leaving,
… and that Cornelius started clearing out his fridge, as if remote-controlled, and tied up the salami, the meat, and the half-eaten burgers in see-through bags, where they smeared brown streaks like comet-tails across the polythene walls, while the room began to stink of innards and Cornelius spoke of unsustainable situations, of second cousins and second-degree frostbite, of gangrene from wounds and gangrene from frost, situations where disgust erupted abruptly, of disjointed visions and analogies which were never there, of diagnoses which no one other than him knew,
… And outside it began to snow; the flakes floated weightless through the frost, and Cornelius knelt next to the fridge and retched and spat emerald-green slaver into the vaporous depths of the freezing compartment,
… and I stared ahead, towards the window, towards the light, and saw the grinning x-ray images and tomogram exposures hanging outside the window, grimly veined celluloid where lumpy forms stretched into filaments; all the evidence, fluttering in the wind, which he had continually brought home back then, from tropical medicine clinics and casualty departments, from congresses and author-ities, from emergency operations, countless visits, anamneses leading to panic, everything financed via a plethora of credit scams …
… while Cornelius, hugging the plastic bags, suddenly sat right on the edge of his folding bed and swore to me, again and again, that he was totally incapable of describing temperatures objectively, of telling others whether it was warm or cold, saying to others, to strangers, “I’m boiling,” or “I’m freezing.”
“All temperatures make me nervous,” he said, and tore the clothes off his body with jerky, drag-queen gestures.
He placed the bag with the salami remains on his stomach, then drew it slowly up to his chest, where his ribs stretched like heating pipes through the glacial skin.
… And I shouted at him; “just stop it once and for all; I can’t take these constant mortality displays. You’re obsessed with this ridiculous self-loathing!”
But he began humming in a soprano-bright tone and pressed the salami bag against his forehead, his mouth open wide. I saw no teeth, only his brownish gums, while the polythene bubbled into blisters around his forehead,
… and I kept hammering away: “you have a place to live! Be thankful you have a roof over your head! What more do you want? A hospice-apartment is not a Jugendstil villa, but it’s better than nothing” …
… and with both hands Cornelius rammed the bloated bag against his forehead till it split at the edges and the salami slivers slid over his eyes and down his entire face,
… and he threw the half-eaten burgers, and salami slices against the window, towards the x-rays and tomograms, till the window was shaded epidemically and the room started to darken: with the snow whirling at it, the jack-frost on the panes, the tomographic images, and the comet-tail traces of salami on the glass …
… and I ran out of the room, my eyes blurred; out of the house, onto the street and to the bridge, and threw myself against the iron railings, shuddering in revulsion and bending forwards to bury my face in my stumps,
… and then from the bridge to the park nearby. I searched the whole park systematically; first for people and then for corpses,
… and then with the corpses back to Grimmeisen Bridge: thwacking and thwacking the balustrade in wide sweeps, swiping at the railings with the human substitute, the frosted cadaver, for ages – minutes, hours – till I lost all strength, still unable to let it drop, till the bones under the icy carapace broke and the slippery thing slid down, released from the stumps of my arms,
… and as if numb, as if unconscious, the parable of the cold struck the canal’s reflective surface, beneath which the sinking had already begun.
… and for months I didn’t touch a single piece of meat, a single human being, a single carcass, not one salami, not even a breaded steak in Schrill’s restaurant, because the pattern of sinews and fibres had lodged itself in my mind as something which can fly at night.

… But now the tenor is showing me his roses, white, clipped roses in his courtyard, where the flowers’ shadows fall on us like bruises or eczema. Then he strikes a posture by the fountain, draws air into his lungs, mimes pregnancy in front of his stomach with both hands, and sounds his cathedral organ like a wholly fulfilled person. “Can you hear the tragic element?” he asks me. “It has nothing to do with the phrasing; it is very simply the timbre, quite distinct from practice, or habits one acquires. It is as if the tragic were tattooed into my vocal cords. My organ is without parallel anywhere; no one shapes the tones like me. Yet no sooner have I started singing, it becomes too much for the majority; too much richness and too much drama. One should sing for silent films. But now, at the end of my career I only give private recitals. It is important to be true to one’s voice. And now: everything I could never sing, was never allowed to sing, everything which never made it to performance, exclusively for you! Yes, you may listen to me and for this I will pay you a fee. It’s worth your listening. Listen to me for God’s sake!”
I hardly have the chance to nod before he asks: “Do you know what it’s like on provincial stages? Or what lurks in the orchestra pits there? Burnt-out prams and wrecked condom machines! Skipping ropes, prisoners’ ID-tags, dogs’ jawbones, sucklings’ skeletons and gas-mask filters! And one just sings above and beyond it all, unruffled, above and beyond all of it, because the Opera must never sense one is afraid of it. My God!” he kept saying. “My God! I can still see them now, as if they were here, unimaginative, aging beings, who no one protects us from – prompters with hair clips between their lips, falling asleep without any shame. Make-up artists who drink to oblivion. Even the lighting technicians withdraw into the all-pervasive darkness. And behind the curtain, fallen military aircraft and detonated missile canisters. That’s provincial! No glamour, I tell you. Nothing to shimmer like the skin of a chameleon. No one claps, there is no applause; a sudden silence simply descends. It makes one’s stomach turn. You see only want-tattered costumes – and sing out into blank incomprehension. Amongst philistines and people who spit on composers! You feel there as if you have made an emergency landing, as if planted in a long-dead garden. And when the curtain finally drops it’s as dark as a worm’s nether regions.”
“Cornelius?” I ask him. “Cornelius?” And stretch my stumps out towards the tenor –
but the tenor is already inside, beyond the French windows periscoping around in front of a wall of bookshelves in search of photograph albums. His lips thin as wire, he shows me photos of himself: yellowed card body-bags with zig-zag edges, orchestras standing as if about to be executed, jaundiced creatures in dusty dinner jackets, conductors expiring in ecstasy. Then he laughs, bright as a bell. “Oh, pictures, pictures! When I look at these extinct gestures I hear solely the motifs. I’m wandering lost in a prosthesis shop. Nothing more than memories. The world of the Opera”; he says, “no place free from sound,” and points to a small, neckless figure submerged in the folds of the curtain. “The world of the Opera: it has no followers, only detainees!” his finger covers the small, greasy head. “The world of the Opera! And that there … was me!”

One hour later I make my way home, back through the park, and look near the football field for passers by willing to talk, and then, meeting no one, for traces of a dead animal.

Standing at my east-facing window that evening, exhausted in my twelve-square-metre Arctic, my weary, emaciated reflection does not amount to a whole figure. I think I can see Cornelius outside on the street, under the bazaar-bright lights, can see him just before closing time reaching into his oral cavity and touching his gums, jaw, and pharynx till the corners of his mouth split, then clutching and feeling himself all over with restless, fluttering hands, continually searching for new anomalies along the relief of his own body.
I close the blind because I can’t cope with him right now. But in the morning, before it gets light, I will put a pen in my mouth like a starving bird with a twig, and write the whole story with my teeth and lips, everything as it really was, his story and mine, our shared, inseparable fortune.

The last thing I hear before falling asleep is a trickling cascade from Mr Taraghore’s piano, the Bengali pianist’s études. The cadences gradually descend into an endless, sluggish sultriness, but contain no hint of tiredness. Two or three doors away in a room crackling with static Mr Norisoto cuts through the air, his limbs swelling into metaphors, flinging the shadows of a solitary far-eastern martial art against the flamingo wallpaper; shadows which cannot be bound to his body; patterns angular, but still free.

Hand Lines
Twelve Black Fathoms Deep

Author: Florian Voß
Translator: Andrew Shields

Hand Lines

Cherries blossom outside
but not in your courtyard
where the pigeons sidle
between the stones
to search for bread
The bread is in the breadbox
in the kitchen of childhood
beside oil, wine, and salt
That is sunflower oil
and the sun shines too
through the overcast windows
hung with curtains, sunshine yellow
on Sunday morning at nine

The one standing in the kitchen
is you at two and a half
and you use your hand
so small, with hardly any
lifelines yet etched into it
you use it to check the shining surface
Meanwhile mother and father
still sleep in their sleeping room
in water-green shadows
Meanwhile you use your hand
to check the iron’s hot metal, your
hand on the flatiron – hot it says
in you, it is hot, that is me

 

Twelve Black Fathoms Deep

It’ll be a long winter
The night pulls dark strings
Twelve black fathoms deep
the dull days tow
beneath the swells of night waves

It’ll be a long winter
The canvas sacks of ice
lie close together in the cellars
the ash-grey spiders tarry
in the frozen corners

Jellyfish
december 1914
anomalies

Author: Jan Wagner
Translator: Iain Galbraith

jellyfish

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!

Samuel Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

there always were some. but that morning
the water seemed thicker, almost hard
around the boat. stuck in the sea
the rudder choked. we men
were much afraid. that evening the beach
and front were crowded with strange people.

“like little bells,” except that people
wouldn’t hear, cried the man next morning –
he’d built himself a pulpit on the beach.
still half-asleep in bed we heard
him rail at the wind, intone amen
as if on bended knee. to that unyielding sea.

as if between this beach and the bering sea
ours was the only village, more people
poured in every day: muscle-men
and prima donnas, stalls, “mr morning
and his noted cup of tea,” a horde
of staggering drunks across the beach

from east to west. only when the beach
became a mass of jelly and the sea
merged with the land, did that herd
retreat behind the authorities’ fence. people
no longer spoke of spirits, the morning
come of judgement day, foulest omen.

when do exceptions become the rule? men
reeking of drink, unshaven priests, botch-
work, holes in clothes. whether morning
or evening, nobody cared. did we see
our children’s forlorn faces? were the people
blind? when it chimed thirteen, nobody heard.

a boy piped up but not one of us heard –
for how could it be true? then two men
confirmed the news; soon all our people
had it on their lips. beyond the beach,
as if nothing had happened, lay the sea –
the incoming waves. the very next morning

women returned to the hearth, all morning
people banged pots, cleaned. and on the beach
we men stood in silence, gazing out to sea.

december 1914

“One of the nuts belonging to the regiment got out of the
trenches and started to walk towards the German lines.”

‘course we thought they’d gone loco,
each man-jack a sitting duck
armed with naught but mistletoe
and plum-pudding. but they were in luck –

the guns were still. in no-man’s-land
and mud we met between the lines,
at a loss for words, each hand
at a trouser seam, until the woodbines

did the rounds, were lit, and someone
shared a bar of bitter chocolate.
one man had news of a poison
that did away with louse and rat,

others, still too stiff to talk, swigged
rum, or got out family photos,
played halma, yelled, swapped
addresses, uniforms, helmets, jocose

till under the sheaves of streaking tracer
on that soft and naked common field
there was nothing left to offer
but the trenches and their nameless yield.

 

anomalies

impossible to trace the note back to its author,
for keeping mum was thought a point of honour,
and yet the news was plain – herr richter
had three nipples. a tinkling peel of laughter
passed along the row of girls behind us
and died like showering pins. beyond the window:
early christmas snow. a train in the distance
split the white sky from the white below
when suddenly the bell gave us a jolt:
in the corridor on endless shelves, afloat
in their heavens of formaldehyde,
were tiny naked gods – each dewy eye
watched us walk past. as if they knew what
growth lowered under our skin, and why.

Journal, Lago Momentane
Souvenir Trip
Mountains of Deer

Author: Ron Winkler
Translator: Iain Galbraith

Journal, Lago Momentane

our arrival was catastrophically fine,
the sky picturesquely colourless, the present
like a precise body of water.
we collected gods and purified
them (of necessity) until late at night. the air
was inevitably large. there were sung beasts,
phenomena of peculiar panicle.
most of it looked possible.
we felt conspicuously now.

 

Souvenir Trip

for Jan Wagner

behind extensive sheep lay Premium Highlands,
its alphalandscape was instantly cognizable, its adequate design
a middle stratum in the prime of life, you spoke
of mountaining together, several egocentric pubs later on
of manic harvest, who knows, these foreign parts were intransitive
home – and therefore dangerous. they kept malt-cows
which acted like malt-cows. every day contained perhaps
ten kilos of beauty. sun-ups like monsoons.
rainfall sometimes like the light, sometimes like substantives.
around us so-called Glenn Gould birds. peculiar windows.
they too were based on charter language. bridging
what was a gap. and parting your gaze followed them
in an oddly Victorian way.

Mountains of Deer

from a primed and decoy landscape we extracted
part of the inhabited zone: a typically fuzzy population of deer.
a homeopathic specimen of these we dipped in our synaptic fluid
showing that their forest function ran in inverse reciprocity
to trees, or else behaved as if it did (–>Schrödinger’s flicker).
their frequency was green, their mean was higher still than zero
and could be gauged with colour theories and clocks.
into stands, sounds and stereometry we split several of the samples
(and yet I liked the eyes especially, which lacked conclusive values).
we categorized them as a bundle of aligned impulses
with an alternating locus. they coupled to and fro and were
orthographic relations. their retarded evolution gave us time.
thus we induced their radial decay and at ease
went back inside our dwelling products.

 

Bashfulness
The day, squander
Heel Bar

Author: Tom Schulz
Translator: Nicholas Grindell

Bashfulness

in accordance therewith, everything is
nothing but soapsuds / for the trash gullet

were we to find the place again
the mouth where the river
bid us farewell, the stones crashed

so that we crossed soma with social
ethics, the umpteenth bastard genre
the petrified flower, the pastoral kiss
in a cave full of stalactites

as we kicked ass through ornate
alabaster, butterfly schnapps
on our billowy breath in the meadows
of happiest Mondays

o genius, we sleep-sated ones have spent
too long showering in this century!

the inspired rugs in the corridors of the real
school spawned sorcerer’s apprentices, the bulge
flaws got bellies, we thought as much

but the word doch makes the rounds of mouths
left open, this nes-and-yo

away with the staircases, the wisecracks
let’s stick the art instigators
with the tannic fruit of their soul
into this eternal shop window display

all we lovers of herbal fizzy drinks
wanted was … cuckoo be damned!
ousted fledglings uppermost
derided beauty out of the frame
you sweet burning mulberry tree

 

The day, squander

whatever you do, do it
into glad oblivion:
it all blooms without memory

(look at the wild thyme
in the loins of a pre-Provençal night)

there is no port in the port
only the dew and the ropes

there is no longer no longer

there is no longer
the sell-by-tag on a swordfish
in a shop for maritime gear

how deep is the ocean
(at an unclear point
where the text’s not quite tight
and the poet’s the brainburger)

I two-timed with the losses
up to the roadstead, where this insane
joggling whinnied like a taxi nag

what you must do, let it go
into glad transport

the forgetfulness of a street
corner that I was

when you outside the ice cream parlour:
a beanpole with woodruff

the Gnostic worm, the glowing
thread of a colony of lanterns

count me among the berries
count me among the quinces

make me flitter
before a fluttering blackbird gown

 

Heel Bar

Find a job
or be Rilke

open up the large and spacious bar
of the sea, I’m only saying
(from a poem by)

we’re just kind of lapwing children
kind of shooting stars gone down in flames
just kind of fumigated roses

the concertina is the way to go
(sailor stop your dreaming)

my soles squeak, my footfalls
are not quieter in Scarytownsville

the shoes I was given
wept before crocodiles

(We turn on our heels
pursued by the sprinklers in a multi-storey car park

when the shops shut, we’ll give
the business community a run for its money)

I love it when you
get my goat & fully shall we diss
the present, we’ll steal
the ture the fu too & lock them
in a zoo

we bidders of farewell in the Azores
we’re just split balconies with falls
just these tearfully dried up cisterns

Suni, we fall through the night
like empty bottles down the lift shaft

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

Author: Monika Rinck
Translator: Alistair Noon

sadness frightens my gob into silence

THAT’S where I was gobsmacked, the point at which, if I were someone else,
I’d carry on unflustered without a flash of eyelash,
though in a wardrobe, and not alone but in the company of priests.
among the tracksuit bottoms, towels, gowns and negligées I’d feel
I could say anything, it would emerge from me still fresh,
as if some kind of fertilizer had been used on me.
the priests’ budlike look would find me in the end
as would the lavender sachet thrown in, I’d curtsey at the edge
of the piled-up, ironed clothes, clear the nylons off
into the drawer for socks that as a joke we called
“the gutter of the damned”. in that mall of unfamiliar winterwear,
the bering straits, priests would meet me and since it was summer
undo my straps, as lightly as dragonflies, and teach me a lesson
in fear, as something new that now somehow belonged there,
to a round of applause from the skipful of wrong-size woolies.
now we go over to a wardrobe elsewhere, and a tennis tournament to mark
the gob’s reopening, with speeches, canapés and law students.

 

the trophy sheep

white-dabbed places to romp in: a well-positioned sheep.
muscles as solid as nylon, in the dark the ribs,
the joint of mutton’s expansion ends in spindly sticks.
the hooves are used for buttons, dildoes, artificial limbs.
tallow rumbles across it, the exterior crinkly with underhair.
here is the sheep, producing surplus value by the minute.
the sheep of the apocalypse, out to become the ubersheep.
the sheep of sharply tuned receivers. the sheep
that points up to the sky, the sheep as an oilwell,
visionary sheep of the future, the sheep of things to come,
made into money, travelling at suicidal speeds.
white cushions worth millions, maximal, numbered,
mouths and marrows in circulation, the trophy sheep.
keep counting: two point two, two
point three, point four million sheep in circulation.
and in the end, exhausted, the sheep of reason blinks.


(with thanks to ms. scho)

 

absolute romantic zero

christ, caspar david, that was the height of ice:
a cathedral slit into the centre, thawing
down its damp pharynx. halting her breath.
a vertical glacier, the neck of a bottle, and in there
halls and chambers. below: water, black with cold.
blacker than black. colder than cold. the giant hens
are on the march, but only the kernel is visible.
like a coffee bean in motion. don’t let yourself
be fooled: the giant hen is still there
but out of sight. the whole thing’s a disaster.

 

the opposite of seduction

is the way they dry out but grow imperceptibly – in spite
of mistreatment – still their protest at the progress of time?
for years I’ve been tipping the gunk from the cups – more coffee,
anyone? – into the pots, or they wouldn’t get watered for weeks
at all. slack, woody stalks in what might be earth.
amazing they still grow, or pretend to: they parody life.
and into my back they mutely prop their wobbly swords,
levered out en route between offices. they lean back
in corners, busy with photosynthesis and being dismal.
what seconds ago was cooling the processor, our eight-hour lungs
now use. what plant’s that then? heidi brought it.
dogs have been bred without fur before, they have,
but plants without leaves? I stand in front of this plant
and into the whirr of the computer I say:
“I will dwell in the house of the lord forever.”
and think through the gentle swaying outside, the leaves,
the leaves, moved in formation, among their purple peers,
and this one ugly plant here as a figure of redemption, such that we are all,
all resurrected into an obsolete age in which we neither sow
nor harvest but only abide, in the opposite of seduction. yeah,
they all say: “my turn to bring the peat tomorrow!”
tomorrow comes, and no one brings peat.

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

Author: Stan Lafleur
Translator: Nicholas Grindell

the boxer

glass chin, that’s how they tended to
rate him, the smart alecks at the ringside

but he always did what he could. what he
wanted, besides boxing his way through

was god’s little secret. as a child, he once
revealed on the late show, they had had

to fasten a cutlet round his neck to make
sure that at least the dogs would play

with him. by then of course, his liver-like
gloves had long since been hung

round the neck of a silent admirer


frank lampard

frank lampard, whose father was frank lampard senior
and whose three brothers, one older & two younger
were all of them called frank lampard, this particular
frank lampard was a truly outstanding football player
far better even than his father frank lampard, who also
knew a thing or two about football, just the same as
frank lampard’s three brothers of the same name had
also inherited this top family talent – but none of them
made it as far in football as frank lampard himself. he
compressed the midfield into impenetrable matter & if
necessary, or just for the fun of it, he’d whack the ball
into the net in person, while his father & brothers and a
few others, whose name had also been frank lampard
for generations, followed frank lampard’s performance
down the pub, cheering it and sousing it with thin lager

 

george best

when did it all start going so inhumanly
wrong then, asked the room service guy
at this plushy hotel where he was relaxing

with a few bottles of vintage champagne
twenty grand in cash on the bedspread
& under it the incumbent miss universe

punch-wise, too, he was already pulling
more with the ladies than he packed on the
pitch & he drank, barely over the op, to

the health of his new liver. what do you
mean wrong, nothing went wrong, he
replied, shaking his head at so much false

pity & depending on his intake, his passes
went either into touch or to delighted fellow
inmates on the wings of the prison tea

breakfast in nha trang

a labourer fell from the scaffold. her
eyes burst like hard-boiled eggs on
impact with the street. i was taking
a sip of coffee with my fruit salad
when i saw her falling like an idea
an unimportant headline that falls
through the entire newspaper. the
burst eyeballs revealed her hidden life:
poverty-shuttered hard work, dogged
belief in the hereafter, getting old with
no plan, like a docile, patient little animal
& now, surrounded by cries, passers-by
drizzled with the honey of the morning air
hefted onto a vehicle, bound for midday

 

cyclo riding in saigon

in the cockpit of a cyclo, i had myself
driven round district one, my chauffeur
pedalled like a slave & just could not
believe it, he had gone to great lengths
to get me as his customer too, asked
ten times the price & got double, i said
DRIVE ME TWELVE TIMES ROUND THIS
ROUNDABOUT. in amongst hundreds of
mopeds we crept forward breathing
murky exhaust fumes & sweating like
pigs, people waved to us, whole families
sat astride their motobikes, toothless
old bags at the roadside sold shellfish
& snails cooked over the fire until the
smell of soup mingled with the heat
haze, horn honk answered horn honk &
accompanied the roar of motors as if the
ground was breaking open beneath us
shops peered cautiously at the asphalt
sucked wares into their cavernous dark
merchants leaned against awning poles
to watch our passage. we quickly became
the sensation but after the seventh round
the driver got off his saddle, FUCK YOU! he
said, THANK YOU! came my asiatic answer

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

Author: Hendrik Jackson
Translator: Nicholas Grindell

note on Jonah

the word that does not come to pass –
and yet, we do not go into the immanence
of a big-bellied, dark, barely
discernible life, self within self
in the whale’s wide ocean –
it streams, flows
over the eyes

always you waited for a sign
– undying stubbornness
and the whole sky was hung with
luminous creatures, thus did we trickle
the lie into Jonah’s ear
go forth into the world
into the windswept void

 

Whoosh

rain made its own sea and the sea its own waves, clouds
swelled above the sea’s white surf – bright sounds –
and like dust on the tape track, everything mixed together
the voices, whispering, stand out from yesterday, from the
dead conversations, woven into the moiré of swelling
…sss…welling interferences, wherever the wind goes, whether
it softly surges rushes subsides, lightly lifts, like fluff
hushing with a rustle or into ash grey silence – a hand movement
as if after prolonged illness all simultaneities were to end
all gusts to switch tack, reared up, questions simply to arise

 

riff-raff: (bosch)

small cohorts bear flags eagerly on through the days up the mountain
riff-raff with the cloven hoof of avarice; while I wait for some
sidetrack or other………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………
with an occasional flattering of the tarps and –
games devoid of emblematic charge and –
sun at my shoulder

inventory of the world

travels? voices? (buzzing wires) – on landing you looked: heavenwards
in flight perhaps you belonged to the inventory of the world, in the child’s eyes.
at first the panorama lies there like a lizard, then suddenly it’s whizzing past
a gradual fading of intensities, dread shimmered in the glass
(bobeobi peli guby) you hummed. all we do anyway is animate strange interiors:
gleaming between global vacancies (straw dolls all aflame). but
sucking on melancholy or crowning the kingfisher bird of the year
– is one and the same. like in endless loops, overcast state of emergency:
totally fogged (an email) autumn burns into view – wafts out the cockpit door.

Taxi Stories

Author: Stephan Mathys
Translator: Katy Derbyshire

One
The train is delayed, presumably a software problem. I curse into the pages of my book. We reach Bern at two minutes to midnight. Emerging from the Christoffel subway, I see the last number 19 bus turning into Bundesgasse. The people on Loeb Egge are swaying about. A sheepdog stretches, lays his front paws on his master’s chest. His master shouts something incomprehensible, a beer bottle smashes by the ticket machine. The dog whines and jumps like a drunken dancer. A few steps away, three taxi drivers are standing in front of the closed kebab stall.
“Spicy sauce and all the trimmings!”
I realise I haven’t eaten properly all day. The yellow signs on the cars’ roofs pull me in like sweet blood to mosquitoes. You don’t have to take the first taxi in line any more.
“Who’ll take me to Wildstrasse the cheapest?”
One man breaks off from the group, gestures towards his taxi. He’s the first in line. We get in.
“Twelve francs, ok?”
I only realise the meter is not turned on when we turn onto Kirchenfeld Bridge.
“Do you do this often?”
The driver glances briefly at me, then back at the road.
“My wife’s pregnant with our fourth kid. What can I do?”
A no smoking sign is stuck to the ashtray. The traffic lights take a long time to turn to green. I have a sudden craving for a beer.
“Turn left here, across Monbijou Bridge. We’ll stop off on Eigerplatz.”
“That’ll be seventeen francs then.”
I murmur my consent.
“You’ve got three children already?”
“Yes, all girls.”
Against my expectation, he doesn’t say he’s hoping for a boy this time. I look out at the brightly lit Bundeshaus.
“What if the anarchists really had bombed the parliament building a hundred years ago, like they threatened?”
“I don’t know much about politics,” says the taxi driver, whose name I can now read on the little plastic card: Erwin Krüger.
“The man who wrote the threats was a German too.”
I tap my finger against the window, pointing towards the Bundeshaus.
“He lived in Heiden, he was a refugee. Traumatised by the Franco-Prussian war, I assume.”
I’m enjoying getting on the driver’s nerves. I don’t want him to earn his money too easily.
“So your name’s Krüger? But you speak perfect Bernese dialect.”
“Do you want to see my passport? My father came from Zurich. My mother came from the Bernese Oberland.”
“The Bundeshaus blackmailer was a Swabian hairdresser who cut the hair of the ladies in all of Appenzell. On request, he even offered special services. Not just head massages. Spicy sauce and all the trimmings, if you know what I mean.”
“Whereabouts on Eigerplatz?”
“Right here, by the Turkish snack-bar. I need a couple of things. It’s been a hard day.”
“If I have to wait more than five minutes it’ll cost more, OK?”
I nod.
“Do you find kebab stalls are actually a culinary enrichment for the city?”
Krüger rubs at his head as if he could scratch the right answer clear underneath his skin.
“Well, you know, the Turks and the drunks by the Heiliggeistkirche…”
I interrupt.
“Should we launch a counterattack by opening fondue restaurants on every other corner of Istanbul?”
He laughs and stops the car.
“Five minutes, OK?”
“Fine. Do you want anything?”
He shakes his head.
Four minutes and thirty seconds later, I sink back onto the passenger seat, a kebab in pita bread in aluminium foil in a paper serviette in a plastic bag in one hand, a can of beer in the other. Krüger throws his cigarette out of the window and turns off the radio.
“Wildstrasse now? Or are we off to Gurten Park for a midnight picnic?”
His voice is not entirely free from ridicule. We’re getting to know each other.
“Not tonight; looking at cities by night makes me feel melancholy.”
We drive back over Monbijou Bridge.
“I think the Swabian hairdresser was stabbed to death with a sword by an enraged husband from Appenzell. The police found another letter in the dead man’s home, in which he threatened to blow up the whole of Bern’s old centre.”
Green lights all the way to the corner of Ägertenstrasse. Krüger is silent, letting the car roll along almost noiselessly. I see the wire fences protectively surrounding the American Embassy.
“You can stop here on the right.”
I place two ten-franc notes and some change in his hand.
“To round off the day I’ll chuck a couple of molotov cocktails over the fence. With best wishes to the American Sector. You can read the details in tomorrow’s paper.”
He looks at me the way people look at harmless idiots. Emotionless, neither inviting nor rejecting, but with his muscles mobilised. I attempt a smile.
“A fourth girl, wouldn’t that be great?”
It takes me two attempts to close the car door properly.
Two
“Can you sit at the front please?”
A green fir tree dangles from the rear-view mirror. A plastic figure on a metal spring wobbles above the glove compartment. Next to it is the driver’s ID card, the name illegible in the semi-darkness. The face in the photo sports a beard, eyes hidden behind a giant pair of glasses.
“Where to?”
“Wildstrasse. By the American Embassy.”
The driver growls. I’ve offended his professional pride, I think, and watch him typing the address into his GPS.
“Why do you want me to sit at the front?”
Not many cars on the roads. It is just after two in the morning. Drizzling rain, gusts of wind, swaying lights. Not a night for strolling home.
“Because,” says the taxi driver, turning right towards the Kornhaus, “because of the metal on me collar. The first time was three months ago, in January. It was snowing so I had to concentrate. Suddenly it went cold at the back of me neck. And then again a week ago, last Sunday as a matter of fact. All my money gone!”
The red numbers on the taximeter remind me of my digital radio alarm clock. The wind rattles at the poster boards in front of the Stadttheater. We turn off. A young man standing by the Zytglogge Tower presses a cigarette out with his foot.
“It’d have been cleverer to just drive into a wall with the bandits, don’t you think?”
He looks over at me. I laugh a little, convinced he’s just thought up the whole thing.
“Time passes quickly on your radio alarm clock,” I say, pointing at the taximeter. The driver puts his foot down.
I say: “This morning I was woken up by Mamma Mia, Here I Go Again.”
We drive over Kirchenfeld Bridge.
“Once someone shouted at me because he didn’t like the song they were playing on the radio.” He does a pretty risky overtake of a woman on a bike and adds: “People are getting crazier and crazier.”
I give a vague shake of my head, which he can read as either agreement or disagreement.
“I took all my embarrassing records to the flea market years ago: Simon and Garfunkel, Barclay James Harvest, Uriah Heep. And what happens now? Bridge over Troubled Water and Lady in Black everywhere you listen. D’you get it, there’s no escaping the past.”
Now it’s the taxi driver’s turn to move his head about indistinctly. We don’t say anything until we get to Wildstrasse.
“You can let me out here on the right.”
He stops the meter – “Thirteen seventy, please,” – and turns on the light.
I walk to my front door slightly stooped, offering the wind as little surface for attack as possible, open the door, and only then do I notice I’m whistling a tune to myself: Oh baby, baby, it’s a wild world.
Three
Dazed by the music of Tchaikovsky and all the stage blood, I’m standing on the outside staircase of Bern’s Stadttheater. Looking at the taxis reminds me of my trip to Moscow at the end of January 1999. We’d got tickets for the Bolshoi Theatre, Romeo and Juliet, and I had fallen asleep after the second act and only woke up at the final applause. After a few steps in the biting cold, unable to take my eyes off the tall, elegant women in fur coats with their corpulent husbands, the glowing faces, the frosted buildings – it had been snowing all day – the stream of cars, only a few taxis, otherwise mainly the private limousines of the new Russians, waiting chauffeurs in livery elegantly doffing their caps after the first eye contact with their lords and masters, brushing the snow off their hats. Pjotr in his rusty Lada was nowhere to be seen in the constant silent movement of the row of cars. My companion lit up a cigarette and said he might be embarrassed and waiting around the corner until they all disappeared. Only a few minutes later Pjotr was standing in front of us, smiling an apology from an almost toothless mouth, patting his lumpish parka into shape and tugging at his scruffy woolly hat as if he wanted to imitate his more elegant colleagues’ cap-doffing. He told us that his car couldn’t cope with the cold and was frozen still on Majakovski Prospect waiting for the tow-truck.

“Shall we take a taxi?”
My thoughts travel back from Moscow to Bern for a few seconds. There are only a few people left on the steps of the Stadttheater.
“Taxi? Where to?”
“Home!”
My wife doesn’t wait for an answer, just flags down a car. We get in.
“Wildstrasse, please.”
“So how did you like it?”
“My thoughts flew to Moscow.”
“Was it cold?”
“We were at the Bolshoi Theatre. Our driver’s car broke down.”
“Wildstrasse, by the ice rink, right?”
The taxi driver looks in the rear-view mirror.
“Yes, that’s right, at the bus stop.”
On the left-hand side of the Historical Museum. The sound of the tyres on the cobblestones.
“It turned out later that Pjotr’s Lada was fine. What we didn’t know was, he shared the car with a colleague. They had a double booking that evening. They played cards and the winner got to use the car. The loser had to lie to his customers.”
The taxi driver switches the light on and turns round to us. My wife pays and we get out.
“He accompanied us all the way to the hotel. That’s how I got my very first ride on the underground with a private chauffeur.”
She smiles, looks at me with feigned admiration and tugs me across the pavement like an old ship.
Four
“A woman. That’s unusual.”
“Is that a problem for you?”
“I was just thinking out loud. I usually get driven home by men.”
“And almost all of them are foreigners, I know.”
We have been driving a few moments before she switches the taximeter on.
“Not the right job for the spoilt Swiss, I can tell you. Especially not for Swiss women.”
I squint at her taxi permit. Elsa Matter. Unlike most of her colleagues, she doesn’t drive a Mercedes, but some kind of Opel. She looks tired. Her face forms waves like those dogs, what are they called again? And she’s fat, very fat. I assume she never leaves the car any more, only eats at McDrive, puts a pillow on the steering wheel to sleep on, throws her full colostomy bags out of the window while she’s driving along like other people do with cigarette ends. If she ever had to leave the car, she’d immediately disintegrate like a beached jellyfish.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to pop.”
I’m a little ashamed. She laughs so loud I’m afraid she’ll use up all the oxygen in the car.
“Do you mind if I open the window?”
“As long as you’re not worried about your hairstyle.”
She turns a corner, slightly too fast for my taste, pressing me against the car door. She seems to be exempt from centrifugal force.
“And you? Knocked off work so late?”
I look at my watch. It is twenty to eight.
“No, not at all, this is when my working day starts.”
“Oh right, night shift.”
“I’m a writer.”
“You write books? Detective stories?”
“At the moment I’m writing taxi stories.”
“Taxi stories?”
“Encounters with taxi drivers, short conversations about anything and everything, including hairstyles.”
“Oh right.”
I look down at the river Aare. On the riverbed next to the banks, gravel hills rise out of the water. The driver looks in her rear-view mirror.
“If you ask me, we’re on our way out.”
“Do you mean just the two of us or the whole of mankind?”
She gives an earnest nod. The folds in her chin remind me of sand dunes.
“You look more or less healthy, but most people are pale and much too thin.”
A building site on Bernastrasse causes a jam. She turns on the radio. Jazz. I have a sudden craving for a glass of white wine.
“This health mania, you know, people don’t know how to enjoy life any more. Young man, you’re a writer, what wonderful word rhymes with bliss?”
She winks at me.
“People should do more kissing, you write that in your books.”
Drops of sweat pearl on her forehead like dead bugs, sticking her yellow hair down to her giant skull.
“Passengers get stranger every quarter of an hour after midnight. I could tell you some stories.”
She looks over at me.
“You live on Wildstrasse? Nice area… It’s none of my business,” she lowers her voice as if someone might be eavesdropping, “but it’s time the Yanks got out of the area, and best of all out of the country. All that leaping about in tight trousers and artificial food – it all comes from them.”
She turns on the interior light.
“That’ll be twelve seventy, just for you.”
I flash a tired smile, glad to be getting out of the car. Before I close the door, she bends over to the passenger seat and looks up at me.
“If you do write about me, knock off a couple of pounds, all right?”
I give her an earnest nod and still see her laughing after she’s driven off.
Five
The thunderstorm predicted in the morning news on the radio has taken its time arriving. The first drops of rain fall from the yellow sky around six in the evening. I hail a taxi.
“Wildstrasse please.”
The driver is wearing a black shirt that gives off a sour smell. He starts the taximeter.
“Where to?”
“The American Embassy.”
By now it has got dark, the clouds hanging in the sky like piles of coal. The windscreen wipers sweep to and fro very fast, but it’s still hard to see. We drive slowly.
The driver hasn’t taken off his sunglasses. Like Roberto Benigni in Jarmusch’s Night on Earth. Only this one doesn’t seem so talkative. When I hesitantly complain that the clean air after a thunderstorm is only clean when you’re outside, and that storms only make things worse because they get your feet soaking wet, his only reaction is a faint nod.
I try and imagine how much the sunglasses are blocking his view. A lot, I think, too much for him to be driving safely, and laugh to myself about Benigni, who literally talks the priest on the back seat of his taxi to death with his confession.
Everywhere, people have taken cover from the rain. I wonder how to go about asking the driver to take off his sunglasses. I squint over at him. He has thin sideburns, a hirsute gutter, very well kempt. Do I know him? Maybe he’s one of the Kurdish Communists who wave their red flags with pictures of Marx and Lenin in front of the American Embassy’s fence every couple of weeks. He might have an eye disease.
At the red light on the corner of Ägertenstrasse and Kirchenfeldstrasse I briefly submit to the absurd idea that the man might be blind.
I pay the wordlessly demanded fourteen francs fifty. Although I run the twenty metres to my front door with great strides, I’m absolutely wet through by the time I put my key in the lock.
Six
The reporter’s voice cracks, the driver turns down the radio. He seems annoyed, bends over the steering wheel and looks up at the sky.
“We’ll just have to invade Austria!”
I’m not interested in skiing. I find the taxi driver’s annoyance amusing.
“It’s the revenge of the Habsburgs!”
He looks at me with a loose jaw, screwing up his eyes as if something were blinding him. We drive across Eigerplatz and stop at a red light.
“My father was at the world skiing championship in St. Moritz in 1934. Up at the top, in the starting hut. He had to check the numbers and the material.”
I guess the taxi driver is about sixty. His skin is smooth and thin like white tissue paper. His hands on the steering wheel seem older, too large for the man’s body. We drive over Monbijou Bridge.
“Turn right here at Ägertenstrasse.”
“The automatic stopclock was a whole new sensation back then. Exact to a hundredth of a second! But the thing stopped after the third skier. Frozen, kaput!”
His face lights up, the tissue paper gets tiny wrinkles and red veins show up like side streets on old maps.
“You can stop at the next bus stop, by the ice rink.”
“My father had to tell them on the telephone when a racer had started. Now! And the guy at the other end set off his stopwatch.”
It’s only now that I recognise the various layers of his dialect, a linguistic mongrel from Oberengadin right through to Bern.
“The Swiss racer David Zogg started with number seven. My father held off with his now for one or two seconds. And guess who won the race!”
He laughs and stops the taximeter. I rummage through my bag, looking for my wallet.
“What an unbelievable story!”
“The people from Heuer made damn sure no one found out about it. It would have been a huge blow to the Swiss watch industry!”
I count out the money into his palm.
“Did they stop the time properly for the other races?”
“It stayed cold in St. Moritz. My father was up in the starting hut every time.”
“So I assume Switzerland won all the medals in the other disciplines too.”
He looks up from his wallet.
“A German sports official noticed my father was always on the phone during the first race. He blackmailed him. Take a look at the results: all the medal-winners were Swiss or German.”
The taxi driver’s earnest face, looking older now than in profile, ought to prevent any ironic comment. I open the car door a hand’s breadth.
“So we don’t have to annex Austria, we’ll just go back to manual time measurement.”
My right foot sways above the asphalt. The taxi driver holds me back by the arm.
“My father suffered his whole life because he’d collaborated with the Nazis, as he put it.”
I can’t find any words that would be appropriate for the situation, and attempt an understanding nod of the head. The driver smiles.
Seven
“Where to?”
“Take me home please!”
He switches on the taximeter.
“As soon as you tell me where you live, we’ll be off.”
“Oh, sorry. Wildstrasse, by the American Embassy.”
The driver sticks his right index finger in his nostril and drives off.
“Have you heard this one: a manager gets in a taxi. The driver says: where to mister? And the manager says: doesn’t matter, I’m needed everywhere.”
I laugh a little, although I’ve hard the joke before. The driver’s finger is still up his nose. A battered newspaper photo of Pope John Paul II is stuck to the glove compartment. I don’t want to talk, especially not about the deceased pope.
“Saved my life!”
The driver takes his finger out of his nose and points it at the photo. I’m so tired I can’t quite work out whether he means his finger or the head of the Catholic Church.
“Car accident. Bang! Some drunk crashed right into the left-hand side. I was in a coma for three weeks.”
I think of the woman driver who recently told me taxi driving was not for the spoilt Swiss.
“Where are you from?”
He points to the picture again.
“Poland.”
“Your German’s very good.”
“I worked in East Germany for a long time.”
“And then you came to the west after the wall came down?”
He winds the window down, calls out to a passer-by and exchanges a few words with him. We drive over Kirchenfeld Bridge. The mountains in the background look pale. Spring is taking its time. People are moving carefully, as if there were still a threat of black ice.
“Yes, in ninety-two. Since then it’s been all bad luck. The accident in ninety-four and then…”
He gives a pedestrian right of way. I try to look uninterested. I don’t want to encourage him to tell me his whole life story. His finger is back in his nostril. He seems to be in pain. I look out of the window. I remember my first trip to Paris. Before I left from Gare du Nord, I was already in my seat on the train when a man came into my compartment and said his name was Michael and he had no money for a ticket to Zurich. I gave him the money and up until just before Dijon I genuinely believed his mother would pay it back to me. Years later, someone in Warsaw tried the same trick. I pretended I didn’t understand German or English. Travel broadens the mind.
“I’ve only been to Poland once. To Warsaw, in fact.”
He gives me a brief nod. My tiredness is like a lead waistcoat: it presses me into the seat and cuts me off from the outside world. My lack of interest seems to be contagious.
“By the American Embassy?”
“Yes, right here.”
I dig a twenty-franc note out of my pocket. On any other day I’d have regretted that the journey was already over. I give too large a tip. The Pole hesitates. I give him a nod.
“I’m not a manager. Just tired and grateful to be home.”
He worms through his wallet for change with the index finger of his right hand. I restrain my nausea. He hands me a two-franc coin. I thank him and get out of the car.
Eight
A sleeping dachshund on the back seat. A sharp smell of after-shave and cold cigarette smoke in the car. The driver looks at me wordlessly.
“To the American Embassy, please.”
He looks in the rear-view mirror. We pull out.
“What’s the dog’s name?”
The driver shrugs his shoulders.
“Don’t know. Someone left it behind.”
Water shoots out of the ground on Bundesplatz. A couple of people are watching the fountains.
“Pretty, eh?”
The driver nods his head towards the playing water.
“What are you going to do with the dog?”
“I’ve reported it to the office.”
“Maybe they did it on purpose?”
The driver ducks his head. We drive over Kirchenfeld Bridge.
“You wouldn’t believe what people have left in my car!”
The dog gives a quiet whine. I look back at it.
“A few years ago every car had a dachshund behind the rear window, a plastic one mind you, and a toilet roll in a crocheted cover.”
The driver laughs.
“Once this guy left behind a whole bundle of hundred-franc notes on the back seat. The next passenger sat down on it and then held it up in front of my nose. He got such a shock he couldn’t say a word!”
“Watch out that no one sits on the dachshund!”
The driver looks at me and grins.
“Do you want to take it with you?”
I shake my head and pay the fare. The moon is crouching over Gurten hill like a giant snowball. At the bus stop outside the ice rink, a couple of kids are shouting and messing around. The dachshund wakes up and starts barking.