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hiddensee
breast of duck, ruddy

Author: Ulrike Draesner
Translator: Iain Galbraith


hiddensee, south beach,

                      the beckoning bay

a walker down here, light?
rose hips, a house, a head
fluffy plant fluttered up

seaweed – curlicued sand. violet
ghost, or ghost of what:
smile, like light that is pitched

on a point, gnawed, a-giggle –
a child’s face? hollowy like
a cave shadowy for swallows

or mosquito bites, lumps too
skin-close, sandy, even: as light.
a thing that walks whirls reels

liking

even so, so even the beach
in its work of friction, sandy, wanton
sea shining, and flat

us too, built in air. a
violet shadow, up there,
this porous fabric me calling

you

through it. if i say “you”. if
i say “i’d like …” “i …” a
child’s face. oh ghost! porous

shrub: my uttering of you. if.
me saying: you, even, wanton
and flat the sea. come on

you say,
come here.

 

breast of duck, ruddy,
            all down the street

screeching tram, the way it
took the curves the tightest
following through the mike
the conductress’s gibberish
expounding laughing how she’d
hellishly hip – as the
dog on the corner
urged the frizzy bitch to play
gauchely even whistling bumped
his hips against her over and again
minced along beside her all
paws square – and she just
yawned her tongue so
blue

kids played their last
hide-and-seek of the day

the way the tram whizzed now
dead straight along down the street
the way the reflection
of its windows in the tarmac
beat its wings

 

From kugelblitz.  Luchterhand Literatur Verlag (Random House), Munich, 2005.

Gone!

Author: Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Translator: Thandi House

Translator’s Note: These are the opening pages of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s story, Gone!
The excerpt sets the scene for a mystery which grows more involved as the story continues.

I

Theresa was nine the first time she spent the summer holidays at her grandparents’ house. Her mother put a little bag around her neck with her ticket, some money, and her ID card. She did not like this one bit but it did mean she could travel on her own. She had a smart leather suitcase with polished brass fittings. It had been a birthday present from her father and Theresa thought it was rather elegant. In fact, she was proud of it.

Rain was pouring down as the slow train reached the station at the end of the line. She looked around but there didn’t seem to be anyone there to pick her up. A rotund, elderly lady was waving at her. It was Anna, her grandparents’ maid. In the station car park, they approached a particularly bizarre contraption. It did look something like a car, except the whole of the front opened out to reveal the smallest of seats.

“Hop in!” said Anna, “There’s enough space for both of us.”

Theresa hesitated. “What sort of car is this?” she asked.

“It’s my Isetta.” said Anna proudly, “Perfect for doing the shopping though the engine does splutter a bit.”

The road to Theresa’s grandparents’ house wound through a little wood and up into the mountains. It was almost dark by the time they arrived. Theresa’s family had always insisted on calling her grandparents’ chalet “the villa”. It had towers and gables, and a carved balcony, and it reminded Theresa of a cartoon about a ghost she had seen on the television.

“Terrible weather!” grumbled her grandfather by way of a greeting as he opened the door. Anna found a towel for Theresa to dry herself off. There were deer antlers on the wall and it smelled funny, not like moth balls but like floor polish. The walls had dark wooden paneling, and there were stained glass windows in the door. Jakob, that was Theresa’s grandfather, took her past a wrought-iron coat rack and a huge cupboard, and into the dining room.

“Sit there,” he growled, indicating a high leather chair. Then, pointing to a hideous thing hanging from the ceiling, he said proudly, “That’s a magic lamp. Do you know the stories from Arabian Nights? Those are precious stones from India. You don’t find that kind of thing in every house. Can you swing a pendulum?”

Theresa did not know what he meant.

“I’ll show you. You have to sit under the lamp or it doesn’t work.”

He took a pointed brass weight attached to a string from his pocket.

“You hold it over the table like this and it goes around in circles like so; you wait until it’s not moving any more. Then, you ask the pendulum a question. If it swings from left to right, the answer is yes, and if it goes in a circle, the answer is no.”

Theresa did not know what to ask the pendulum. And besides, she thought the ceremony was quite strange.

“Are you happy to be here?” asked her grandfather. The pendulum immediately began to circle wildly.

“You’re doing it wrong! Totally wrong!” cried Jakob.

“I didn’t ask the pendulum anything at all,” Theresa apologised.

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” snapped her grandfather, returning the pendulum to his pocket.

“Where’s Grandma?” asked Theresa. Taking in her surroundings, she felt like she had suddenly found herself in the middle of a furniture storage hall.

“She’s sitting in the kitchen as usual,” said Jakob.

“Wally! Wally! We have a visitor!” he called, clapping his hands impatiently.

Theresa’s grandmother shuffled in. Her name was Walburga though no one called her that. Her wrinkled face made her look like a Native American.

“There you are! How was the journey? Have you brought us anything?”

Theresa pointed to the shelves on the wall, which were crammed with angels, little elephants and other knickknacks, and answered awkwardly,

“We didn’t know what you could possibly need. Mummy said you didn’t have any space left.”

“Nonsense,” growled her grandfather. “Anna will take you up,” he said, “and Wally, you go with her! Don’t forget the suitcase!”

Theresa was taken up a steep staircase into an attic room, which was packed full of old furniture. It looked gloomy. There was no reading lamp, just a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Her bed was under one of the eaves.

“You can hardly get in,” protested Theresa.

“There’s no need to be afraid,” said her grandmother. “I’ll lend you my box. That will protect you from the earth rays. We have problems with them around here.”

“Are they dangerous?” asked Theresa who had never heard of these rays.

“Yes! They cause headaches and sleeplessness, and that’s not the worst of it. Here, read this, it says they sometimes even cause cancer. I need to go back to the kitchen. You get some rest!”

Theresa glanced at the booklet that her grandmother had recommended. It was called “The White Flag,” and the content was quite strange. She was too tired to think much about earth rays now though. She lay down on the narrow bed and went straight to sleep.

It was not long before she was woken by a clang that could be heard throughout the house.

“Punctuality,” her grandfather called up the stairs, “is the politeness of kings!”

Reluctantly, Theresa got up.

Downstairs in the hallway, she found that it was a large gong that had dragged her from her sleep. The next days would show just how strict Jakob was about meal times. The gong was sounded three times a day, punctual to the minute. Everyone had to sit at the large dining table while Anna served; silent Aunt Hulda, Wally’s sister, who had been visiting for a few weeks, was there too.

Jakob carved the roast with a silver knife. Only Wally never ate a bite. She brought a pot of herbal tea from the kitchen, and sometimes ate spoonfuls of a mystery mush, which she had prepared herself, from a saucer.

II

On the second day, Theresa decided to ask her grandfather what that was all about.

“You know,” he said, “your grandmother is not very disciplined when it comes to housekeeping. To tell you the truth, she is slovenly. She leaves everything jumbled on her little desk: old letters and forgotten bills, half-eaten apples, tissues and lone earrings. There are throat sweets, stamps and sticking plasters in her sewing table, all jumbled together among the buttons. And the kitchen! Have you noticed how odd it smells in there? Whatever’s left over, she throws into a saucepan and lets it simmer until it is inedible. You’ll see. Sometimes you can’t force the stuff down, however much you try. When that happens, I escape to the Red Ox. I’ve got a healthy appetite and I’m not going to let myself starve. You’re welcome to come with me.”

Theresa didn’t know what she should say to that.

“And that’s not everything!” continued her grandfather. “Your grandmother believes in ghosts! Sometimes she mumbles incomprehensibly – it’s like she’s under a spell .”

Theresa remembered the earth rays and cautiously asked her grandfather what he thought.

“Don’t believe a word of it!” snorted Jakob, “Do you know where she’s put her bed? It used to be in the bedroom but she couldn’t bear it there. Apparently, she couldn’t sleep any more. She complained that she was short of breath and had heartburn. She summoned a spirit healer, a dubious little man, who went everywhere with a divining rod. He didn’t leave her in peace until she’d put her bed in the room next to the kitchen. He also forced this black box on her, which is meant to protect her from earth rays. Since then, she’s been snoring in the place we used to keep old chests of drawers, vacuum cleaners, horse blankets, and old rags. She says things are much better with that device under her bed.”

Theresa felt a shiver run down her spine. What was wrong with this house? She felt uneasy about the attic room where she was to spend the coming months.

“Don’t worry about Wally. Once she’s got an idea in her head, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. She believes in supernatural powers.”

“What about you? You have your pendulum.”

“That is quite different. You don’t understand anything about that,” her grandfather chided. “If you ask the pendulum the right way, you will get the right answers. If you don’t understand it, you get everything wrong.”

Theresa was too scared to get into a fight with him. Her parents had told her that her grandfather was both a tidy person and a terrible pedant. He kept his pencils as sharp as possible and they all had to be dead straight on his desk, otherwise he couldn’t begin to think about his work.

In reality, her grandfather did not have any work to do. He’d long since retired. But he sat at his big desk in the study and kept meticulous records about everything possible: cigarillo usage, the length of his Sunday excursions, and every last mouse that had fallen prey to the cat.

Once he showed his granddaughter a black notebook.

“This is my inventory,” he said, “this details all the house contents. And here is my financial statement. I have kept something aside for emergencies. It will be yours one day. You won’t just get an appanage during your studies; you’ll also get the oak sideboard and the magic lamp.”

“What’s an appanage?” asked Theresa, who shuddered at the thought of that monstrous sideboard in the hallway. “It is a sum of money that Dr Schönhuber, my solicitor, will have transferred to you each month. That’s what’s written in my will. I won’t have it said of me that my only granddaughter had to do without.”

Theresa had never imagined she might inherit something from her grandparents. Instead of asking her grandmother, she asked reliable Anna more about this.

“Oh, for goodness sake!” she said, “You had better not mention that. I don’t know how often he’s changed his will. Each time Dr Schönhuber comes there’s trouble.”

“Why?” said Theresa, “Is it a lot of money?”

“I don’t know but your grandfather is convinced that your Aunt Hulda is just waiting for him to die. He’s said she’s a snake and that he’ll disinherit her. Your grandmother does not like to hear that at all.”

“As far as I’m concerned,” said Theresa, “she can have the lot.”

III

A little while later there was a catastrophe before dinner. Suddenly, Jakob – a red wine bottle in his hand – said, “Wally, where’s my corkscrew?” Theresa could not have imagined that her grandfather would consider his personal corkscrew to be so important. It was an antique with a mahogany handle and a little brush for brushing the dust off the bottle. Using a different, standard corkscrew was, of course, totally out of the question for Jakob.

And so everyone immediately started searching for the rare item: Anna, the maid, Theresa, and stick-thin Aunt Hulda. Even Theresa’s grandmother stood up with a sigh to rummage through some drawer or other. Her husband stood with the wine bottle between his legs and observed the search reproachfully.

The missing item had disappeared, and it remained that way. Two other corkscrews were found during the search. The first, a bulky thing with several complicated levers and screws, was in the chest of drawers under the napkins; the other, which was attached to a Swiss Army knife, was hidden behind the radio. This was not much consolation for her grandfather, who declared contemptuously that under such circumstances, he would rather do without his wine.

“I’ll just go to the Red Ox.”

“Why don’t you ask your pendulum?” suggested Theresa.

“That’s a good idea,” said Wally, “you do always say that thing has an answer to whatever you want to know.”

“Kindly do not interfere in things you don’t understand!” thundered Jakob, “But fine, I can give it a try.”

He put his hand in his pocket and started, “Damnation! Yesterday evening I put my pendulum in my jacket pocket and now …”

“Don’t get so het up, darling,” said Wally. “Your pendulum will turn up again, as will the corkscrew. Nothing disappears in this house.”

Seldom in her life had Theresa’s grandmother been so wrong.

The attic was not a place that Theresa found particularly comfortable. The door of the small wardrobe in the corner often creaked open at night, and there were other suspicious noises. Perhaps it was the black box under her bed. She drew up all her courage, dragged the thing out and listened. She could hear a faint ticking sound. When she hit it with her fist, the tin lid came off.

Despite the vague smell of moth powder, she decided to investigate the contents more closely. What she found was a confusion of rusty wires, coils, and switches. No great technical expertise was required to establish that her grandmother’s “healer” had just swept up a small pile of rubbish. A pile of mouse droppings was enough to convince Theresa that the device was harmless. She was no longer concerned by the dangers of earth rays. She was considerably more concerned about her grandmother’s mental health.

Theresa escaped the villa as often as she could. She found a place to swim close by and when it rained, she borrowed her grandfather’s big, black umbrella and walked into town, where there was a tiny cinema, or she read the magazines in the cafe.

IV

On her return from one of her trips out, Anna told her that Jakob’s hat had gone missing. It was a dignified hat that looked like it came straight out of the silent film era.

“Maybe you left it in the Red Ox,” said Wally.

“Nonsense!” I put it exactly where I always put it: on the hat rack! Really! It’s enough to drive you mad!”

Anna swore she had not seen Theresa’s grandfather’s smart head apparel, let alone moved it. Jakob went into his study grumbling to himself. At dinner, Wally wasn’t there, and no one spoke a word.

Two days later the standing lamp next to the sofa was gone. Jakob lost his temper. “This has gone too far!” he shouted. “In this house, one can’t even be sure of one’s life! It’s not enough that you’ve gone and lost my corkscrew and my hat. Now you’ve started clearing out the house!”

His wife knew him well enough not to contradict him directly.

“Yes,” said Wally, “it is unpleasant but please don’t get so het up! A lamp is just a lamp. Tomorrow Anna will go into town and buy a new one.”

If that had been the end of the matter, Jakob might have calmed down. However, one sunny August morning he went to listen to the radio show like he did every Sunday, and discovered that the radio, an expensive piece in a flame birch casing, had disappeared overnight. Now his face had a somewhat haunted expression. He wandered through the house for quite some time. Then he collapsed on the sofa.

“Wally,” he said to his wife, who had hurried pass with a glass of water. “This is not a normal house any more, it’s a thieves’ den. Criminal minds are at work.”

“But Jakob, who could it be?”

As it happened, Aunt Hulda had finally left with all her luggage the day before.

“Don’t you find that strange, Wally?”

Wally found this question outrageous.

“I know you can’t stand my family but for you to suspect poor Hulda, I simply won’t accept that! And quite apart from that, what do you imagine she did? Do you think Hulda, that fragile creature, lugged your giant radio to the train station? Don’t make me laugh! Aside from that, you know my family has no need for such things. You only said that to annoy me.”

After that, Jakob began more and more to conduct inspections of the whole house, inventory in hand. The generous impartiality with which his wife distributed all kinds of things throughout the house made it difficult to have an overview, and his energetic attempts to return things to their rightful places was not very successful.

His efforts also did not result in locating the corkscrew, the Borsalino hat, or the radio, and the standing lamp, too, remained a thorn in his side.

The next object to be the subject of his displeasure was the prominent flower stand in the conservatory, apparently a present from his brother for their silver wedding anniversary.

“Where have you taken the flower stand?” he yelled one morning before breakfast. This time, his suspicions fell on poor Anna. It wasn’t clear how and why the faithful creature would have stolen such a bulky item.

“But it must have been someone!” Jakob seethed. Anna burst into tears and it took Wally three days to stop her from resigning.

Theresa was happy when the holidays finally came to an end. She had noticed that the mood in her grandparents’ house was growing darker day by day. When she went to pack her red suitcase on the evening before her departure, she asked her grandmother where she had put it. It was not where it should have been in her room. Another search began and again her grandfather raged when he heard that once again an irreplaceable item had gone astray. Only this time, it was something belonging to Theresa.

Theresa angrily rejected her grandmother’s offer to lend her an old cardboard suitcase.

“Just give me one of the plastic bags you’ve hoarded in your rotten villa!” she yelled.

Wally waved the matter aside. She was the only one who was unmoved by the catastrophes that afflicted the house. She generously gave Theresa a hat box from her youth, which was big enough to put her toiletries, clothes and diary in. Her departure was hardest on Jakob, who felt like he was being left alone with his wife and her catastrophic cooking skills. Wally told Theresa to protect herself from the earth rays, and rickety Isetta was retrieved from the garage once again. Reliable Anna put the hat box in the car and took the child to the station.

V

It was some time before Theresa found out how things had continued at her grandparents’ house. Her parents did not believe her holiday stories to begin with. “Anyone can lose an umbrella or a shoehorn but a flower stand – you must have made that up,” said her father. He also doubted that his mother-in-law would have employed a spirit healer because she was afraid of earth rays.

Theresa was hurt. But when she kept coming back to her stories of the haunted house, her mother said, “Maybe there’s something in her stories. My mother did always have a bee in her bonnet.”

“So you think we should be worried about Wally and Jakob?” said her husband.

“We can’t just act as if everything is okay there.”

A few days later, Theresa’ s mother called her parents to find out how the family drama had developed.

Anna answered the phone. She confirmed Theresa’s stories in a hoarse voice.

“I don’t know what’s got into Jakob,” said her mother. “He was always so tidy.”

“That’s the worst bit,” said Theresa.

Her father did not miss an opportunity to say, “And your mother? You can’t exactly say she put any value on keeping a tidy house. Wally’s house was always utter chaos.”

Theresa knew this conversation well, for repetition is the spice of all family stories.

The reports from her grandparents escalated. In the haunted house, there were challenges that household remedies like the pendulum simply could not resolve. On one occasion, there was talk of a missing magic lamp. Theresa had to explain what this treasure was. Another time, a heavy oak sideboard went missing; it apparently disappeared into thin air overnight. While Wally’s reaction to these events was one of almost intolerable serenity, Jakob, considering the enigmatic disappearances of his property, gained an energy that no one would have believed the old man was capable of. He called the police and would not relent until they had been going in and out of the house for weeks. The search for clues was fruitless. There were no unknown fingerprints; all the locks, doors and windows were secure.

“Well,” said the policeman, who was clearly out of his depth, “these things do happen. My wife recently lost her curlers. There was a big upset as there always is when she loses something. And what do you know? After a few days, they turned up. You know where? In the washing basket!”

Anyone who believed that Theresa’s grandfather would be satisfied with this explanation did not know him well. Jakob demanded that the police commissioner himself come to the house. After he had investigated the case, the commissioner grumbled, as Jakob later angrily reported, that based on how things were, only someone who lived in the house could be responsible because there was no evidence of a break-in.

“He’s provoking me!” Jakob shouted into Theresa’s mother’s ear when they spoke on the phone. “Hair curlers! This is a large-scale crime! And who do the police suspect? Not the thief but the victim!”

A few weeks went by.

A dozen napkins and her grandmother’s emerald brooch followed the oak sideboard and Theresa’s suitcase into the abyss, and the police investigations were discontinued. A disciplinary complaint from Jakob was unsuccessful.

But Theresa’s grandfather did not give up. He now determinedly declared war on his insurer. With the help of his inventory, he made meticulous lists of things that had gone missing, even including missing pencils and salt spoons, and he demanded compensation for everything that fate had snatched from him. The insurer referred to the police report, which Jakob brushed to one side, commenting that the police had turned out to be entirely incompetent.

Jakob concluded that nothing could be straightened out without an experienced lawyer. At first, he thought of his old friend Dr Schönhuber. He was a solicitor but only knew about family and inheritance law. He referred Jakob to a colleague, who was specialised in malcontents.

There followed an endless series of court proceedings, which took up most of Jakob’s time. Theresa’s father joked about Jakob’s battle and said the lawyers would take every penny he had. He even said his father-in-law had always been a dogmatic mystery-monger and a superstitious crackpot. His wife disagreed with him and doors were slammed. The whole thing now bored Theresa. She did not want to hear anything more about it and preferred going to the cinema.

The sinister energy with which objects large and small had fled the house appeared to dissipate over time. It was seldom that one heard tell of a gravy boat or a carving knife absconding. That is, until one day when Jakob lost a key which he always kept on the same chain as his pocket watch …

 

From Verschwunden! Suhrkamp Insel Verlag, 2014.

We drove
The bodies of the olives
The dresses of the lemons

Author: Esther Dischereit
Translator: Iain Galbraith

 

We drove

We drove
above us flocks of small birds
like dark spots
marking our way
through the sky
You were holding a cake
in one hand
I was eating
you turned up the volume
I listened
you pointed to the rain-drenched
barns and fields
I saw
the wispy mists
of your country
I am weaving you in
and he wove me in
we were late at the counter
why did he not
remove his sunglasses
I saw a few crumbs
where I had been sitting
and the way the leather bulged

 

 

 

The bodies of the olives

The bodies of the olives
the olives of the bodies
an olive is missing at one of the windows
you cannot buy an olive
they are handmade and old
olives are sometimes in wars
they are the fallen then
I love bursting olives
they protect my ears
against the thunder of battle
There are no white or red olives
the olive factory ran out of paint
so they took war-green and painted
the red and white olives
these went in the press with the others
it was poison I heated in the pan
many people died
we continued to plant the orchards
using war-green paint
the trees in my family have survived
while my people lie underneath.

 

 

 

The dresses of the lemons

The dresses of the lemons
yellow-scarred
with fading stitches
touching
lying on top of one another
before behind above
like the family
in front of the camera’s eye
for years
the moist flesh – encased
in its firm rinds
in the darkness of the larder,
of the centuries
a heap in a silver bowl

I took a look at them this week
and tasted their juice.

Anonymos, 1655, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

 

 

Ships Glow at Night

Author: Nico Bleutge
Translator: Paul-Henri Campbell

 

plunge into the water’s movement
if light merged with the light, their union would birth
another light, affinity of flight and insight,
a semi-state between gas and liquid
that overturned the world. understanding the waves
as a tankship does gliding across their bright surface,
skin-like, membrane upon membrane, a reconnaissance squadron for the weary
rays of light, and currents spring forth, milewide veils
where all matter transforms to energy, glowing smoothly,
cloaking the interplay of zinc and rust,
silent crystals, and the impulses of land-bound traffic

strew about sand, with a brittle sound
the canal routes were ahead of the waves
light vessels plowed a path for them through the pack ice
wanted to wait for the beauty of the new world
memories are gyrating, lazily, gyrating
as if they were threads of air, living moss animals
the migratory motions of lost
merchandise that will suck up the daylight
together with sailors on deck, their glaring red reflecting vests
still growing for a brief moment in the dawn
the glow deepened, raising up the earthen substance ever so slightly
sea seemed as land and land seemed as sea
that was land once again, rebounding, time. the warm drift of the gulfstream
sent its waters over, passing the southern tip of greenland

 

 

 

 

open the door, with its brittle sound
stare at the inner mist
a room, as if painted over with ideas
the sky, upward-dreamt deepness, a distant
awareness of full-depth avalanches, constant
growth and layers of soil, think of the
trajectories overland, look as if from the sea to there,
they were building up a coral stock, from many points at once
they pushed forward, circuits, floodgates of light
had broken through the old masses,
spaces like glass, with their fleeting
glow, as if day were not, as if snow were not
and lungs, no currents—congestion. follow the troops
on their way downwards, each thing motioned onward
according to its own impulse, an opening of manholes,
bays, a sense of altered routes. think as if
the muddy sand, faraway in its awareness of layers upon layers of mussels
think as if muscles and chalk, membrane for membrane
built up, a dream of textures, skins, into which you
enter, can’t you look outside anymore, as if everything and everything were
interconnected, in union, virus of the worldmail, no more ground and no
night in thoughts, forever circling, growing matter
that carried itself, encompassed by atlantic waters, to the earth-weary
sea, closing in, as if it were sand, as if the light were
intensifying, painting paths like air into space

 

 

 

 

now night is a noise in which creatures vanish
with a heart in the middle, specters of imagination
from below the engines are hammering against the hull
whilst the water is already shedding its roots
and the air is fading into nothingness, dust and flakes and feathers

now crystals are mixing with the path of refueling routes anew
channeling land against the ceilings of containers. oxygen
is settling wherever the rays are exploring the arctic sea
and the fish dissolve into fish, a movement
that isn’t following any dreams, visible only when vanishing

and the boats pick up speed, push forward swaying more distinctly now
on the surface of the sea as if on tracks, as if they were
strewing about time, with increased turnover
pushing forth into buildings, bursting the seams of warehouses,
but at the same time moving like a swarm of mosquitos above the shrubbery
memories, of a distant summer

hazy fragments at the bottom of childhood
from distant waters, a few kids
slicing up an apple on the balcony, giving me the slices
while i gaze upon the river and hear the barges, their
hammering. look how the warmth is sprawling, look how the barges

were pulling along the glow on their decks
while i am gathering a few leaves, encompassing them with my hand
encompassing them and waiting for their fragrance, small goods
that suck up the stream, folding up beneath the light

 

 

 

 

landscapes are revolving, from their lines
routes of light and oxygen in thoughts
shadowy beaches revolving, hastily like embers
across membranes, the docks and vanishing lines
revolving, the ice and the continental depressions
everything is flowing forth, without weight in its lungs
the affinity of power and being included
intimately related to the strings, thicker than quartz
where the drift mingles with dust and vegetation
painting sand into the air, strewn light, in layers
without noise, a bay, upon which one may land
and surfaces of fences revolving, their radiance
western coasts revolving as well as fright cars
peaks and algodones, fold sliding over fold
exploration for awakened eyes, and nothing is covered
so that tracks resemble tracks and bodies
dissolve into nothingness, withdrawing unto themselves
like rust into glass, like snow behind a face
that doesn’t go amiss, without the tanks hammering
stored up, and where a frosty echo may be found, quick
flight through smoke, along borders, çukurca opens up
and cizre, gao opens up, sikasso, tamanrasset, ghat where jerboas
run along and steep depressions, the eastern overland pass, from the green
ladoga lake to the white sea, close to uranium ore, herds
of salt and spray, developing, gradually taking hold of the routes

 

 

 

 

at some point the flakes give in, with a drop
in the middle, with a noise. if you wait long enough
the bowls on the table will continue to grow
and the leaves in your hand will turn to grass
in which you yourself will be sitting. reach into wood, a few threads

sleep, a few threads of zinc, you gaze towards the floodgates for a long while
and the river turns into a shaft, through which warmth enters
with its surge, with its grip, satisfaction
brooding of skin and insects, thicker than resin, and you don’t know

if the fish are following the chalky shadows or the berries
are slinging wax into the air, iodine matter, in layers, without noise
the fragrance of hay, the children say, with a river in the middle
and you don’t know if they are thinking of words, of plants,
or if they are plunging into the water’s movement

a few men are waiting along the shoreline
strewing sand over the benches, digging up seashells
by their roots. if you stare at it long enough
the apples will return, and you may continue to grow, in your half-
sleep, at some point. your mother opens the balcony door

sweeping across the wood, but it seems as if the water were
vanishing and you could just cross the threshold
you follow the tracks, you see the old freight yard
and while the dust is spreading, you pick up one
of the rusty freight cars and load it up with rubber
and feathers, minerals, and blossoms that are almost sleeping

 

 

 

 

and has the air, you might ask,
has the water already fallen back into time
give radio signals, with a feeble cable
do not get too close to the large barges
ships glowed at night, pushed themselves off from the water surface
gentle sea-barrels slowly severed their matter
created a place for themselves beneath the bottom of the sea
swing bridges, currents of land, there was a rare light
in the air’s lowermost layer, no salt, no muscle tissue,
just goods, blinking, coming together contracting on deck

pushing off, asking, slowly everything is set into motion
towards sleep, as if the bodies wished to vanish, their murmurs
surrounding them like liquid ice, as if the gaps were about to open
and close again further up, withdrawing in silence

like smoke from heavy winds, was, was there
already fire. the blazing, the consummately blazing
light. mosquitoes appear, scattered across your memory
roots in the middle, shafts, ancient weathered lava layers
collecting around light, the dust changed its color
turned red, glowing, the forces of nature tore away at the hull
escaping lungs, filaments, akin to corals
headed towards the mainland, going, diving, going
the sea now embraced the islands, driving the influx
away again. no fire. everything is wandering. give me water
turn the ice

 

 

 

 

with floral nectar and brown seeds
with dashes of green and watery threads
could the leaves of the rubber tree, withdrawing,
drawing paths like air into space
as soon as you approach and make a cut
the milky juice flows forth from the bark and the incision deepens
as long as the wax sends over its fragrance. cotton grass
undergrowth. what you see are the white droplets
and a man, enriching the fluid with sulfur,
increasing the melting point a bit. feel the transformation
just like tunnels close again in the background
membrane bonding with membrane, graphite rich areas within
the air. and the animals dig themselves inwards, understanding
how they may swap the winter blue matter, feldspar, hairballs,
magnetic congestions, covering up their sway, their
microcrystalline structure, carried into channels

reach for wood, a few brittle threads
whatever mixes, are the plastic shovels. ozocerite
drifting shoes, dyestuffs, their odor like that of vegetation
the manganese faults are ahead of the shelves
and the moon flower, which children imagine to be in mumbai
or manaós, beats on from below. catch up with the land
take a little tube, and if you think of words like schneeberg
or of schlema, you slowly inhale the smoke
and let the memories grow

 

 

 

 

the flank blasted sand, like nothingness
behind fences, posting, stranding, all is aglow
without noise in its lungs, without weight
grinding down its traces, lines, inner
woods, always along the routes. return
to the coast of the northern sea, in the autumn with its working
gardens, dissolved in thoughts, harder than salt,
to oujda, bogovađa, nuevo león
where names are hewn into wood and from nothingness follows
that something might mix with arrival or absorb
no more ground and no time in its disappearance
take a piece of mint, almond, take a sesame field
a barrel of rubber, paint its floor blue
and sink the barrel. en bàs, with thoughts,
with weight in its flanks, always on sand
collecting fish on land, close to fluoroscopy
almost familiar with its rays. as maltha, pitted pieces
as fold in the pass or as emergency, as a dirt road in the woods
with skin and insects, in water as a mark
for frequencies, as escape for little birds, as shadows
i can see them, as couch grass, seashell,
or water fern, as bodies boasting crinkles, as bodies breathing
while sleeping at the bottom of childhood, always
from the sea, surging, carrying, fixed
by ideas, floating between reversal and momentum

 

 

 

 

where plants mix and mingle, a dead calm, the earthen substance
mill, where pigments dry and water
slowly boils away. as sloe, with an ephemeral
bloom, the sleeper’s face may
turn pale. what he dreams, while exploring earthwards,

is sucked in by the leaves, without flight,
without fire, like snow almost, beneath a storm
or lead garnished with a dash of vinegar
he rubs the bark until its blue and buries
it in an hollowed out piece of wood. surging,
shaving, henceforth only sleep may revolve

henceforth haze, close to memory, escaping
noise, escaping like water in grime or the aftermath
of currents and specters. be spray
with impulses, be dust, in nothingness, a tuft of
warmth, try to be thorn and feather

or the powder that he gives you. light matter
in gentle revolutions, saffron, whatever dreams, the flower’s
stigmata, ocher, traces of madder, as if the water
were fire, dissolved. give in

crawl with the roots, drift of threads
of chlorite, a wide awake nest,
pulverized, let it dry in the sun. mix
it in a seashell, a kettle of wax
dappled with odors, with energy, with safflower

 

 

 

 

to see from the sea, motionless
in the altered air. ice fields, splint green clouds
without feeling, pervading them slowly
children are whispering something about rain, pre-summer’s night
painting the boat’s hull in white lead. affinity
something with waves, that the passageway of spread grass may stay
not sink, in the middle of time. seaweed woods grew
in the depths of the polar ocean, down from old mountain stairs
glaciers climbed into the cracks of rocky roads
without clearing the plains. the drops are vanishing
nothing but water on their mind, residue of light earths
mosquitoes are creating air with their little capsules
that carries them. perceive the current
resounding scarves along the drift’s edge

surge for surge urging on through eddies
in its small drawn bundle and glow
layers of rock, out of which one could break warmth
and light. bodies are thinking of settling
lifelines, bones, almost amongst them breathing
be land, in every quick motion
stay close to the coast, water on deck, energies
pushed forward into the coolness of the sea, bound by nothing
beneath eternal sands, speak of continents
he who is of weight. hear nothing, spark nothing, do not
be freight, swarming through the sea’s inland.

 

From nachts leuchten die schiffe.  Verlag C.H . Beck, Munich, 2017.

Prologue
Possible Childhood
Father Comes Home
Beet Harvest
Daily Life
Tracks

Author: Henning Ahrens
Translator: Geoffrey S. Koby, Mark Herman, Ronnie Apter

 

Prologue

Only the poplars
endure the days. Planted
quickly grown and shadows

spraying over the flat land. Here
where the earth stopped folding
I go. Where cold

glacier bellies writhed
and crushed. Where power
lines draw eyes

into the void. Someone
running beneath me
bursts up

out of the earth and laughs.

 

 

Possible Childhood

In summer
the poplars were luminous with dust.
It smelled of harvest.
A book in my lap
I dozed against the oak
cradled by the brook on a pearl-yellow day.
Fields lapped silently
at village shores.

The crows came in autumn
when there were smells of loosened earth.
Wires hummed over the sugar beets.
Thin snow fell in winter.
In granaries and haylofts
we dug for the sun’s gold
between bales of straw
and mountains of grain. In the spring

fumitory grew on the railway embankment.
It smelled like sulfur. On the horizon
loomed foundry and steel mill
power plant and mine. The river
had been straightened.

 

Father Comes Home

Muffled roar of the thresher’s
throttled motor. Gleaming
eye of the headlight. Standing

he drives the machine home
trailing a cloud of chaff. The night
smells of diesel and straw. On the field

wagons are waiting full of grain: daily bread
harvested in the dark. At peace
I go back to sleep.

 

 

Beet Harvest

Wheel-crushed beets. Tractor treadmarks
on the roads. Mud. Evenings

a haze over fields villages
timberstands. Over soil

both sand and clay. Over willows
by the brook. Where I stood with a hoe

and grubbed up thistles. Beets bedstraw
flowers. Blood red. The kite above me

with its forked tail: autumn
was the time to fill the gaping emptiness

in chest and skull with leaves.
The time we went to harvest sugar.

 

 

Daily Life

Mole and mouse
smashed with a shovel.

Hen-pheasant on her nest
in summer beheaded

with the sickle bar. Chickens
ripped apart by beech martens

and dragged into the meadows.
Bulls were

fattened knives honed
tails twisted

and dungforks hefted.
Then the day

the plums hung
on the tree. Ripe. And apples

shone: fears
wrath and weapon were

well hidden.

_______________

Note: A sickle mower mows using two sets of moving teeth set in a sickle bar, which projects sideways from the tractor.

 

 

Tracks

Tracks at dusk
in the snow on the meadows

—a goat-footed angel
perhaps. In its beak

the hungering heavens’
last piece of bread.

The full-fed village sleeps
cleft by the street

on the verge of the railway.

 

From Lieblied was kommt. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt,, Stuttgart, 1998

the american light

Author: Nadja Küchenmeister
Translator: Harry Roddy

Tell the teacher we’re surfin’
The Beach Boys

I

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

II

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

III

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Elephants in the Garden

Author: Meral Kureyshi
Translator: Robert A. Cantrick

Translator’s Note: Meral Kureyshi’s spare writing style requires the reader — even of the German-language original — to pay close attention in order to catch the leaps backward and forward in time. The translator must try to capture the cues that signal this time travel.  In addition, the novel is written in deceptively simple language. Preserving the beauty and poetry of it is the main challenge.

Page layout and design are essential to the meaning and mood of this novel. The author uses paragraphing, line spacing, column and page breaks to guide the reader — typographical devices that help to convey the story, much as they do in poetry.

This translation is into standard, modern American English, using supra-regional everyday colloquial speech where required.

 

 

Your coffin is in the ground. You wanted to be buried in Prizren. For a month I’ve covered my hair with a white headscarf every Friday morning and said the “Yasin,” the prayer for the dead, for you.

From the ninth-floor window I see Anne leaving the building. I know there’s a Marlboro stuck between her lips. In her purse, which must be older than I am, there’s at least one of those red and white packs of cigarettes. She’s barely outside when she lights a cigarette with a lighter that she’s been warming in her hand. She takes a drag on it, narrowing her eyes as though it’s too bright. Her chest heaves. When she exhales, she disappears for a moment in a cloud of smoke. She doesn’t like smoking alone, she never did, and now she stands there looking like a heating stove that nobody needs because it’s summer.

Baba tried to get her to quit. Anne blew smoke in his face and said a cigarette goes with a good wine, and when she stopped drinking, she said a cigarette goes with a good cup of coffee.

Her purse is made of black pigskin. Pigskin is cheap. It’s big and has a long strap so that in winter it will fit over the padding on her shoulder. When I go to look for a pair of tweezers in it, I find a little inside pocket. The zipper looks like a wound from which the stitches were never removed. I open the zipper tooth by tooth and find a wooden comb that belonged to you.

Anne takes a collapsible cane from the purse. I watch as the cane sweeps wide from left to right. Today two new canes came in the mail; the tip of the old one wore out.

You would like our new apartment. The floors aren’t carpeted, and from the ninth-floor balcony you can look out over the rooftops and see into other apartments. You always did like Bümpliz. You used to come here for shopping, a lot of your friends lived here, and you went to mosque in the basement of a high-rise building for the Bajram prayer with a large group of Albanian men.

We looked for an apartment for five years. After you died we found one in a high-rise on the outskirts of Bern where twenty-seven foreign and three Swiss families live.

“My, but your German is good,” the landlady said to me, very loudly and distinctly.

“We’ve lived in Switzerland since I was ten,” I replied. Ever since we moved in, we’ve said we would put pictures on the walls. They’re still bare.

Anne goes to the school for the blind by herself. She goes shopping at Alima, the Turkish store, and takes the train to Biel to visit her friend Emine. Franz comes once a month to teach her new routes, which she then proudly shows off, leading the way while the rest of us follow. “The duck family,” Maria yells from the sixth floor. She knows who in the building has had a fight, who didn’t clean the washing machine after using it, who didn’t clean the lint out of the dryer.

My brother is twenty-two now, two years younger than I am. He wants to be a graphic artist, sleeps half the day, and his room is always dark and dirty. My sister, to whom I’m more of a mother than her own mother—my mother, our mother—is ten years younger than I am. Anne protects her as though she were a delicate piece of jewelry. She never treated us that way. When my brother was little, she always used to beat his behind with stinging nettles when he wet the bed.

I look for more things in the wound and find a folded piece of paper. It’s the letter you sent us from Istanbul in the summer of 1991. That was fifteen years ago. It says you want to emigrate to Switzerland, and you ask us to come with you, to trust you. You write in capital letters.

The letter is folded into four rectangles, the paper is browning around the folds, the writing is neat. “A doctor’s handwriting,” I can hear you say. You didn’t become a doctor, you cleaned doctors’ offices, and when we came to visit, you put on the white lab coat that hung behind the door. We sat on the examination table, which you had covered with white paper, and took deep breaths and exhaled so that you could give us checkups.

When the letter arrived, Anne sat down on the sofa in our small apartment in the Kurila neighborhood in Prizren and cried. My brother was sleeping on his pillow under the table. I was standing beside the open door of the house. The wind blew yellow leaves into the room. It was a warm wind, it tickled under my arms. When Anne got up and went past me over the threshold, my head turned toward her and then away again. A brown eye peered from under the table. Anne’s voice sounded far away,

“Baba isn’t coming home.”

When I licked my lips, I tasted salt.

“People are salty,” Dede, my grandfather, once told me.

“Where is Baba?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!”

Anne put her head between her hands. Anne read the letter to us and wrote back to Baba. Today her words slip through our fingers, and her eyes see through our words.

Anne walks as though she can see. She stops suddenly, and I lean out the window,

“Is something wrong? Should I come down?”

She laughs, turns around, and disappears into the entry way. I’m worried, I hurry to the elevator.

“You forgot to put on my makeup.”

Anne “clapses” her cane, which is how she describes that action. She doesn’t need it in the house. She goes into the bathroom, puts the toilet seat down, sits on it, and closes her eyes. I spread the powder on her face with my fingers, trying to cover the red patches on her cheeks. Her skin feels slightly rough.

“Open your eyes.”

“How do I look? I haven’t seen myself in ten years.”

“You look like Fatma Girik.”

She pulls the white scarf over her black locks.

I was ashamed of it. No one in our family wore a headscarf, so why did she have to wear a headscarf now, here, in Switzerland, I thought, and I told her so. Anne told me I should think before I speak. That’s why I started writing. I could write what I thought and no one told me to think first.

I was already ashamed that we couldn’t buy new clothes, that we cut each other’s hair, that we were the only ones who didn’t have a car or a telephone. But then Anne had to go and wear a headscarf, too. We had been different before; now we were “those others.”

In the kitchen Anne takes a bottle of Coke out of the refrigerator. She says she could gain weight without eating, that she could double the kilos on her hips just by looking at food.

I think about the photos she carries in her purse. I don’t have to conceal the fact that I’m going through her purse; I can do it right under her eyes, which can’t see me while she sips her Coke and laughs. I’m ashamed of myself.

The photos show you and Anne dancing, holding each other tight. There are lots of wine bottles on the table, and the mascara under Anne’s eyes is smeared. Her lips are red. Her nails are red. In one photo you’re kissing. In another one she’s sitting on your lap and laughing with her head thrown back, one arm around your neck. Anne’s cheeks swell. Her lips part slightly, she lets out a burp.

“That’s gross, don’t ever do that again.”

I go to my room and slam the door behind me. I can hear her laughing.

The apartment door clicks shut. I get up right away and go back to the window. Winter is in its annual war with autumn and will soon win the battle. I wait till she comes out of the entrance, lights her cigarette, and rummages in her purse for her cane. Left, right, left, right. Just before the last bend she turns and smiles broadly. She knows I’m waving to her.

marker

Some days the first of September seems so far away that I can barely remember it—not your face, not your smell, not your hands.

Your voice, too, is gradually disappearing from my ears.

I’m afraid that someday you’ll disappear completely.

From my memory, from my mouth, from my face. Aga says I look like you.

On other days it’s as if you’ve hardly been dead a few days.

You lie lifeless on the bed.

No laughter in your face.

No movement in your hands.

No sight beneath your fallen eyelids.

Your jaw is tied up with my pink scarf.

Anne was standing beside Baba.

My sister sat on the chair beside him with her head down. Her hair covered her face. Now and then a tear dripped from the tip of her nose onto the back of her hand.

My brother tried to be strong, tried not to look me in the eye, tried to say nothing, tried to breathe evenly. My brother was trying to be a man.

I saw his chin tremble; mine did, too. Baba’s hand was in mine. I don’t know how long.

At some point it was dark; the room in the Inselspital, the University Hospital, was brightly lit. His hand had turned cold and pale. I bent and kissed it three times, bringing it first to my mouth, then to my forehead, then back again.

“I forgive you for what was on earth; please forgive me, too.”

marker
Sometimes Baba bought things on credit at the bakery in Neuenegg. I was with him once. I was behind him at the cash register as he, quietly and bending forward slightly, asked the cashier—whom he barely knew, who always smiled at me, whose breath smelled like cat food, who had a Serbian husband who ran the bakery and was very nice to us—whether he could put the purchase on his tab. He said thank you, smiled, placed his hand over his heart, and inclined his head forward a bit. I had put the bread, butter, Nutella, a few vegetables, and the milk into the shopping bag. Baba reached for his pack of cigarettes immediately. As soon as we were outside he lit one. He blew smoke rings at the sky, I laughed. At precisely that moment—I was twelve—as he stood beside me with shining eyes, I swore I would one day have so much money that Baba and Anne would never again have to charge anything.

I swore it to the heavens between the smoke rings as loudly as I could.

marker
Anne and I exit the Globus department store where we’ve been looking at nice dishes and silverware, smelling perfumes, stroking cashmere sweaters. It’s gotten cold.

Anne asks whether I have a warm sweater, I say yes, she asks what it cost. Anne asks what everything costs. She says money comes from the devil. With money you can distract people from life, lead them astray, deceive them, make them happy, kill them.

We drove into town, wandered through the stores. First Loeb’s, then Voegele, later C&A, and finally EPA. Each of us was allowed to get something. I always reached for the price tag first. But I didn’t want to run around in the same clothes all the time, the same shoes, so I chose violet leg warmers and a big T-shirt with a flower pattern. I wanted to keep them on right then and never take them off again. My brother bought candy and a wig, which he put on right away. Anne bought my sister a blonde doll, and Baba got a ring for Anne—which made her finger green after a few days and lost its gold color. She never took it off. The plastic jewel fell out several times, and he always glued it back in. Every month we drove into the city as soon as Baba’s pay was in the bank. We all knew we couldn’t spend much, but this was the best day. We ate at McDonald’s, sometimes in a pizzeria. Baba loved pizza. I watched as he cut it into real little pieces and folded the little pieces with his fork before he put them in his mouth. I tried to copy him, but I was too greedy and ate the pieces whole with my hands.

When we had money, Baba and Anne laughed a lot. When we had no money, they smoked a lot and we sat around the house. They fought, we cried in our room. My brother and I said if the light goes on right now, we’ll be real rich. Or: if it starts raining right now. Or: if Baba wins the lottery.

Anne clings to my arm. When I’m with her, she doesn’t need the cane. My arm gets warm where her hand is. On her ring finger she’s wearing the ring with the green jewel that you gave her. It’s stopped losing its color, she says, when I twist it around her finger a few times. Anne always has warm hands. She says people with warm hands get lots of love. You loved her a lot. When I say that I always have cold hands, she takes my hand in hers, warms it, and says,

“No they aren’t, don’t say dumb things.”

She asks me whether her hands are wrinkled. No, I say, you don’t have any wrinkles, not even in your face. She smiles and knows that I’m lying.

marker
I didn’t know it would be my last five minutes with Baba. He was sitting on the couch listening to music. We were talking about the apartment he wanted to go see with Anne. Next morning he complained about pains in his shoulder, so Anne wanted to postpone the appointment. Baba wanted to see the apartment no matter what. They got into the red Mercedes and drove toward Bümpliz. After five minutes Baba’s heart stopped beating. Then Anne screamed.

marker
On bath day we were all taken to the changing room in the gym of the Brunnmatt schoolhouse in Effingerstraße. The women shared a shower room with the girls, the men shared one with the boys.

While the women and girls undressed, I fled into the hallway. Anne followed and sat beside me on the cold floor. We sat there till the others had finished showering and had left the changing room.

Then we got up and went into the empty room. Anne turned her back to me and looked for something in her purse until I had undressed and wrapped a towel around my naked body. I showered quickly. When I was done, Anne, wrapped in a towel, went past me into the shower room. I got dressed, combed my hair, and packed my things in my bag. Anne came out of the shower after a little while, and I went into the bathroom. When I came out, Anne was already dressed. Freshly showered, we descended into the bunker. That was our first home in Switzerland. The green neon sign of the University Hospital dazzled my eyes as we crossed the schoolyard.

I take the bus from Bümpliz into the city almost every day, past that air-raid shelter where we lived for two weeks. I think of you. Everything is still the same. I press my forehead against the bus window and try vainly to recognize something as we go by. I get out of the bus and go down to the entrance to the bunker. The first time in fifteen years.

The iron gates are shut. I hold onto the bars with both hands, I smell the damp walls, press my face between two ice-cold iron bars. It’s dark.

Lights were on only in the apartments across the way. I watched strange people watching television. Some were standing at open windows and smoking, others were drinking tea and talking on the phone. I watched for hours, gave them names. The smoking man was Moonface; I had never seen such a round face. The woman in front of the TV was Elizabeth because she looked so much like the queen in the magazines that I read at the newsstand. Her husband was Transfer. I heard this word so often that it had to be the name of a king. One evening Moonface called something out to me in his foreign language; it frightened me, and I ran back to the room. All twenty-four foreigners were already asleep.

I was afraid of Moonface. He would turn us in to the security guards, they could put our family in jail, and we’d have to spend years there. I wouldn’t be able to go to school anymore. They’d give my brother to a family with no children because he was so cute.

Anne once told me that lots of married couples can’t have children. She herself had toyed with the idea of giving her unborn child—which she was going to call Orhan because she liked that actor and singer so much—to Aga, my father’s brother, and his wife. They couldn’t have children, and my parents already had me and my brother.

The thought of giving away her child got harder for her every day. When she was seven months pregnant, she started bleeding heavily. The child’s tiny legs dangled from her when she was sitting on the toilet. She cried loudly, held onto the child’s legs with her hands, and had to be taken to the hospital. Anne lost a lot of blood and almost lost her life. The child was stillborn and was buried in a small coffin. Anne said to me later,

“I could never have given my child away. Never.”

While I’m pressing my head against the cold bars, a man in military uniform comes toward me from the bunker.

Could I have a look inside, I ask, I’d like to see what it’s like to live underground.

“There’s nothing to see. It’s just an air-raid shelter.”

On our first day in the bunker we were taken into a large room with long tables and lots of chairs where men with wet spots under their armpits were sitting. We went on, down a long hallway into a room where there were eight loft beds. Baba told us that there was one bed available for all of us. There were seven more beds for seven more families in the same room. The grey concrete walls reminded me of our basement in Prizren.

It smelled damp and a little like vinegar. Babaanne, my grandmother, stored her pickled red peppers, her tomatoes, and her over-salted cheese with dill on a rotting wooden shelf.

When I had to go to the bathroom, there were already several people ahead of me. There was one toilet for women and one for men. A woman from Kosovo who was also waiting asked me in Albanian where my mother was. I understood her but couldn’t answer. How can it be that people from Kosovo don’t speak Albanian, she asked.

We belonged to the Turkish minority in Yugoslavia; I had to explain that to everyone. My parents could speak Turkish, Albanian, and Serbo-Croatian.

I liked listening to the strange languages in the bunker and was glad that I didn’t understand them. A different melody came from each mouth.

That was the only music that there was there.

There were no pictures on the walls of the bunker, no carpet on the floor, no windows with flowers in them, no Dede, and no Babaanne, either.

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I was little, but big enough that I was no longer allowed to be little.

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Baba wanted a red Mercedes. Traveling by train was too expensive, he said.

For five years we drove around Switzerland in a grey non-Mercedes until a policeman took away his Yugoslavian driver’s license because it wasn’t valid in Switzerland. Baba protested loudly that driving was the same everywhere. Baba took the first-aid course with eighteen-year-olds, the written exam, and the driver education course. Then he had to take parallel parking lessons with a driving instructor although he’d been driving for twenty years. Meanwhile, the grey non-Mercedes rusted out because it had been outside too long. Baba took it to the crusher at the scrap yard, had it flattened, and, with no money, bought a red Mercedes for ten thousand francs—which he intended to pay off in monthly installments over five years.

When we went on long trips, we were not all allowed to go in the car together. Anne went by train with my brother or me or my sister.

Baba believed that if we had an accident, we shouldn’t all get killed. We never took the same flight to Prizren; we trickled in one by one over several days.

No one questioned it—everyone had a story about a whole family getting killed because they had traveled together. No descendants, no survivors.

Once I asked Sarah after school how her family traveled.

Always together in the car to Italy. Always to the same house. Always in the second week of summer vacation. Sarah said that the whole family went hiking together once. One trail was so narrow that they could have gone over the edge any time. Their father tied a rope around their waists, and they proceeded slowly in single file. He said that if anyone fell, everyone else would go.

I liked that idea better—I just had to convince Baba.

When I proposed to him after school that it should be all of us or no one, he said everyone has a time to die. We can’t influence it, only by suicide, and Islam forbids suicide. So we have no power over it and no idea when our time will come. I should stop thinking such thoughts because nothing good would come of it.

So, why wouldn’t he travel with all of us, I wanted to know, if everyone has a time to die.

My brother and I are intolerable when we’re together for long periods of time, he said. Sometimes they feel like throwing us out the window and then backing up over us till we’re quiet. And because they didn’t want to have to kill us, which Islam also forbids, we were going to travel separately.

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It wasn’t the first or last time Baba told us the story of how he got from Venice to Switzerland.

“I tried to act as normal as possible. I practiced a normal smile in the train window, I ate an apple so slowly that the place where I took a bite turned brown. I opened my bag and put a book in it, took it out again after a few seconds and put it on the seat beside me. I adjusted my coat, tugged at my trousers, took a drink of water. I had refilled the bottle with fresh water at least a hundred times.

“Then it was time. I held an Italian newspaper in front of my face and tried to act nonchalant. An Albanian man in the compartment behind me had to show his papers. The customs officials questioned him, and he couldn’t answer. I couldn’t understand anything, either. He wasn’t Italian; the officials could tell from his papers and his nose. I sipped water, put the newspaper away, picked it up again, put the book in the bag and then beside me again on the seat. It was an Italian book. I set it down open without having read any of it. The dog barked and pulled the official with him; the conductor came along behind. I had my ticket ready on the little table, and I held the newspaper open.

“ ‘Buongiorno, come stai? Che bella giornata.’

“I spoke that sentence as though I’d been doing it my whole life. I showed my ticket casually, with a flick of my wrist, more elegantly and more like an Italian even than I’d seen it done in Fellini films, with the Italian expression and gesture that I’d practiced. The conductor punched the ticket, said ‘Thank you,’ and wished me a pleasant journey—I thought.

“ ‘Arrivederci, grazie,’ I said after them and hoped they hadn’t heard me say ‘grazie.’ Why should I say ‘thank you’ to them?

“When I looked at the newspaper in front of my face, I realized to my horror that the letters were upside down. I was so happy to get to Switzerland. I knew everything would be better in Switzerland. When I got off the train in Zurich, I kissed the ground.

 

From Elefanten im Garten.  Roman.  Limmat Verlag, Zürich, 2015.

A Man Passes Through

Author: Jackie Thomae
Translator: Deborah Langton

Translator’s Note:  ‘Momente der Klarheit’ has received high critical acclaim, and its promotion by Hanser to English language publishers will include this sample translation in English. This unromantic comedy about love presents a range of metropolitan characters united by the thread of relationships which start and fail. We meet Bender in this chosen extract from this ‘Episodenroman.’

 

                             I’m standing alone, I’m watching you all,
I’m seeing you sinking
‒ The Stone Roses

Fools’ inferno, thinks Bender, who’d long forgotten how to traverse a dance-floor without being trampled on and constantly jostled. It’s not so much people’s behaviour that amazes him but the time of day, so early for hysteria. Bender turns and faces the DJ console and could so easily say to the whey face behind it: if you’re playing B-sides of hits with a decade or so on you, you can’t have had an original set in years. Get hold of some rare stuff and play A-sides instead. And more than anything, you’ve got to know how to mix. But he doesn’t say anything and stands quite still in the dancing crowd. He’s really turned off by the long hair flicking him in the face even though it smells good. In the old days everything smelt of smoke, now it smells of people and perfumes. People smell stronger than perfumes. Hair, skin, breath, sweat, snatch. Bender’s surrounded by whooping and whistling, flailing arms and is surprised. Has this flip-side got anthem status thirty years on and without him realising? Dry ice and strobe lighting kick in. For a moment he thinks nothing’s actually changed. Then he sees a couple of blokes in suits and recognises them as his contemporaries and realises a few things have changed, after all. Two women in long dresses push past, saluting him with ‘Cooeee, Bender!’ ‘Evening’. The first one he’s seen naked, the second he’d really like to have seen naked way back when. She’s gripping a champagne bottle by the neck, waving it round so much she catches Bender a glancing blow on the chin. ‘Whoops.’ ‘No problem’. But it is a problem, you silly cow, but what can you do. Bender rubs his chin. Engelhardt’s ex, Isabel, is wearing a backless evening dress and standing so firm in the crowd that Bender has to get hold of her shoulders and push her to one side to get through. It occurs to him he hasn’t spotted Engelhardt himself at all. ‘Hello, Izzy, where’s the old bastard?’ No reaction from Isabel who carries on talking away at someone opposite. It’s far too early to behave like that, too.

It’s as if two dress-codes had been issued at the same time. Come as you are and Black Tie. La Grande Bellezza, thinks Bender, as glitter rains down from the ceiling, best disco scene ever. The guy from the movie is pushing 65 so that makes us almost young. He walks stoically on through the glitter shower, letting himself get pushed around and messed up. The suit needs dry-cleaning, in any case, and gin and tonic doesn’t stain.

When he’s on his second visit to the gents and asking himself what he’s actually doing here, two young women squeeze into the adjacent cubicle. He wonders fleetingly whether he should leave and come back later, and stays put. He can hear fumbling and giggling. The dividing wall stops short of the floor, he’s looking at a pair of shoes which leave him bemused at first glance and, at a second, no clearer. Rectangular pieces of wood, each with two blocks under the middle of the foot. Geisha girls wear shoes like this, Bender doesn’t know how he knows this and assumes that a geisha is a woman with pretty feet while the toes on this one are nothing more than lumps of bowed flesh with toenails planted somehow in their midst, ending up like miniature windows, all a bit skew-whiff. The other woman’s wearing black boots which, if these women were of any interest at all, old Bender could go with. He forces himself away from their feet, stares at his shoes, folds his arms, and waits.

‘So what’s up afterwards, then?’

‘Lachner’s girlfriend and someone or other are having a joint ninetieth.’

‘Is that two or three people?’

‘Good question. Two, I reckon.’

‘Jeez, they’re all so bloody old…’

Bender raises his eyebrows.

‘Come on! Frankie’s knocking 40.’

Bender nods. In amusement.

‘It’s quite different for guys.’

Ralf Bender, 48, notes his sense of relief.

‘Shall we go by bike?’

Bender looks at the geisha shoes again. Those little lumps of flesh were moving as if they were actually doing the voices. Grotesque. The toilet flushes, the woman talks over it.

‘The old one on the bar thinks she’s Madonna.’

On the bar. Bender pauses for thought. At the bar, surely?

‘God, yeah, really bad. Doesn’t get it.’

Something metallic falls on the tiles.

‘Saddo.’

‘Sad ‘n’ menopausal.’

Giggling, snorting, coughing. The flusher goes again. Zips go up, the door next to his opens, heels go clopping away. Bender sits down on the closed toilet-seat.

‘Cooeee.’ A moon face peers over the partition wall. It’s crowned by a top-knot positioned so centrally to the head that Bender can’t help thinking first of an apple, then of William Tell, and then of William S Burroughs, who shot his wife in error during a drunken attempt to re-enact William Tell. The face is chewing gum and giving him a hard look, cheeky with it.

‘Hi,’ says Bender. He’s not going to apologise for being a man in the men’s toilets. Moon Face nods knowingly. That’s bloody cheeky, too, he thinks to himself.

‘Everything all right with you?’ asks Bender.

Moon Face’s eyes take in every inch of the cubicle and linger on the cistern. There’s Bender’s Lufthansa credit card, expired.

‘Everything’s cool, thanks.’ Bender hadn’t expected anything different. He holds her gaze. He’d like to let this prying kid know just who he is. Only then would he be able to do a bit of what you might call a chat-up. In Bender’s case this is only a minimal deviation from his usual behaviour, noticed only by very few women and thus on Bender’s terms. He doesn’t like it all flowery, he likes it targeted. And, of late, extremely infrequently. If we’re talking about the one with bare feet stuck into clattering geisha platforms then even the most casual of chat-ups would barely get off the ground.

‘Serafina?’ Her friend’s calling her. Moon Face winks at him and vanishes.

Behind the bar two girls are moving fast and ineffectively. Bender doesn’t feel like elbowing his way through so just waits. He wants a beer because he doesn’t like getting a short measure of vodka drowned by a bucket of tonic in which he’d find swimming a mucky, pesticide-packed slice of lemon, just like the one being sawn off with a blunt knife by one of the girls.

Bender’s attempt at a bit of a high in the gents had given him what he describes privately as a Pinocchio Effect. His mind’s in overdrive and actually watching itself thinking. He nods imperceptibly at a few familiar faces and imagines the conversations. Yeah, things are great. It’ll be out soon. Or else, it’s in the can. Let me congratulate you. Thanks. How about you? You really must come to our place sometime. Right, yeah, when the weather’s better. Or then again: bought a boat, done a marathon, got a decent osteopath at last, so-and-so’s moved to New York. Jack and Jill have split, the project’s live, the kids are growing up all the time, house move in the cards, taxes stressing me out. Next! Giving up: my car, carbohydrates, cholesterol, nicotine, drugs.

Tonight’s the night we give up giving up. Focused, justifiable excess in honour of Engelhardt. But still Bender doesn’t feel like talking.

Not even with Reza, who pushes through near him and says hi. He was once Engelhardt’s producer and isn’t anymore. Bender doesn’t know the details and doesn’t want to hear them. Viktor comes over with a big bear-hug for Reza. Their combined joy is so over the top you’d think they hadn’t seen each other for decades. Bender indulges them even though their mood couldn’t be more different from his. He would hate anyone touching him right now.

Two women in their early twenties slide in between Bender and the bar. Girls’ night. He finds himself looking at yet another top-knot and a mouse-coloured mushroom-cut adorning a closely shaved nape. Bender darkly remembers a time when a shaven nape could drive him crazy. Provided there was make-up, ear-rings, no horn-rimmed spectacles. Bender misses for a second time his chance of a beer. The girls push through again, leaving him there, and two six-foot young guys block his line of vision. He stays fixed and immovable in a growing wave of youth, feels a bit isolated but not bad about it. He can’t remember ever being invited as a twenty-something to a fortieth.

Engelhardt hasn’t had a woman to snuggle up to lately, nor even a woman who could’ve helped him stage something with a bit of style. And so Engelhardt, understandably not wanting to turn forty alone, had revived his natural raver bent and invited old friends, each ‘plus one,’ for a general tipple, plus a busload of ‘yoof’ for a booze-up. The party differs from the average club night in only one respect, and that’s the table at the entrance for presents. Bender’s contribution is an excellent single malt for which he doubts sufficient reverence will be shown. He’d love a slug of it right now.

He orders a scotch but the girl behind the bar can only start on it after studying the labels on all the bottles, pouring the measure into a schnapps glass, then tipping it over a mountain of ice-cubes which Bender pointedly picks out again and piles up on the counter. Beer and non-alcoholic stuff was on Engelhardt, Bender pays for his whisky and tips the bar girl generously just to confuse her, something which he actually fails to do.

A female chum of Doro, his girlfriend, warmly puts her arms round him. Bender puts his Pinocchio arm round her shoulder and nods minimally.

‘Soooo?’ says Ariane, putting the ball into Bender’s court, a man who never says ‘So?’ but does now. Then he does a fair bit of nodding, even though he can’t hear a word, whereupon she laughs and gives him the thumbs up. Nodding’s good, Ariane’s gorgeous.

Now a young woman joins them, looking around in a bad mood. Bender’s just wondering whether Ariane goes round with younger girls now when he remembers she’d had a baby well before any of the others did. He adds about eighteen to 1996 and hits present day. Yeah, that fits. He doesn’t recall the baby as a baby but he does recall the baby as an issue. She’s got protruding ears which stick out from beneath her long, sleek hair, green eyes set wide apart, a fixed expression of complete disdain on dark-red lips. Ariane and a photographer, whose name must have been known at the time but which Bender can’t now call to mind, brought into the world a mythical creature who seems as at odds with this party as he is.

Ariane hands her daughter a drink, Bender raises his beer, they chink glasses but the girl remains motionless. Bender wonders whether she thinks it’s passé to do cheers or whether she’s just never come across this ritual before. She’s wearing an asymmetrical black dress that Bender would have recommended for a middle-aged woman with an art gallery. She just doesn’t want to look like her mother, that’s normal, he thinks tolerantly. He hopes Ariane isn’t going to force a conversation across the generations because the girl is sending out disdain in unsettling waves. And anyway, converse about what? School? Ariane starts to dance, her daughter sits herself on a bar-stool and looks bored. Bender’s jostled by his lawyer who’s letting his girlfriend pull him through the crowd. Clemens waves to him, looks the girl up and down, then glances back at Bender and vanishes into the throng. Bender wonders how people would take it if he really was with a sixth-former. When the girl smiles at him with good grace, he smiles back in relief but is annoyed at himself for doing it. Since when has he let a young kid make him look a real tosser? Obviously since this very moment.

Slap her, someone, thinks Bender, and says, ‘Another drink?’

‘I’m OK, thanks,’ she says, and addresses her mother’s ear.

Ariane shakes her head and poises her finger close to her self-satisfied child’s nose. Looks like a ruling’s on its way. But what about?

Perhaps the child wants to go to bed and isn’t allowed to. Ariane draws Bender’s ear down towards her mouth: ‘Party….Neukölln area…no chance,’ is all he gets. ‘No way!’ Ariane speaks forcefully and, quite superfluously, repeats it as he soothes his ear and looks at the girl whose composure has collapsed and is now almost in tears. There you go, thinks Bender. Neukölln will just have to get along without you. He’d always had enough cash not to have to live in Neukölln. And now he was no longer of an age to have to go with the hype. No bad thing in the case of Neukölln.

He reflects on his own situation. Even he had always kept on the move through the city, trying to find a better place to be. But without his mother. It’d been good and was now long behind him. Now this lot are all at it, too. Make something of your lives, pack in this backward-looking retro crap and for once come up with something new to shock us, the guys who once did all the shocking. With a sigh he interrupts his private rant about the zeitgeist, caught in the act by Ariane’s daughter as she scrutinises him with a yawn.

A DJ from another era, but apparently still in service, is dragging a case of records towards the dance floor and pulling another one on wheels. Old guy goes on holiday. His lived-in face briefly acknowledges Bender. The nameless child, still perched mournfully at the bar, studies her black nail varnish. Kids want to party without their parents, never mind how their parents do it, thinks Bender, believing for a moment he’s really got something there.

By the time he’s back from the third toilet trip he’s had two brief conversations and one attempt at dancing. He tilts awkwardly back and forth on the dance-floor, keeps a half-hearted lookout for Doro and decides that for Stone Roses it’s better just to sit and jig.

The weathered-looking DJ puts a schnapps glass right under his nose, Bender drinks with him and enjoys the shared silence while staring at the dance-floor as they might the sea. ‘This lot are on a different planet,’ says the DJ down his ear, quite differently from Ariane, so that it’s comprehensible and doesn’t hurt. The DJ nods towards the crowd. ‘I can’t tell whether they’re feeling good or about to kick off.’ He gestures towards the people dancing in front of them but Bender doesn’t see anything he hasn’t already worked out for himself. ‘No idea what they’re on,’ comments the DJ whose suave fragrance didn’t suit his shabby look. Bender just shrugs. So what are they supposed to be on? Recreational chemicals? Prescription stuff? So what’s new? He’s not just too idle to ask, he doesn’t set any store by the old guy’s theories, either. Bender doesn’t like conversations about drugs, they bore him and insinuate a use that’s nobody’s business. ‘One thing’s for definite, their vibes are totally different from what ours used to be. They switch from being complete Neanderthals one minute to touchy-feely hippies the next. Totally weird.’

The DJ points out examples of what he means but Bender can’t see why he’s so puzzled by it all, had always thought he was the weirdo but just nods in agreement. His innards thud in time to the reverberation off the bass, at least the sound system’s good. One man’s practically licking his girlfriend’s shoulder off, a good-looking woman’s so off the beat she looks brain-damaged and two guys dancing at her are pushing away two women who move really well but are neither tall nor blond. Nothing indicates a new aspect of drug use. Maybe it’s nothing more than a few beers, maybe even nothing at all. A matted youth takes a mouthful of water from a bottle and lets it trickle into the mouth of an elaborately tattooed woman. ‘And,’ shouts the DJ, pointing into the crowd again, ‘they don’t even get pissed anymore.’ Bollocks to that, thinks Bender. People’ll always get pissed. Giving the old veteran a friendly pat on the shoulder, he moves on.

Less wooden now but far from being the vibrant soul of the party, Bender goes up to the bar again and orders another whisky. Ariane’s daughter has meanwhile become engrossed in a conversation with Viktor and Reza and they look like three adults having a serious discussion. The men’s faces, particularly Viktor’s, are glowing with interest. When Reza wants to introduce Bender to the girl, she just looks dismissive. What’s that supposed to mean, Bender wonders. That she already knows me? That I’m a friend of her mother’s and that means I’m old? Uncool by nature? Do people still say uncool? Bender laughs to himself, looking bemused.

Next to him, Viktor’s wife, Natalie, attempts to order a tea and is greeted by the bar-girl with obdurate incomprehension. ‘This lot can’t speak German,’ calls Reza who seems to know the place. You can understand ‘tea’, thinks Bender, if you know any English, French, Spanish or anything else. ‘Detox,’ shouts Natalie. ‘Great,’ says Bender and decides to leave but, instead of moving towards the exit, he lets the crowd suck him back into the throng.

The music has switched to minimal techno and then slipped into disco classics. The dancers look forced, like at a company do. Balloons float around, no thanks. What’s going on here? People alive in 2014 are sending up the people who rediscovered the seventies in the mid-nineties? No, that’s not it. It’s uninspired, purely and simply. Bender breaks off, knowing he’ll end up going round and round on his eternal monologue and boring himself the while. Anyone who knows Bender knows all about this, and Doro best of all, Doro the world’s most patient woman. Where is she, anyway?

Bender makes his way back to the bar like a neurotic tiger. The man who always does the photography at these gigs says hi and stands next to him. Then he asks Bender, oh so politely, if he could just move aside and he takes a photo of Ariane’s daughter, framed by Viktor and Reza. She still doesn’t know that one day she’ll recollect all these nights as a single blur of high points and shit mornings-after but she does know for a photo you have to suck in your cheeks, lower your chin a bit, and fix your gaze just above the camera. Only her chubby face stands between her and her modelling career.

Bender’s done his duty at Engelhardt’s party, yeah, and the rest, quite by contrast with Engelhardt himself, who is still nowhere to be seen, definitely his problem and not Bender’s, Bender who now plans to move on without farewells. Bender’s just deciding he really does want to find Doro now, when there’s a load of whooping and whistling at the other end of the bar. A diminutive figure in a cat-suit is climbing up onto the actual counter and then whistles through her fingers. With pride, Bender ogles her perfectly shaped little backside as she bends over to pull Ariane up there beside her. OK, one more performance, then we’re going, thinks Bender, in a better mood now and waves his empty glass at the girl behind the bar. She gives an apologetic shrug and nods towards Ariane and Doro. This act is not be interrupted by bar service. Nor by Bender, who has been with Doro for almost ten years, Doro who sometimes writes her name as D’Oro but Bender’s talked her out of that, as well as the equally fictitious and outdated surname of Sapporo. D’Oro Sapporo, alias Dorothea Conrady, is a brilliant mover. It had been her moves that had first attracted Bender. It hadn’t been obvious to him that he’d been looking for a woman who could lift his mood but the first time he’d seen her she’d released something in him, something which felt so good and exhilarating that he had to have it. He wanted Doro’s effortlessness and, contrary to the received wisdom about finding true love, got it without any prolonged struggles or need for self-promotion. Bender had seen her, made her laugh, taken her home, and turned them into an item overnight.

Bender switches back to the present. Bar service has been resumed, Doro and Ariane seem to be dancing in a parallel universe. This party is so dysfunctional that even the ancient concept of dancing on the table doesn’t lift the atmosphere. Anyway, at least Engelhardt’s turned up, his clapping and whooping making people near him do the same for a bit. Lame bunch, thinks Bender, let’s get out of here. He sees Engelhardt leaning on his crutches again after his brief attempt at improving the atmosphere and wants to take back that thought. He’d completely forgotten that Engelhardt really is lame. Much more concerning is his overall state. Engelhardt the brute is barely recognisable. His temporary injury makes him look neither manly nor bold, and does not even look temporary. He looks as if he’s mislaid something really important, his mojo, thinks Bender, and searches for a word to describe Engelhardt’s new look. Non-descript? Just then Engelhardt looks over and throws him a V for victory. Poor bloke, good guy, Bender wants to go for a quiet meal with him some time soon. Then, as he looks into the charmless crowd, he finds himself thinking how they should be pumping it up some, too, just to get something going here. Even if only to show some respect to the guy, damn it, this is a sick man who wants to throw a party, so make it happen for him, will you? He looks up at the bar again. When Ariane goes down on her knees and Doro stands over her playing air guitar, her legs wide apart, he does begin to think this is a real case of less is more. He loves Doro’s demonstrative style, loves his woman being the centre of attention. But, hey, just not now. Stuff like this is out of place here. Doro should be able to see that. But instead she kicks a glass off the bar, oblivious of the disapproving looks she gets.

Bender gazes round the bar area and feels as if he knows nobody. Nearby, Ariane’s daughter must have cracked a good joke because Viktor and Reza are laughing. A really pissed older bloke of Bender’s vintage is trying to grope Doro and Ariane. Just stop this crap straight away, thinks Bender, as if he could be heard, as if he was in charge of the whole show. Someone’s eyes meet his. The moon-faced girl with the apple on her head is standing in a forest of waving arms and beaming. She’s smiling at him as if he’s found an ally amidst a bunch of lunatics. He feels a bit hit on and yet caught out and would really like to make it clear to her that she’s got things wrong. No, little girl, it’s not that occasions like this make me feel insecure, it’s much more that their pointlessness and absence of originality annoys me because Herr Bender is normally to be seen at events of a quite different calibre. He raises his whisky glass in her direction. Elder statesman, is that what he wants to be? Too late. She’s giving him a long look while her friend is shrieking something down her ear, then she grins at him and he attempts a smile. As she gestures with her chin towards the women dancing on the bar and raises her eyebrows in amusement, his mouth goes dry. He suddenly realises who she meant earlier on when she said that about the saddo woman on the bar, looks up once more at Doro and looks back at Moon Girl, now coolly winking at him while replying to her friend’s remarks.

He sees Doro in a different light. The light of this party. Doro is, and this is how it goes, knocking on a bit now. The unforgiving light she’s now dancing in shows up every year. Bender doesn’t know what money or time she spends on her looks but has always felt confident he was with an exceptionally ageless woman. It’s simply that she’s never changed her style, he’s thinking to himself, but she has actually aged. As he studies her well-formed profile, he notices in it for the first time a tiredness that suddenly makes him feel sad. Then she turns towards Bender and he feels a bit better because her public face is there again, shouting out ‘Word Up’. Her body, too. Perfectly proportioned, supple, petite.

He’d never been interested in what women thought of one another when together, why they would, in the same breath, fall out and yet call for greater solidarity, something which he’d always found laughable. Here at this bar he saw himself confronted for the first time with the thoughts of younger women about older women. Maybe this one’s just a complete bitch, wonders Bender and decides not to trouble himself with stuff like this in the future. Doro just needs to stop this nonsense and come with him immediately.

Frank Engelhardt makes dance moves on the spot and swings his crutches around over the heads of the crowd, his old self briefly shining through again. Engelhardt was once one of Doro’s admirers. Once. Dancing round him now are some women whose baggy coats, woollen hats and beer-bottles make them look like down and outs stamping around some makeshift brazier. Definitely not my type, thinks Bender, who feels as if he’s in a mass of identical people, the only one to stand out as remotely different. And then there’s this presumptuous top-knot girl still looking him up and down. She’s got the unfair advantage of knowing what her advantage is. At her age Bender hadn’t known that youth is priceless. He looks back and forth tennis-match style between the bored young women and the hyper older women and tears himself out of his musings. Don’t take it seriously, all this crap here. Bad party, grotty coke, daft people, through any minute, don’t give a shit. The problem isn’t Doro, Bender’s thinking, the problem is these kids here with their wannabe coolness, an unfavourable contrast with their own enthusiasm. Unfavourable for Doro. Bender’s gloom persists. Just as Doro really turns it on and makes like she’s had a massive electric shock, the Moon Girl is suddenly at the counter, swinging her body up onto it and starting to dance. To Bender it seems everybody’s staring at the girl in revealing hot pants and danceable boots and not at the geisha-girl flip-flops attached to the feet of the woman Engelhardt’s now allowing to unbutton his shirt.

Doro and Ariane seem pleased about their new joiner even though this statuesque girl reduces them to support act status. Doro now assumes her favourite facial expression of big eyes and a big pout. Bender, realising for the first time that she’s deliberately making a dumb blonde face, as plain dumb as in a silent movie or a circus act, is getting seriously annoyed. Ariane simply wants to act sexy and stay sexy and it looks like she’ll manage that, so good luck to her. Doro’s tactics are well past their sell-by and this bothers him hugely although he’d really known it already, just never seen it in action. To Bender’s chagrin it all stirs up a real storm in him now, as if he’s discovered her secret flaw now so publicly exposed. Bender looks in the bar mirror and then up at his girlfriend again. He recognises himself but he doesn’t recognise her anymore. It’s not that he sees a stranger, that would maybe be better, someone transient and absurd, like this event. Bender sees someone he was once close to and isn’t anymore. Someone he hasn’t seen for a long time and who has developed along a completely different path. An old acquaintance misbehaving. And because on top of this, he’s in a state where he can see his thoughts not as thoughts but as quotations, he sums it up like this: Doro is a big kid. It’s so intolerable for Bender to have this kind of insight at this event that he’d rather be blind and deaf right now. But instead he thumps on the bar and shows his empty glass to the two dumbos standing behind it.

Women over forty aren’t cute anymore except if, please God, they’re beautiful, concludes Bender, carrying on in aphorism mode and really wanting to paint his observation on a sign and hold it in front of Doro’s nose. He wants Doro to stop the pouting stuff and making an arse of herself in front of these kids, wants her to act her age, and, more than anything else, wants to be standing at a bar where he can get some decent bloody service. And who on earth is Doro’s exhibitionism supposed to be aimed at – looks like it’s not Bender, whose presence at the bar seems to have passed her by, no eye contact from her, no smile, instead just a woman wasting her efforts on a void, expending everything on nothing, there’s no other way of describing it. The whole thing’s so shattering he nearly forgets to draw the next breath.
Miss Moon jumps down from the bar amid general applause. Doro and Ariane have completely lost any rapport with the audience, who now treat them like go-go girls and not people to be celebrated. Bender’s just turning away when someone pulls at his sleeve.

‘Pear or plum?’

Reza’s leading a countdown like a teacher with kids on a trip. ‘Wait until the oldies are done,’ Ariane’s daughter advises him and gives him such a smug smile that Bender, who’d normally describe himself as a gentleman, decides that this would be just the perfect moment to give her a slap. One of those women up there that she’s taking the piss out of is her mother, OK, another disaster but fortunately not Bender’s. ‘Just let me through,’ he says and keeps reality and his imagination poles apart while he gently, but pointedly, eases the girl to one side. The word ‘through’ stops dead inside his head. Through, through, through. Let me through, you useless twerps. I’m through. And he shoves his way further towards the exit, feeling like the one sighted man amongst the blind.

When Bender steps out into the night, he feels somewhat appeased. He thinks about the veteran DJ and congratulates himself on his own choice of profession which will not require him as an old man to stand around in clubs. With every step closer to his car his mind regains more of its usual state. He’s going to leave the car where it is but it’s reassuring to see it. Hey, look. Under the wiper there’s a parking ticket which he rips up on the spot, suddenly angry again with everyone who makes his life difficult and in that moment that really is everybody, including the taxi-driver who ignores his outstretched arm. He’ll complain to his next fare about not getting enough fares Through. Bender sets off on foot, breathes in the clammy air and feels happy for a moment without really knowing why.

A couple of blocks later the wall divided the centre from Kreuzberg, loaded with history but no longer recognisable, and Bender takes a leak against a hoarding. He reads the brightly illuminated sign about the builders and the architects, the apartments advertising the view of the river – a river which is far more unspectacular than the sign lets on. As Bender reflectively does up his flies, a car pulls over next to him. Fine, thinks Bender as he gets in, a woman wants to give me a lift, that’s new and about bloody time.

‘So? It’s you, then?’ says Moon Face while she accelerates away. And as Bender starts to reply, something’s released inside him and everything which comes out, his stories, his opinions are, all of a sudden, exciting and new again.

 

© From Momente der Klarheit. Hanser Berlin im Carl Hanser Verlag München, 2015

There is water here
Pomegranate tree
I play

Author: Farhad Showghi
Translator: Harry Roddy

 

There is water here. Flowing nowhere else but here. Cheats the hands as it pleases, silver for instance in another’s charge, without support or sleep, finally frittering itself away in its own pattering, and so open for the next-best request for patience: Just about washing the crossing air.

 

Pomegranate tree. Will be our report. Thus bestirs itself soon. Has decided for a length. Let go in a wisp. Wants to embody itself there, be able to reach back to its own fruit. Whereby east reveals itself as wind and not the beginning of speech. Daylight is in transition. Finishing touch doesn’t materialize. In the same space we resemble. First each other. From pure distraction. We then go in our form of appearance. There is silence, certainly. Village joy also. And compact Fusilier tulips. Yet by a wide wisp, what we report.

 

I play open the lids, prick-up-my-ears too. I play getting dressed. I play look-out-the-window with the chair. What was sung was almost birch, no eyebrows, not my hand. I have to tell my father.

 

From In Verbrachter Zeit. kookbooks, 2014.

Issue 11

Table of Contentsfor Issue 11

Atrium of Stuttgart’s Stadtbibliothek am Mailänder Platz

Cover illustration: Atrium of Stuttgart’s Stadtbibliothek am Mailänder Platz
© die arge lola, Stuttgart

With this eleventh issue, the incoming editors of No Man’s Land proudly continue the work of Isabel Cole and other  founders of the journal, taking it into a second decade of presenting diverse writing from the German-speaking world.

This new edition offers a sampler of what is being done in and with recent German-language poetry and prose, without attempting to link stories and poems with a common theme.   The selections suggest the breadth and energy of current German-language literature:  they include the work of established writers such as Esther Dischereit, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Yaak Karsunke, and Günter Kunert; and writings by emerging writers, among them Nico Bleutge, Marc Degens, Meral Kureyshi, Farhad Showghi, and Saskia Trebing.

Their translators likewise represent a wide range of ages and approaches.

We have been gratified by the response from the community of German-to-English translators to the revival of this online magazine, and thank them for bringing their work to us.  We are grateful as well to the authors and publishers of the original works, who have permitted us to use English versions of these stories and poems on our website.

Some exciting new literature awaits you in this edition.  Please read and share!

‒ Susan Thorne, Editor

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


travel-picture
breakfast in the hotel



the american light


Prepared
Mutable
REM



Small Theology
You Here



map to paris
associations
poem that starts as follows



We drove
The bodies of the olives
The dresses of the lemons



hiddensee
breast of duck, ruddy



There is water here
Pomegranate tree
I play



On Yesterday
Status Report
An Experience



Apfelstrudel in Shanghai


Elephants in the Garden


Dorsten


A Man Passes Through


Young Animals


The Bee God


Undine


Gone!


Issue 11


Ships Glow at Night


Prologue
Possible Childhood
Father Comes Home
Beet Harvest
Daily Life
Tracks