Archives

Relocation
… but
Sisyphus
There
On the big wheel
Five lines

Author: Kurt Drawert
Translator: Steph Morris

 

Relocation

I understand my friends
in the East
less and less. Here between
the Hamme and Weser rivers

I know no-one.
Sometimes the deaf-mute
farmer from over the way
greets me, or an official

arrives as decreed
to deliver just what
I’d feared
with a casual gesture.

I was settled
nowhere and nowhere
was I at home, I confirm
without sadness. So what

should I seek out
if I stay.
What should stay
where it is?

The smell of wet
mildewed wood,
of rotten floorboards
clings in my memory,

the night-time discussions
were worthless
and have been sold
to the four

winds. Voyeurs
who knew better,
with the safe stasis
of the long winter

for support, with fine lines
broken apart
on a desk
in some sorry office.

Their silence
on that score,
my friends from yesterday,
is deafening, gone today

because yet again
it’s about missing
the wrong word
at the right moment, the kickoff,

the next stop down the hill.
I’ll get to the point now:
You lied to me. I
was someone else

at the heart of those soiled years.
But when, for a second,
I forget my name,
I totally understand

that foxhole of language
and feel regret
and view the rot
of conscience in its entirety

with leniency,
just as the autumn light
melts into the meadows
at dusk

and it all sinks
into the mist like tired
maltreated animals. But
I don’t understand it.

Yet my muscles
have relaxed and
the ostracised farmer
greets me.

Kurt Drawert, 1992

 

…but

there must be some legacy
with which the history of the body
– which, as silence will win
over remembrance,
I sometimes draw on too,
like an album of snapped sensations –
as well history itself
– given that the country within will crumble
like a ruined fortress
its name lost,
which you enter as a stranger
speaking another language –
can be elucidated.

Kurt Drawert, 1993

 

Sisyphus

Those were the days,
when there was a thing
you had to shift.

A mission bound
to fail at that gradient,
each time knocked back

and sent plummeting,
a punishment
only in an underworld

run by charlatans
with no feeling for the joys
of repetition

at least while matter
was part of the equation,
with no laws

to concern you unduly.
Since your acquittal
you’ve been drifting around

gazing at the void
in your hands,
repeatedly.

Kurt Drawert, 1996

 

There

I’d forgotten how we would meet
then, in those towns now full of
orphaned anthems

in search of a fatherland. In the ruins
of the last war a peaceful,
fatherless calm could be found.

I came here as a child, disturbed.
Here we had it good. Here language
stayed out of the body.

Later, at a tricky stage in life,
just as some of our voices
broke, with others it was

the spine, you recall.
I was gifted with
silence, there.

There, the grass is shooting up
already. The dip in the ground,
surely the place I dreamt of love,
is filled with grit, puddled algae
and oil, squashed tin cans,

a scorched patch. Even the earth here seeks
to deny its past. It had long gone dark
but I stood there still. Everything I heard
was alien. What I thought.
And it was day.

 

On the big wheel

When the axis of the turning wheel
links the rising cars
and the falling cars
along an even plane
there is a neutral instant
in which each are at
eye level.
Then the inevitable happens.
Pride is pride again, and a fall, a fall.

 

Five lines

I want to be like that again,
in love with a sense of love,
like a ship darting into the ocean,
blindly proud. And hearts are hearts
and stone will be stone, until the sails rip.

 

 

From:  Poetry of the German Democratic Republic.  S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2009.

Aus:  “Ortswechsel,” “… doch,” “Wo es war,” “Im Riesenrad,” “Fünf Zeilen,” “Sisyphos.”  Lyrik der DDR.  S. Fisher Verlage, Frankfurt am Main, 2009.

Fabulous

Author: Michael Amon
Translator: Edward Larkin, Thomas Ahrens

 

Please allow me to introduce myself

I park my newly acquired Ferrari Testarossa in one of the parking spots reserved for members of the board of directors. Well, speaking of the devil! The chief financial officer, my immediate supervisor, swooshes in at the same moment in a luxury sedan. Of course, he isn’t driving. He is being chauffeured, seated in the rear. I get out and act as if I don’t notice him. The chauffeur pulls up right behind my Ferrari and motions for me to move. I give him the finger – first assuring myself that the CFO has also seen my gesture – and leave the parking garage in an upbeat mood. I just love living clichés to the fullest, with grandezza.

I am not an impolite or vulgar person. Not at all irascible or hotheaded. But I get a great deal of pleasure out of defying the rules of a venerable banking institution, all the while knowing that they can’t do anything about it. They hate me. They despise me. They would terminate me immediately, without notice. But, unfortunately for them, I am one of those people who bring in the big bucks, the really big bucks, that pay not only for my Ferrari but also for the many other, less fabulous limousines available to the board of directors. So while they curse me in private, they let me park where I want. They ignore my extreme hand gestures and do not dare set foot in my department. We are wild guys through and through – we who work here. And I am the wildest. To be precise: the coolest. And I’m not the only one who says so. Everybody does.

My immediate boss has not been an active trader for some time; nowadays he only supervises the traders. But even he can’t tell if I am about to make a killing or take a bath on a contract. I always maintain the same calm demeanor when I’m looking at my computer screen, no matter how the supposed markets around the globe are behaving and no matter how volatile the graphs reflecting those events become. Even when the graph lines are horizontal, which only rarely occurs, no one is able to detect my boredom. A horizontal performance line (I’m talking about a line that looks like it’s been drawn with a ruler) offers very little opportunity for speculation – unless you can find some greedy bastard who is willing to make a deal that is just ridiculous – one that only the eggheads in our math department can understand. What they cook up is great. For the bank, that is, not for the client. They generate mathematical formulas to ensure that we always come out on top. It can get wacky when two banks are involved, but we avoid that. What do we have clients for! The more the markets heat up and the more eagerly people drool over profits, the more we can spread this mathematical manure among our profit-craving clients. And some days we are up to our eyeballs in drool, figuratively speaking. But that is not really my area.

I live on variances and timing. I keep an attentive eye on the screens, and as soon as Tokyo advances and Chicago retreats a little, I buy the shares in Chicago with the phone on my left and, even before I have the contract in hand, I sell it in Tokyo with the phone on my right. That’s all there is to it. Nothing more than that. But I do it a hundred times a day. Sometimes in seconds. Profits and losses. The trick is: you have to win more than you lose, at least once more. As long as I do that, I can drive the Ferrari, take the boss’s parking spot (which is tolerated even if amid expletives), and nonchalantly flip him the bird when he insists on parking in his reserved spot.

To be a trader, you really need to have excellent powers of concentration and a first-class memory. A one-day-memory. Contracts do not stay open overnight, at least not under normal circumstances. So you need to have all of the day’s open contracts in your head, and you are always afraid that you might forget one. That can cost the bank millions. Then the Ferrari is gone. And you can quickly become someone’s slave in an irrelevant trading department, pushing a couple of boring government bonds back and forth, and strictly avoiding the boss’s parking spot. Fortunately, my concentration is exceptional, and my memory is outstanding. I can hardly imagine having Alzheimer’s. I don’t even want to think about it. I love my invulnerability. In the trading room I am immortal. At least while I’m the better gambler.
No one in the trading room is as calm as I am. No one can tell when I am engaged in combat. That is my strength. That makes me invulnerable in the war of the marketplace, a marketplace that in truth doesn’t really exist, that in our business is only a fiction, nothing more. I really don’t care whether wheat is too expensive or too cheap. I am only interested in what I believe is happening: is the price rising or falling?

That determines whether I will buy or sell the contracts. In the end, I don’t have to eat the wheat. And I couldn’t anyway, given the amount that I speculate with. Neither the wheat nor the pork bellies. Even the currency that I push around the world is something that I don’t need. I don’t give a hoot about the value of the stuff that I trade. I am only interested in the difference between what the price is now and what it will be a second or a month from now. In a real market you have to understand true value. But for me it is only a question of guessing the difference between two prices at two different points in time. It is a guessing game, or at best a wager. What we are playing is “Old Maid;” it has nothing at all to do with a marketplace. We tell people about the “marketplace” just so that they will have something to believe in – because God is long gone. He is a fugitive on the road to nowhere, where He can tinker with a different, perhaps better universe, in the hope that He might get it right this time. Every day we create the market anew, as our God, just so that we can then point to something that is responsible for all the money that we lose for our investors. It is the market that punishes and rewards. The market, my ass! People believe this nonsense because we constantly pound it into them. But these markets don’t really exist. I am the market. I determine the price. I look for the price differential. A telephone on my left, a telephone on my right, and between them is my head, and that’s where the market is. That’s the simple truth. The market is in my head, going in one ear and coming out the other.

I don’t believe in anything anymore. And certainly not in markets! I might as well believe in this ephemeral God. For me it is enough to know that I won. I only need to keep my eyes on the screen, pick up the right telephone – I am repeating myself here – and get the better of whoever is on the other end of the line. I love the instability of the short-term graphs as compared to the smug calmness and serenity of the two-hundred-day moving average, which carries the performance of the share prices like a good bass player carries a walking blues tune, like Bill Wyman for the Stones. Just as Charlie Watts carries the Stones today. Maybe I’ll join the Stones when I have fifty winners and fifty-one losers, that is, if the Stones are still able to get on stage by themselves, or at least be rolled onto the stage in wheelchairs. And if the Stones are still alive at that point. And if they need a bass player for the moving average line. Keith Richards, with his piercing riffs, better represents instantaneous trading, the fluctuating ups and downs of nervous markets. Richards is second to none when he plays his riffs. I can only get that feeling when I’m out on the trading floor. He gets it on the guitar. Charlie Watts would be a good trader, but Bill Wyman would be better. In the old films of their concerts, Wyman is always seen playing off to the side, as if he’s not part of the group. That is exactly how I feel when I’m sitting in the trading room. I’m the Bill Wyman of traders. As if I didn’t belong with the rest of them.

Nothing bad can happen to me here. Whatever happens out there in these imaginary markets has no effect on me. I’m like a fish in a stream: I take whatever I can get. To be a trader is to keep your mouth wide open and swim into a school of fish. Perhaps I’m even the Mick Jagger of traders. Just one more time. That’s all I live for.

               I am a man of wealth and taste

Truth be told, I’m well off, even rich. I would never tell anyone that, but I am. Getting richer by the day. Effortlessly. Unintentionally. But purposefully. Sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. It can certainly be debated whether I have good taste. That doesn’t bother me. The tie tack crowd on the top floor with their own dining room and their own chef think that my Ferrari is tasteless and nouveau riche; I think the same of their tie tacks. They think it’s disgusting that I’m moving ahead of them: on the freeway, with my salary, in life. I’m just faster. What’s zipping by, my friend, that is life. The guys upstairs taking the slow train will never get that. You can’t make money taking the slow train. True living only begins at 250 kilometers per hour. Anything slower than that is just standing still. They despise me, but they are happy to take the profits that I earn for them with our clients’ money. And before the clients get their money back, we all take a piece of it. In acting out their greed, the guys upstairs are almost as fast as we are. Almost. Although, I’m not greedy. I just take what I can get my hands on. And I certainly make a point to grab as much as I can. Taking, too, is a talent. Perhaps an even a greater talent than giving. In fact, it definitely is. Much greater.

I’m perfectly healthy. Fit as a fiddle, as they say here. You can’t be any healthier than I am. My heartbeat remains calm and steady as the share prices flicker across my computer screen. As the graph lines jump fitfully about, they create sharp peaks formed by the nervously fluctuating price variations and by the rapid alternation of highs and lows. I hold the phone calmly, and I place my orders dispassionately. No one can see whether I’m agitated or relaxed. There is nothing to be seen. I am unemotional, just a cool dude. The coolest dude in the trading room. In my mind’s eye I imagine the floor of the stock exchange in earlier times. The chaotic shouts, the traders’ spastic movements, and the feverish atmosphere. A seething mass of activity. But here and now everything is calm, in the room of the cool dudes. Grab what you can, and let the devil take the hindmost. Fortunately, I’m always first. The best. Perfectly healthy. And get even healthier the worse the trades unfold. Don’t even know what cholesterol is, spread it on my sandwich. A liver? I don’t have one. My brain functions precisely and is unaffected by external circumstances. Like a well-oiled machine. One cog turns another, no bucks or jams. No doctor could make a living off of me. People like me will be the downfall of medicine, the death of the pharmaceutical corporations (whose stock shares bore me to death). Can someone like me even die? How might that happen? Given my overall health? Cool dudes live forever. Forever and a day. Death is not worth the money that the insurance companies pay out. But I’m not so stupid as to bet on my death, though I bet on everything else, all the time. But betting on my death? No way! I’m not an idiot. As healthy as I am. I avoid bad deals. And that would be one. Count me out. I’ve got better things to do, namely, make money. You have to be out front. The truth is everywhere and nowhere, because it has no price. So it can’t be traded; it has no value to someone like me. I avoid getting too close to a so-called truth. Who likes staring into the abyss! An abyss is not tradable. Every once in a while, if we get too wild or carry on for too long, we fall into an abyss. But we pull ourselves out of trouble by skillful trades; I’m very good at that sort of thing. I have ice water in my veins. Nothing can unsettle me. I’m the master of the universe. It is my universe. God is sitting in a universe near ours, botching up the one beyond that. But I’m no God; people just think I am. I won’t fall into that trap. When the gods make love, they create devils. All of us here, the traders, we are gods. Immortal. Eternally healthy. There is no afterlife. No trade remains open. That is what I call eternity. After us – closed markets.

               I’ve been around for a long, long year

My year has forty months, or fifty, or one. Whatever is needed. Everything is one big gently flowing stream. My brain flattens out the spikes on the computer screen; they become signals to buy or to sell, or to do nothing. The charts – that’s what we call the graphs – are our bible. We see things in them that no one else sees, that no one else can see. Our whole life is one long, long year. It moves along. Always forward, never backward. I tell you: life truly begins at 250 kilometers per hour, as does true peace. I don’t need a rear view mirror, or even a headlight. What’s ahead of me is of no more interest than what’s behind me. Truth is only what is found on the right and left. Einstein knows that. Does he know that? Does his brain know that? What we call his brain today are those 240 ashlar-shaped blocks, each one only a cubic centimeter in size, world travelers smelling of formalin, kept in countless laboratories all around the world. Is it possible that 240 individual parts know more than a whole brain? Are they interconnected, like those quanta that Einstein’s brain even today does not believe in? That is, his brain no longer can believe in them because it is only senseless tissue now. No more thoughts circulate there. Neither interconnected, nor disparate. Forget Einstein! Energy equals mass times velocity squared. Time is an illusion. We have all the time in the world. I have all the time in the world. But traders don’t. An individual transaction. There’s only a few seconds for it, if that. The trader’s world is a world of seconds. Just short seconds, independent of one another. The smallest unit of the endless year. Assimilating all the isolated seconds, the brain constructs the film we call life, which flows so easily by us. All the years look the same. One year is just like another. The graphs point up and then come crashing down again.
I leave my apartment and drive to the office. There are still a few places to park. None of the bosses is in sight. They’re still asleep, or already at work. It doesn’t matter to me. Today I’ll take the spot that belongs to the board member who oversees retail banking. A particularly unlikable and arrogant guy in a department that only incurs losses. One floor below us. We earn the big bucks, one floor above them. Among the piles of big bucks, mine is the biggest. Retail banking? I never even think about it. It’s like being buried alive. You are not alive, ever. Dead. Dead. Dead. Oh, Death, here is your sting! Dickering about overdraft conditions. Begging for credit. Painstakingly adding up the points on a loan application and then turning it down. Retail banking. It’s peanuts, if that. It isn’t true that a penny saved is a penny earned, that even small cattle make manure. They create shit. And I have to clean it up with my profits, which I piss down to the floor below us, so that the shit there doesn’t stink to high heaven. So that the stench doesn’t drift up to me.

I’ve got good reason to park my Ferrari here today. The spot is not mine, but I’m entitled to it. I cheerfully raise my middle finger, but no one sees it. You can’t have fun anymore. They don’t want you to. As if I could live from their bonuses. Money isn’t everything. It’s more than everything. Too much money and a little fun, that’s the ticket, throughout the whole eternally long year, this interminable year, for as long as we are alive. A lifetime is a sentence. A couple of pleasures, and a car in the parking spot, which is not mine. Computer screens and graphs. And so it goes.

               Stole many a man’s soul and faith

You can feel sorry for them. Or, you could feel sorry for them. But you don’t. I don’t. None of us does. Our customers, our clients. Passing through the expansive atrium, I take the glass elevator up to our floor. Everything is transparent with us: the elevator, the atrium, the conference rooms. But not the trades, or the algorithms of our math rats, or the virtually unreadable small print of the contracts. Don’t speak evil of rats. Intelligent animals. Can you understand a rat? See! Neither can I. But I have absolute faith in them. They develop their models in such a way that from the very beginning everyone knows who will win and who will lose, except the losers. These are clever rats, with far-reaching tails. Stepping out of the elevator, which runs silently through the ridiculously tall atrium, I look down at all the hopeful customers, a restlessly seething mass; some of them (one can call them people, but we refer to them as our customer base) approach the information desks, while others, the well-heeled clients, hurry off to the elevators; still others look nervously about, craving guidance – clueless and hesitant, they steel themselves against the bustling throng, standing in place, in apparent shock. They call that banking. Enticing new customers. Attention: “Platform Euro-Bank, the train to one-hundred-per-cent profit is pulling in.” Great slogan. My girlfriend created it. Her desk is five floors above me in the marketing department. Minimalist design. Three marble slabs, two for the side tables and the third serves as a workspace. Too cold for work.

The ridiculously high atrium. One can debate the use of the word “ridiculously.” Let’s just call it a cathedral of money. What is the purpose of the cupola at St. Peter’s? The glorification of God and the display of His earthly splendor, a symbol of the power of those who are the administrators of God’s legacy on earth. Nowadays baroque splendor has given way to the more austere simplicity of expensive marble walls, smooth and unadorned, yet still intimidating. Capitalism is not baroque; it is goal-oriented. Ornamentation is foreign to it. Its only curves are those of the performance of the share prices on the 200-day moving average. It knows only the coolness of the cubically remodeled room, its cold columns dominant like the increasing assets of the wealthy. It avoids the illusion of transcendence and knows only that everyone can become rich – the glorification of money and the display of pecuniary splendor, a symbol of the arrogance of power. It has no legacy to manage here on earth other than our money, which it dearly embraces in order to create its own. The battle for an investor’s capital is the modern equivalent of the collection basket, which unburdens the believers of their charitable donations, so that they might enter heaven more easily. The discreet consultations in rooms with soundproofed floors are the present-day equivalent of the sale of indulgences. Every payment puts capital in a favorable mood and brings it closer to its own downfall. A god still reigns in these cathedrals of madness, a madness that craves rational explanations; a god who has forgotten about Abraham, who has not founded a religion that emerged from the desert, but rather one that leads into the desert. Nowadays you are not only allowed to make an image of your god, it is absolutely required. But it has to be depicted small on numbered bills: five, ten, a hundred, a thousand, whatever. Bank statements, too, represent God’s presence and accurately demonstrate His greatness: a hundred thousand, millions, billions. Stock options are our purgatory. While the soul may continue to suffer in the eternal hell of losses, it can still feel anxiety in the mere seven heavens of profit. For nothing is certain, nothing persists, everything is in motion. Like the elevators here. They are always in motion. They stop only briefly to spit out people going up and coming down, or to suck in new riders. Everything is transparent here. Except for the balance sheets. And the algorithms. And everything that is behind the atrium, the ridiculously high atrium, which is eight or ten stories tall. I’m not sure.

The atrium reaches ever higher. That’s not the case with the Vatican. You can’t take an elevator to the cupola of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Its cupola is just a cupola, nothing more. By contrast, the interior of our cupola is ringed with offices for our rats and traders, those on the way up and those on the way down, the board members, and all the others who move through the building and thus represent its pulse. The constant, ceaseless pulsing of the flow of people and money. And I am in the middle of it all. As the elevator races upward, my thoughts seem to come to a halt: the cupola of St. Peter’s Cathedral unwittingly gives birth to the Reformation. But what is to be born in our cupola? Capitalism knows nothing of reformation. It does fine without one. But perhaps capitalism is in fact on its last legs. Or it is moving toward its demise. Maybe the Reformation is hiding from it, standing outside on the street looking up in wonder at the façade of the towers of money, where the masters of that money reside. The masters of the universe. The Reformation turns around, disappears into the tumult, and breaks down because it does not know where to nail its smart theses. No posting. Donations welcome. Make an image of your god.

Excerpted from Michael Amon,  Panikroman. Klever Verlag, Vienna, 2014.

Displaced Persons

Author: Natascha Wodin
Translator: Mandy Wight

Translator’s Note: Natascha Wodin was born at the end of the war in 1944, when her family was living for a few years in a shed on the premises of a factory owner near Nuremberg. Sie kam aus Mariupol, based on Wodin’s memories of her early childhood, is a memoir of the author’s mother, a Ukrainian born in 1920 in Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, and deported with her Russian husband in 1943 to Nazi Germany to work as a slave labourer in a Flick factory in Leipzig.

 

The Zyganenkos, who live with us, have the sense to realise they’ve got no chance of a visa for America. They put in an immigration application for Brazil and receive their visa shortly afterwards. I remember feeling overwhelmed with a wild, uncontrollable grief when the rattling Goliath leaves the factory yard with the Zyganenkos and their possessions, and I have to face up to the fact that what I’ve been thinking of as a game has become serious. Someone who belongs to me, someone who’s been part of my familiar and unchangeable world can go, can leave me forever, whether I want it or not. I want to die, and I squeeze myself into the dark gap between our shed and the factory where the rats are, where I can feel everything vibrating, though it’s just the pounding of the machines. For hours my mother runs around the yard looking for me. It’s only in the evening, by which time she’s thinking of calling the German police, that she shines a torch into the gap and finds me. Though she’s thin, she’s not thin enough to force herself into the gap. There’s just enough room for a child’s body. She has to beg me, to implore me, to come out by myself. And I’ve hardly been out for a minute, dirty, smeared with tears and stiff with cold, when the blows from my father start raining down on me. My mother tears at his jacket and shouts at him to stop, but he hits me till I’m lying on the ground with warm blood dripping from my nose. My mother throws herself on top of me and screams. She’s still screaming when my father’s sitting back in the shed drinking. He’s doing that more and more these days.

The Zyganenkos have promised to write to us, but we never hear from them again. This seems to confirm all my mother’s premonitions of disaster: the ship, which was to bring them, her fellow sufferers, to Brazil, must have sunk. Later we hear from somewhere that they died in an even more dreadful manner – that Brazilian cannibals killed them and devoured their flesh. This was probably a product of the violent fantasies, induced by fear, which the Russians dreamed up and which I was to come across so often later.

My mother stays behind, alone with her husband and child in the shed. She’s lost the only people who were a refuge for her in this foreign country, her little Ukraine in Germany. Perhaps there was a moment of dreadful awakening for her when she suddenly grasped, deep down inside her, that she really was forever separated from Ukraine; that the only place in the world for her now was this shed, and she only had this thanks to the kindness of the German factory owner; that she was forever damned to live in a country where she’d always be a foreigner, always be ostracised and at the mercy of a husband who seemed to hate her. I was probably aware even then that she couldn’t take much more, that she was hovering on the verge of leaving me, of slipping away from me. By then we’d probably already swapped roles. I was probably carrying her on my shoulders even as a four-year-old, in the constant fear that I’d lose her, a fear I’d had since birth.

I spend most of my time outside in the factory yard. I play with scrap iron or sit on the step of our hut and watch the trains go by, trying to imagine where they’ve come from and where they’re going. My mother suffers from homesickness and I’m sick with longing for the world out there. The whole time I’m thinking about what the world is like beyond the factory yard, which I’m not allowed to leave because the dangerous main road, the Leyher Straße, begins right behind it. Whenever someone walks across the yard, I take the opportunity to show off a few of the German words I know. I say, “Grüß Gott” and “auf Wiedersehen,” one straight after the other: “Grüß Gott” to greet people, “auf Wiedersehen” to say goodbye, and I don’t understand why the Germans laugh.

Sometimes I can’t stand it any longer and I run out onto the main highway, which I reach via a narrow, unpaved road. I stand there and I look. I look at the German houses: proper, big houses made of stone, marvelling at them as if they were palaces. The Germans have white curtains at the windows and behind the window panes there are leathery green plants in plant pots. I look longingly at the sugary foreign cakes in the window of the baker’s, where my mother buys dark German bread when we’ve got the money, bread that tastes quite different from the airy white American bread. I look at the German faces, their glasses, their hair, their bags, their umbrellas, their hats. What most surprises me is the fact there are also German children. They draw squares with chalk on the pavement and jump from square to square. Greedily I listen in to the foreign language, to the different, incomprehensible sounds that I guess are the key to the German world – the world of taps and electricity.

Usually I pay a high price for my outings. When my mother catches me on one of my adventures, which she usually does, I get ten strokes of the strap on my bare bottom. It’s a deal between her and me. I’ve got the choice between pain and abstinence. My mother doesn’t tell me off, she’s not angry, she’s just carrying out her part of the deal. I’ve opted for the pain and I get it. The strokes of the strap burn like fire, but even though I may have screamed the place down as a baby, I’ve learned in the meantime to play dead. I never give as much as one twitch or gasp of pain. I never show my mother that her punishment has got to me, that she can hurt me.

One day I discover a little girl behind the green bushes in front of the factory owner’s house –the first living being my age in the factory yard. I’ve been strictly forbidden to go near the German factory owner’s house, but the stranger standing behind the garden gate, waving to me to come over, exerts a powerful pull on me which I can’t resist. We stand facing one another, each scrutinizing the other. The girl is wearing a brightly coloured dress with cap sleeves and has a mop of curly brown hair. She smiles and opens the garden gate for me. For the first time I walk into the terra incognita behind the fence, the realm belonging to our lord and master on whom our very existence depends. The girl shows me a doll, a living doll, one that can open and close her eyes and say ‘Mama’ too. When she lets me take the doll and hold it, I get dizzy with excitement. The girl also has a scooter. She shows me how to ride it and asks if I want to try that out as well. But I don’t get as far as that. My mother grabs me by the collar and pulls me out of the garden. I can’t keep pace with her. I fall over and am dragged right across the factory yard, over scrap iron and glass shards. My knees oozed pus for weeks after. I never see that other girl from behind the fence again, however much I look out for her, but I do have a scar on my right knee which reminds me of her to this day.

Finally the day comes which we’d anticipated, the day my mother has dreaded from the start. We don’t know how it’s come about, but the German authorities order us to be transferred to the Valka camp. The factory owner can’t do anything for us. He’s tried every avenue. As a farewell present he gives my mother a valuable antique brooch: a golden salamander with tiny emeralds flashing green on its back.

For some reason or other my parents never converted this piece of jewellery into cash, despite the very hard times we went through, and I wore it myself for a long time after the death of my mother, until at some point I lost it. But even today I still wonder who that brave German factory owner was, who broke the law by letting us live on his premises for almost five years. It was as if the precious brooch he gave my mother represented the compensation which should have been given by Friedrich Flick to the forced labourers who’d slaved away in his factories. I’ve forgotten the name of our mysterious benefactor if I ever knew it. When I set off on one occasion to search for clues and went to the place on the city boundary between Nuremberg and Fürth where our shed must once have stood, I found nothing left. The factory had disappeared. I saw only wholesale markets and dual carriageways, though the railway embankment from those days was still there, with trains rushing over it as they’d done back then.

The Valka camp was situated in the Nuremberg suburb of Langwasser and its barracks were used until 1938 as accommodation for participants at the Nazi party rallies with their great parades and flag consecration ceremonies. Later on, Soviet prisoners of war were also temporarily housed there. When we move in, the huts make up a small town with four thousand Displaced Persons, or DP’s, from thirty nations packed into it. Most of them have been there since the end of the war – four thousand people who don’t know what to do with their lives now that they’ve been saved. A few dozen languages are buzzing around, all mixed up together, and hardly anyone can speak German. There’s only one thing which everyone has in common here: their experience of forced labour in Hitler’s empire. The slave labourers, who’d been once so in demand, are now unemployed, the tiresome remnants of a war that’s been lost.

The American camp is named after Valka, the town on the border between Latvia and Estonia, but the Russians put an ‘S’ in front of the name and called it Svalka; in German: Müllhalde, rubbish tip. Like the Baltic Valka, the camp was divided in two until shortly before we arrived: up to 1949 important officials of the NSDAP, the Nazi Party, were interned in the eastern half, while the western half was used for DP’s. Victims and perpetrators lived almost next door to each other, in the shadow of the Nazi party rally grounds, now falling into disrepair, and like us, no longer needed. In the stone wasteland, beneath the gigantic tribune where Hitler had once held his speeches, American GI’s play rugby.

The Allies expected the freed slave labourers to be grateful and obedient, but that turned out to be a mistake. The work camp has robbed the DP’s of any belief in law and order in Germany, so they’re demoralised and still seen as aggressive and hard to control. The Valka camp is widely known and feared for its levels of anarchy and crime. It’s a melting pot of allied and enemy nations, a Sodom and Gomorrah, and has probably the worst reputation in the world. Everyone is on the hunt for a job, for some earnings, for a living. Every business you can think of, and some you may not want to think of, goes on there. Some comb through rubbish tips looking for scrap iron and other usable waste material, others smuggle duty free cigarettes, deal in pornographic pictures, in insulin or other medicines, break into sales kiosks at night, earn money as card sharps, make a living from theft and deception. There are constant arguments and fights, there are stabbings, murders, and suicides. All the German prejudices about the Slavs as savages are confirmed. The Nazi propaganda machine represented them as dangerous wild animals, sometimes with horns and tails. The Germans still fear that they’ll take revenge, though such acts rarely happen. The camp dwellers keep themselves to themselves in their own world, cut off from the Germans, apart from the police who are on 24-hour standby and carry out raids on an almost daily basis. Even my father is involved in some murky business which we’re not allowed to talk about. My mother lives in permanent fear of the police coming for us.

The DP’s receive three meals a day, which are served up in individual bowls and have to be collected from one of the distribution points. On top of that they receive a monthly sum of 12.50 DM as camp pocket money. They have electricity every two days, alternating between the wooden and stone huts. Each hut houses approximately thirty people and is fitted out with one toilet and one tap.

We live in one of the wooden huts together with mice and bedbugs, which torment us all night long. Whenever it rains, the water comes in through the leaking roof and we have to rush to find all the containers we can lay our hands on and put them beneath the leak. The window frame is warped so the window won’t shut properly, the oven doesn’t draw and gives off clouds of smoke. We’re cold and we cough all winter. I come down with most of my childhood illnesses during this time, from measles to mumps, chicken pox, and whooping cough.

One image I have from the spotlight shining onto those days is that of my mother, pregnant. She’s not much more than thirty, but in my memory she seems old, faded and ill, with her hair parted in the middle and scraped back into a bun. She wears a green and white patterned dress, its uneven hem rising up in the front, raised up by her domed belly which looks like an outsized ball stuck on to her thin body. When I ask why she’s got such a big belly, I see her exchange a tiny conspiratorial smile with my father – a moment of intimacy between my parents and just about the only one that’s stayed in my memory. I’m not aware of ever having seen them put their arms round each other or exchange a kiss or any other show of affection. Since I slept in the same room with them throughout my childhood, I must usually have been there when they made what can hardly be called love in their case. But either they did it in such a way that I saw and heard nothing, or I found the goings on in the darkness of my parents’ bed so unnerving that my child’s brain immediately repressed it.

The noise in the Valka Camp is a daily torture for my mother. She can’t get used to it. In the work camp where my parents first lived on their arrival in Germany, the acoustics were probably kinder since everyone fell onto their bunks after an exhausting day’s work and went to sleep. In our Valka huts the people whose noisy lives we hear are those who have nothing to do all day and for the most part are suffering from what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: insomnia, nightmares, anxiety attacks, irritability, depression, delusions, uncontrolled aggression, and many other things including all kinds of physical ailments, which quite a few DP’s died from even after the liberation. The small rooms in the huts hum with tension. There’s no such thing as speaking quietly: everyone has to shout in order to be heard above the pervasive, crashing waves of noise. There are constant arguments, loud wailing gives way to raucous laughter, you hear every word, every sneeze and sigh from your neighbour, the noises merge together into one huge, never-ending cacophony. Especially in winter and bad weather the long dark corridor is a children’s playground. They’re always being shooed away by someone on their way to the toilet or someone who has to fight their way through with their bucket to the only tap at the end of the corridor.

The noise makes my mother feel the lack of home even more deeply than she already does. She puts her hands over her ears, jumps up and runs out of the hut, where on top of the tortuous noise she’s assaulted by a constant stream of superstitious insults in Russian from a paranoid neighbour, an old Estonian woman shouting through the thin partition wall. For some reason this confused woman has projected all her images of the enemy on to my mother of all people, calling her a Communist, a Jewish whore, an American spy, a Nazi tart. My mother can’t stand up for herself, sometimes she cries all day, in fact she’s always crying. Her most serious illness is homesickness. It’s a constant torment, it seems to be like a thirst which never lets up but gets worse and worse, until one day you die of it.

For me the Valka camp is, above all, the place where I start German school. A photo of the first day at school marks the occasion: twenty–nine children standing in three rows with the shabby huts in the background. Two rows of girls, a row of boys in front, sitting cross legged in front of the girls. The children each have a Schultüte, a large card cone filled with sweets and given to German children on their first day at school – except for four of us, that is. One of them is me. The blondest of all, beaming in spite of the missing Schultüte.

It’s a camp school for camp children whose very first priority is to learn German. Because I was taught by my mother in the shed in the factory yard, I can read and write Russian when I start German school. I know the fables of Iwan Krylow and Samuil Marshak’s enchanting stories for children. I can recite at least a dozen poems by Alexander Pushkin and Alexei Tolstoy, but German is still a kind of background noise for me. That changes overnight when I start German school. The German words start lighting up for me, like sheet lightning – as if all these words had been slumbering somewhere inside me just waiting for the moment of awakening. The German language becomes a strong rope, which I grasp straightaway in order to swing myself onto the other side, into the German world. It’s out of my reach for the moment, but I know that it’s waiting for me, that one day I’ll be a part of it.

A language war breaks out between me and my parents. They refuse to understand my German. My father really doesn’t understand it, he’ll spend the rest of his days not understanding it, and my mother, who speaks German better than anyone else around me, doesn’t want to understand it. And I don’t want to understand her Russian, I want to have nothing more to do with her. There are constant arguments, she tries to hit me, but I get away and anyway her hands are much too feeble to hurt me. She has no power over me because I’m not afraid of her, I’m only afraid of my father’s hands. He rarely hits me and only does so as a last resort, when my mother hands me over to him. It’s the only weapon she’s got, the one threat which puts fear into me: I’ll tell your father. Sometimes she grants me a reprieve, if I ask in Russian, weeping, for my bad behaviour and lies to be pardoned, but usually the sentence is carried out in the evening when my father comes home – drunk as usual, after his clandestine activities. He’s a person who gets aggressive after drinking alcohol, so he’s happy to act on my mother’s grievance. He calls me cholera, parasitka, kretinka, and holds me fast with one hand while the other comes down on me like an axe. My mother is the judge and he is the executioner, the enforcer of the law.

Excerpted from Natasha Wodin,  Sie kam aus Mariupol.   Reinbek Verlag, Reinbek/Hamburg/Berlin, 2017.

 

Earth Sciences
White Poem
Chinese Proverb
My Contribution to World Cultural Heritage
Outside the ethnology museum
There is no silence

Author: Jürg Halter
Translator: Sheridan Marshall

 

 

Earth Sciences

She sinks into her seat
like a stone in water;
goes under like a
question asked too quietly.
Everything is a descent
to the centre of the Earth and
back in millions
of years and …
in all religions there is
really only one God,
that of gravity.
Why else would the
faithful throw themselves to the floor
instead of jumping into the air?

 

White Poem

You are not reading these lines,
it’s written white-on-white
that this is not a poem.
I walk in the first snow
dressed in white through a country
that doesn’t actually exist.
No-one here speaks.
White in white I forget –
Oh, please, disappoint me soon,
so that I can finally show you
who I really am.

 

Chinese Proverb

‘When the winds of change blow…’
I linger in a street café,
an empty sugar sachet in front of me,
that I will blow any moment
at the feet of a sad passer-by,
‘…some build walls, others windmills.’

 

My Contribution to World Cultural Heritage

I would like this poem to have millions of readers
in all possible languages.
I would like this poem to live on
into the far-reaching future;
for the poem to go on being recited here
at least as long as there are people.
I think that not to hope for this
is scarcely less presumptuous
than publishing a poem at all.

 

Outside the ethnology museum

Man emerged in the Holocene
and is still emerging.
Let’s go for a drink,
it’s not possible
to reverse things anyway.

 

There is no silence

The worst crime against one person
by another is imaginable.

Not being able to say it is still better
than staying silent about it – darkly glowing.

There are many words, but no one can
tell us who were not involved, how it really was.

A moment is history in the moment.
The already said is the still speaking.

 

From: Jürg Halter, We Dread the End of the Music. © Wallstein and Co., Göttingen, 2014.

Aus: Jürg Halter, Wir fürchten das Ende der Musik © Wallstein Verlag GmbH, Göttingen, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meenie moanie meep
Sappho turns (her) back
After the Big Race
Curtains for Me
Vulture Circles Eternal
Making Scenes

Author: Kerstin Hensel
Translator: Robert Gillett

 

Meenie moanie meep

Random relicts sleep
Under duvets of stone
Marble covers bone
Paper wraps rock
A mouldering stock
Of long-buried letters
Worsers beat betters
In de-composition
As hornie golochs
Scuttle molochs

 

Sappho turns (her) back

Oh fall! Oh sweet and love-
Less prospect my Leukadian
Heart stop right there
Phaon – you hand-
Some limb-loosener
Take a running jump! It’s time
My lyre learned to
Sing from a different
Her-sheet. Nearer – My God! – to the
Abyss proud disdainer you
Will not bring me. Let almighty
Eros give you
Or even him self satisfaction and me
A lady friend
Work and wine!

 

After the Big Race

When after the big race the horses are
Alone in their stable they sometimes fall
At the fences of depression
For that says the vet there is no
Known cure. But if you give them
A little kid to share their stable with,
A bleating, leaping puck of a young goat, then
You will see them
Grin again
From ear to ear

Curtains for me

My wound-licker has given notice
Next to me dreams toss and turn
On moth-eaten furs

The red wine cuckoo has
Made it big Even now
I cannot leave the house
Nor look around me. As in great times
Of shortage the stall-holder has
Onions for sale Onions red white braided fine
Enough to make you weep

It is the dwarves and toads who pay
Their respects at my door
Selling poison and prayer-books The bells
Of the television tower call to a devotional march
Even the bin men are
Acolytes

I stand behind the curtains at the window
Looking in

Waiting for you

 

Vulture Circles Eternal

Why does the tiny carrion
Hope revolt me?
High up I see movement
And think: it’s
Not dead yet

 

Making Scenes

It is the lark not so
Much a lark more a rave
In auricle on tympanum and mornings lawks
No nights o Romea ah Julio
Always this alpha (male) and o me
Giddy aren’t we the ones
No sound no fury signifying
What a farce carry on

 

From Kerstin Hensel, Schleuderfigur, Luchterhand Literaturverlag (Verlagsgruppe Random House GmbH), München, 2016.

Banishment from Hell

Author: Robert Menasse
Translator: Fiona Graham

Translator’s Note:   Banishment from Hell weaves together two stories: that of Rabbi Samuel Manasseh ben Israel, born Manoel (Mané) Dias Soeiro in early sixteenth-century Portugal, and that of Viktor Abravanel, son of an Austrian Jew sent to Britain in 1938 with a Kindertransport. The first two excerpts are set in the Portugal of the Inquisition, when forcibly converted Jews known as ‘New Christians’ were mercilessly hounded. The third excerpt is set in 1990s Vienna, at a reunion of Viktor’s grammar school class twenty-five years after the Matura school-leaving examination.

 

They’re going to set the house on fire. We’ll be burned. If we run out, they’ll beat us to death.

He saw the torches flaming up beyond the shutters, he heard the din people were making outside: singing, shrieking, yelling.

It was a funeral procession. The biggest funeral procession ever seen in Vila dos Começos – and the strangest – was making its way through the streets of the little town. A mourning procession in which no-one was mourning.

Two black horses adorned with purple fabric rosettes drew the hearse, which bore a coffin so tiny that it looked tailor-made for an infant. Behind it, holding a crucifix aloft in both hands, walked Cardinal João d’Almeida from Evora in a blood-red cassock and a red biretta, with the ermine-trimmed cappa magna draped over his shoulders, its train carried by four canons in purple cassocks. They were followed by the priests of Começos and the surrounding parishes, dressed in black cassocks, with white surplices and violet stoles. The nobles, in purple velvet with broad leather belts, bore their daggers drawn and pointing downwards. The representatives of the town council and the burghers, in black suits and large black hats, carried torches whose plumes of smoke traced a mourning band around the sun.

All this pomp, better suited to a state funeral, could not disguise the fact that the mood was heavy with fury, hatred and bloodlust. Nearly all of Começos had come out to join this procession, the purpose of which was to inter a cat. They murmured not prayers, but curses; did not fold their hands, but shook their fists. Their faces were reddened not by the sun, but by bagaço firewater, and were marked not by grief, but by the lust to kill, burn and pillage.

Now the clergy were intoning the Martyrium Christi, but it was drowned out by people yelling to the torchbearers at the front, whenever they passed certain houses: ‘Put your torches to this roof!’

The funeral procession turned into the Rua da Consolação, the tiny coffin containing a cat that hadn’t lived beyond eight or nine months, a little black cat with mask-like white patches around its eyes. ‘Come on! Torch the roof!’ It was the Soeiros’ house.

Antonia Soeira was one of the few not out in the street. Standing at the window with her children Estrela and Manoel, she peeped out cautiously through the cracks in the closed shutters and pulled the children back into the middle of the room as the noise outside rose to an increasingly threatening pitch, saying, ‘These madmen will yet declare that cat to be God. Let it eat the Dove in the Catholics’ heaven!’

The reason for the great commotion that had seized Começos and its surroundings was that this cat had been crucified. It had been found pinned with heavy iron nails to a wooden cross in front of the Casa da Misericordia. To the men of the Church it was instantly clear that by holding a funeral on a magnificent scale, designed to reinstate the sacred dignity of crucifixion, they could channel the local populace into united, fanatical combat against heretics and unbelievers; the Inquisition had entered Começos just a fortnight before.

The singing and shouting outside faded into the distance, and the boy stood in the middle of the darkened room, with the urge to run away, as fast and as far as ever he could, but he was stock-still. Just before being pulled back from the window, he had spotted the coffin on the hearse, that tiny coffin, and it occurred to him in that instant, for the first time, that he would probably never see his father again. His father had been among the first to be arrested by the Holy Office.

Drawn by the pitch-black horses, the coffin in a reddish light, as if the sun were setting and the cardinal’s scarlet vestments were aflame. A last sunset, the end of the world.

Manoel had always had to be home by sunset in the days when he used to go out to meet his friends. His father had been a real stickler about that – home by sunset. Woe betide him if he returned any later. Why? There had been no explanations, and by the time he understood, it was too late.

His father was a corpulent man, inelegant, and always very proper but never distinguished in his dress. On his cheek was a large crescent-shaped scar that repelled and intimidated Manoel. He was forever drawing himself up to discipline his children. He spoke quietly, almost hoarsely, and indistinctly. In the evenings he would read silently, mouldering over his book. Though Manoel had been instructed to address him as ‘Senhor’, he was no Senhor to the boy, who thought he played the role poorly. Manoel lowered his gaze before him out of fear, but also in disdain; he could not look up at him.

But now it was the idea of never seeing his father again that frightened him immeasurably. The din of the funeral procession was still audible far off, and Manoel felt his heart thudding even in his head, its rhythm as insistent as if it were straining desperately to match the drumming and the rhythmic chanting outside. But that was impossible now. They’re going to kill us all.

*                                        *                                        *
There was work in Vila dos Começos. The time when men used to loiter in the streets, waiting and watching, was over. No-one had to wait for casual labour, a handout or better times. Anyone who could work was put to work. And it was best not to watch too closely any more, or at least people didn’t let on that they were. The Casa da Misericordia, which was both the seat of the Holy Office’s bureaucracy in the Começos district and its prison, set off an unprecedented boom in the little town. Joiners and cabinet-makers delivered racks and other items to the Casa, works of art that combined, in the most labour-intensive fashion, workmanlike precision, mechanical inventiveness and the human desire for beauty and ornamentation. Just building the balustrades for the Casa’s great courtroom resulted in written records of seventeen new woodturning techniques. Written records – clerking quickly became a promising trade. Começos’ school was reformed and a teacher training institute was even added. Pupils like Fernando were driven back to their fathers’ workbenches by the cane. Or into the fallow fields and groves around Começos, where they learned how to plant vines and then, according to precise instructions, to produce the wine called ‘Lagrima do Nosso Senhor’, sought after by the lords of the Casa and now preferred by all self-respecting burghers of Começos. After endlessly long lean years, the domains of the landed gentry now bore fruit once more. The aristocrats, reduced until recently to mere parasites living off the vanity of their prosperous Jewish, New Christian sons-in-law, no longer pawned their silver tableware and brocade robes, but leased out land; no longer sold their daughters, but lists of names; no longer hid from debt-collectors, but waited impatiently for the tailors they had summoned. The tailors needed seamstresses, coachmen and teams of horses to keep pace with demand.

The self-indulgence of the lords of the Holy Office, aped by the flourishing tradesmen and craftsmen, transformed the face of the town; cramped craftsmen’s booths where men sat hunched over cheap repair jobs – when not quaffing spirits on the Praça do Mercado – became specialised workshops constantly in search of apprentices and assistants. They were building as if the town were being founded anew. Masons and carpenters, booked up for months in advance, sought out second- and third-born peasants’ sons from the Alentejo who had been tramping around Portugal without any prospect of employment and brought them to Começos, where they found work and bread. Silk, velvet and brocade became as commonplace as coarse linen had been. Cobblers learned how to cut leather with the same skill as the best cordwainers of Florence. The gold- and silversmiths rivalled those of Cordoba and Venice. The lords of the Casa in their fine boots had the town council pave the square and, eventually, all the streets in town. Stonemasons and pavers established themselves as new trades in Começos. There was money in abundance for the Holy Office. Money from the Crown, but also wealth seized from those who fell into the hands of the Inquisition. Commercial links, long since established and carefully maintained by merchants now languishing in the dungeons of the Casa da Misericordia, fell into the hands of men who had once been their clerks or, quite often, merely their coachmen. They showered coins and gold onto the market as if scooping them out of the wells of their new houses. Houses that had been seized, then plundered and ruined, had to be repaired and refurbished – by families who were ready to pay any price for brazilwood. These were golden times. The emblem of the Inquisition, the ‘standard’, in solid gold, was affixed to the façade of the Casa da Misericordia: a sword, a cross, a severed branch. Below were the letters M e J.

When the golden sword in this coat of arms came loose from the building’s still damp new plaster and crashed to the ground one night, it vanished without trace within minutes. People who had come out of their houses, alerted by the noise, now saw only the absence of those prized four pounds of gold. They laughed and laughed. Their howls reached the dungeons of the Casa. For the people in the square it was if a nickel coin had gone missing. The sword’s doing its work at night, haha, bottles of bagaço were passed around, haha, where was the sword? With the Oliveiras? With the Soeiros? The sword of God at work, haha!

Four days later the emblem’s sword had been replaced. A surfeit of gold flowed into Começos. In their new houses, Old Christians were already contemplating paving their yards with gold. And on this very day, when the sword returned to the façade of the Casa, barely a year after the cat’s burial, Antonia Soeira was arrested. Gaspar Rodrigues, the second time he was put to the question, had accused his wife of having incited him to judaizing. On the rack he had uttered a single word that might have been a screamed Yes, but might also have been just an inarticulate scream. But the records noted:

‘…indicated, on the second occasion that he was put to the question, that his spouse, Antonia Soeira…’

Suddenly there were men in the house wearing patched shifts and armbands, red, with a cross sewn on, men too rough and too unskilled for any trade in need of hands, who earned their living by hauling people away, for a bowl of soup during the day and for bagaço in the Mercado, for which the tavern-keepers dared not charge these men with their armbands. Not forgetting the body searches. Those brought in a pretty penny. There was bread for all in Começos.
And then there was also a man in a cassock and a red skull-cap, who would constantly rub his hands together, interlocking his fingers whenever he spoke. His hands were red and scaly; they even rustled when he rubbed them, and flakes of skin floated to the floor. Later, Mané would often regret that he had been so mesmerised by this that he’d seen nothing else. He didn’t see the expression on his mother’s face, didn’t see whether she betrayed fear or stayed cold and contemptuous; the latter, at any rate, was what he would later claim: ‘Her reaction seemed cold and contemptuous; the only concern she showed was about the fate of us children.’

‘The children are to be delivered up for Christian education on the morrow,’ said the man with the hands.
That was the last night in this house:
‘I know what you’re thinking!’ (Estrela)
‘No, Estrela, you don’t, because I don’t know myself.’
‘Don’t call me Estrela any more. I’m Esther!’
‘Esther.’ He realised that it was too late. ‘What am I thinking?’
‘You want to run, run away, as fast as you can.’
‘I can’t run.’
‘Then we won’t get very far.’
‘We won’t even get out of this house!’
‘Then let’s pack our bags for tomorrow.’

 

*                                        *                                        *

Like students, they all rapped the table with their knuckles by way of applause. The former headmaster, Mr. Preuß, raised his hands in thanks, requesting another moment’s quiet, as he had something to add.

The only imponderable in Viktor’s plan had been how he could engineer the situation he needed to put it into practice. He intended to wait for a while, then, once they’d had a few drinks, to tap his glass with his knife and ask them all to give him their attention, as if he were about to raise a toast. But the idea Preuß was now proposing would – unexpectedly – make it all easier and speed things up. The Headmaster proposed that his former pupils take turns to describe ‘in broad words, I mean in broad terms’ the course their lives had taken since their final Matura exams. This would mean everyone would have at least a general overview of what everyone else had done, not just the people who happened to be next to them at table. This procedure, he thought, would satisfy the basic curiosity of everyone here and it might well ease further communication. He looked around, and as a number of teachers raised their voices in support, he proposed that they start at the end of the table and continue around it, and so he would like to call on Dr. Horak – yes, please, Dr. Horak – to set the ball rolling.

Turek, said the man who had just been addressed, Eduard Turek, and he was in business, he’d taken a degree in commerce – at the other end of the table they called out, ‘Louder! Louder!’ and Eduard got to his feet, repeated, ‘I took a degree in commerce and…’ Viktor froze instantly. Where he was sitting, he’d be third in line, or, if he ‘naturally’ allowed Maria, who was seated opposite him, to go first, he’d be fourth. He hadn’t expected that the opportunity to spring his attack would arise so quickly; now he was nervously scrabbling in his jacket pockets after the paper he had prepared, first in the right one, then in the left one – had he forgotten it? Eduard’s speech rattled on past him, so bumptious as to be excruciating, phrases like ‘Now I’ve got two hundred employees working under me’ nearly made him groan out loud, then it was Wolfgang’s turn, of course he’d become a lawyer, of course he’d taken over his father’s legal practice, but, at the same time – of course – he still played ‘an active part in the student fraternity, though now, being a graduate, as one of the “old guard” ’; yes, he was active ‘in “Bajuvaria” ’ and not – as was so trendy among the lefties these days, ‘in Tuscany’. Laughter.

Now all eyes were on Viktor, who gestured courteously towards Maria, and, as she whispered, ‘No, no, no, you go first!’ suddenly found the sheet of paper in his breast pocket. Viktor stood up, he felt an instant coldness towards them, suddenly he relished standing there and allowing his gaze to wander slowly from one to the other, contemplating the faces of these familiar strangers, who were looking at him so good-humouredly, expectantly, even though they certainly didn’t expect him to have as impressive a career to recount as most of the others.

‘After school I studied history,’ he finally said, ‘history and philosophy.’ All that everyone wanted to know now, he sensed, was whether he’d got a master’s or a doctorate, whether he’d become a teacher or an academic, whether he was married and how many children he had. ‘The study of history,’ he continued, ‘is nothing other than an examination of the conditions determining the genesis of our own lives.’ This sentence was too stiff, he realised at once; he paused briefly and took the piece of paper out of his breast pocket, saying, as he unfolded it, ‘We’ve just been asked to sketch out our lives, but we’ve never been told anything about the lives of the people who were our teachers, the people who educated us and who, surely, formed us one way or another, I mean …’

Viktor was sweating, and his glasses slipped down his nose slightly; he pushed them back with his middle finger. How he’d enjoyed playing football. Would have enjoyed. But since he wore glasses … ‘To understand what a person has become, I think it may also be very rewarding, very enlightening, to ask: who were his teachers? Who – “in broad words,”, as Mr. Preuß has just put it – were our teachers?’ He looked up the long table to the old teachers; they were grinning, were they seriously expecting something funny now? The lame jokes of the final year’s school magazine which no-one had wanted to write at the time, served up cold twenty-five years later? Viktor swallowed, lowered his gaze to his papers and read out, ‘Josef Berger, a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, membership number 7 081 217. Eugen Buzek, NSDAP member No 1 010 912. Alfred Daim, NSDAP member No 5 210 619. Adelheid Fischer, a high-ranking leader in the League of German Girls, from 1939 leader of a Girls’ Circle, the Girls’ Circle was made up of five Girls’ Groups, each one comprised four Girls’ Troops, and each Girls’ Troop was made up of three Girls’ Units with fifteen members each. So she was in charge of almost a thousand girls in Vienna and …’ The shocked silence was so profound that he managed to list two more names and NSDAP membership numbers without anyone moving or saying anything. Finally he got to ‘Karl Neidhardt, a particularly interesting case, by the way. After the war had started he studied English, the language of the enemy – why did a fervent Nazi and would-be German study English? Well, for that very reason. Because his convictions were so strong. The Nazis needed particularly reliable people to listen in to the enemy, and Mr. Neidhardt was assigned to this task at the Reich Security Headquarters, in the rank of a senior lieutenant. Maybe some of you remember how our English teacher came into the classroom one day in 1965 to read out an obituary of Winston Churchill, who had just died. All the English teachers in Austria were obliged to do that at the time. It was an order from the Ministry of Education. So he read out this text, which praised Churchill for the part he had played in the liberation of Austria, but I can recall his expression even now; you could see he could barely restrain himself from shouting: ‘The swine is dead!’

Suddenly there was a bang. A shot? A thunderclap? Viktor saw that Mr. Preuß must have leapt to his feet so abruptly that his chair had fallen over; Mr. Spazierer and Miss Rehak were standing too. ‘The swine is dead!’ said Viktor. ‘That was what he really wanted to yell…’ He had got an astoundingly long way, but now he clearly had only seconds left. So he followed up quickly with ‘Otto Preuß, NSDAP member number…’

‘Get out! That’s enough!’ yelled the Headmaster at a volume that blanked out every sound in this inner room, every further word from Viktor, the scraping of chairs, the former teachers and pupils’ first outraged utterances, the clearing of throats, even breathing itself. And now, into this dense silence, he yelled again, ‘That’s enough! Have you gone mad?’ He snorted, standing rigidly erect, his arms at his sides, rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, groped for words, and finally got out: ‘You can’t expect me to stay any longer.’ Kicking aside the chair that had toppled over, he stormed out, followed by the teachers, red-faced, their expressions frozen, looking neither right nor left.

Excerpted from Robert Menasse, Die Vertreibung aus der Hölle.  Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin,  2003 and 2017.

The poem moves through a body and doesn’t stop to say hello

Author: Björn Kuhligk
Translator: UniKent Translators 2019

 

1
If you journey through a country, it’s a journey well made.
If you leave a settlement, you will find another.
If you’ve written a poem, you’ll write the next.
If it’s a joy, it’s a joy.
If you drink a beer, you drink a beer.
If I continue in this way, I continue in this way.
If I eat Bangers and Mash, I’m eating Bangers and Mash.
If it’s a joy, it’s a joy.
If you use your own life as material, then so be it.
If you’d like to invent new grammar, just do it.
If you’d like to create a new perception, just do it.
If you want to wreck something, you want to wreck something.
If you want to do something, you want to do something.
If you continue like that now, then you’ll continue like that.
If a potato speaks to another potato, it says: “I don’t want to be eaten.” If it’s able to say something else, then it might say: “It was better in the ground.”
If you continue like that, you continue like that.

2
If you go from the source to the lighthouses, then you don’t go from the lighthouses to the source.
If I talk about brackwater, then I’m not talking about deep-sea-fishing.
If I talk about algebra, then I’m talking about something that I don’t understand.
If I talk about the weather, then I’m talking about the weather.
If I talk about photography, then I actually have a clue.
If I talk about poetry, then I think that I’m not supposed to talk about that.
If I write poems, then I write poems.
If you write poems, that’ll do.
If you go from the source to the lighthouses, then that’s what you do.
If you become emotional, then the heath must burn.
If you become quiet, you become quiet.
If you set yourself a writing task, then you’ll have writer’s block.
If you have writer’s block, you should spend your time on something else.
If you say crisis, a country should burn.
If you write a poem, write one.
If you write nothing, you write nothing.
If you say ‘one’ over and over again, at some point nobody’ll know who is meant anymore
If you say ‘one’ over and over again, one means only oneself.
If you say ‘one’ over and over again, everyone is meant.

If I say ‘we ’over and over again, someone will say, I am not part of your ‘we’. My grandfather never wanted to batter the protesting miners.
If you go from the source to the lighthouses, salmon will swim with you.
If you go from the lighthouses to the source, salmon will swim with you.

3
I know that art is just the tragic clustering of all deficits.
I know that to me this thought seems very logical.
I know that I write poems with this thought in mind.
I know that I find them strange, the people who write poems and publicly comment on poems in general.
I know that I find them strange, both the full-time and part-time critics of poetry because they have an idea of what a poem should be.
I once saw a beach scene in a French film in which a man said to a woman, “Madame, I would like to sleep with your daughter. It shall be like a poem that I dedicate to you.”
I don’t know what a poem is.
I know that anyone who considers themselves a great or important poet has gone round the bend.
I know that every child is able to write a poem.
I know that teenagers write poetry.
I know that I’m an adult and I still write poetry.
I know that every poem is the clustering of all deficits.
I once wrote that I would carry the poem, titled ‘Beer’ by Karl Mickel, across the Alps, in order to ensure its survival.
I know that I underestimate the Alps.
I know that every poem is sad.
I know that I don’t want to carry any sadness across the Alps.
I know that I write poems because I want to write poems.
I know that this logic is ground-breaking.

4
The poem borders the United States of Pointlessness in the West.
The poem borders the volunteer fire-brigade in the East.
The poem borders a bag of organic flour in the South.
The poem borders subsidised childcare in the North.
The poem borders, if it does have borders, on complacency.
The poem moves through my body.
The poem moves through my body and doesn’t stop to say hello.
The poem takes what it needs.

The poem needs years, or two minutes.
The poem sometimes turns out like shit.
The poem is then deleted.
The poem is as clever as the one who reads it.
The poem is as dim-witted as the one who talks about it or writes about it.
The poem needs no smart-arse, needs no simpleton.
The poem does not need to be written about.
The poem wants to be written.
The poem does not want to be written.
The poem is cottage cheese.
The poem wants to say: Leave me in peace once I am finished.
The poem wants to say: It was better in the goat.
The poem wants to say: How do you know what I want, and why can I even speak.

5
I write when something comes.
I write when something doesn’t come.
I write when something arrives.
I write when something doesn’t arrive.
I write when the deficits.
I write when a t-shirt states, “I’m a Muslim not a bomb”.
I write when the lows, the highs, the in between.
I write when the free-diver, the speed-climber.
I write when these damned hurt animals.
I write when this neglect.
I write when the beauty of a field.
I write when the hush, when the silence.
I write when the deficits.
I write when the frozen patch of meadow before a family house.
I write when the heath burns.
I write when the country burns.
I write when the high-chair rockers, the bath-water-captains.
I write when the love, the hate, the emptiness and so on.
I write when the snow-covered, dog waiting at the traffic light and his cluelessness.
I write when greater attention is promised.
I write when money is offered.

6
I reply, I write them with my hands
I reply, I can make a good living off of it, enduring it temporarily and partly, thanks.
I reply, I will not give a response to that, you wouldn’t ask a novelist why they haven’t written any poems.
I reply, that every skyscraper or bungalow has more sex appeal.
I reply, that every closed body of water has more of everything.
I reply, that even a village fête excites more people.
I reply, that this occupation is more ridiculous than a village fête.
I reply, that this occupation is more serious than a village fête.
I reply, that I do things that young adults do.
I reply, that it is a faulty circuit.
I reply, that it is a craft.
I reply, that this sometimes makes me happy.
I reply, I write them with my hands.

 

© 2015 Hanser Berlin im Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, München.

 

Menina
Lingo

Author: Konstantin Arnold
Translator: Farnaz Riedel

 

Lisbon, 15.02.2018

 MENINA

Maria Terreira has soft hands and a nose that looks like a ski ramp into love. Maria Terreira speaks little English and lives in a heavy building with young plaster, which looks old beside the lively main street. The floor of her apartment is covered with cold tiles, and over yellow wallpaper hang cheap paintings whose randomness brings some creativity to her clockwork life – to show that there is more in there. When friends visit on Fridays, they may all apply lipstick in Maria Terreira’s bathroom and smoke in her living room because, after the second bottle of Muscatel, she’s had enough of the subdued tones of her tick-tock life. Maria Terreira can’t part with objects that were given to her before the turn of the millennium. Her rooms are filled with heavy furniture from past lives, making her small apartment even smaller, and preventing Maria Terreira from casually walking away from it all and starting somewhere new without the heavy building and cold tiles weighing down her thoughts. Darkness and decor rule, sometimes frightening her, like experiences that don’t alter a thing. Lead nowhere and have no plausible purpose. Through which you grow neither riper nor stronger, and only reveal their imaginary fatefulness at the end, making us feel significant. Maria Terreira likes to leave room for chance because she loves everything that feels beyond her area of responsibilities. Everything that escapes her control. Men, seasons and the last blouse in just her size.

In winter, it rains through the roofs in Lisbon, and you can follow your breath from bed to eternity. You need to dress warmer inside than out, and try to write without losing your fingertips until the damn coldness stops – which isn’t actually cold but feels frostier through the cold tiles, young plaster, yellow walls and cheap paintings. Then it’s finally summer! And it’s so hot that Maria Terreira can only leave the apartment in the afternoon without having to sweat her way from one place to the next. On her way, Maria Terreira always walks on the shady side of a sun-drenched life, and at night in her fan-less apartment, she lets go of everything as she turns from her moist stomach to her still-dry back. Since Maria Terreira spends most of her time outdoors, most Portuguese apartments resemble each other in their modest interiors, and distinguish themselves in their vain exteriors. Maria Terreira usually sits in small city squares that are too small for tourists, and dwells on the overlooked trivialities of her impressions. When Maria Terreira walks past a vacant house, and gazes at its wrinkled façade up to the last balcony, she asks herself what was done, said and thought in each single apartment. And how these three words differ from each other in their truths. Maria Terreira loves to walk down a street just before the shops close, to glance at the after-work faces of the personnel, who pursue a regularity, which seems so tedious and endless, that it scares her. Maria Terreira feels the same fear when she thinks of Porto and the law studies financed by her father, or of activities that don’t change anything at all. To distract herself, she begins to count every restaurant she walks past – but not the kebab shops, because Maria Terreira thinks kebab shops are stupid. Ever since she moved to Lisbon, friends who live in her hometown say that Maria Terreira is no longer the same. She thinks that’s dumb, because the old Maria Terreira was younger, and she no longer wants to live as a world without Muscatel would expect of her. This brings her count to three true friends and 87 restaurants – minus kebab shops. And to an experience whose fatefulness reveals itself only at the end: to me.

Maria Terreira met me four days ago at a masquerade ball. The Portuguese love masks and balls, because for a 30-euro entrance fee, they can rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Of course, you don’t find the love of your life this way, because everyone has a mask and something to prove – as in real life. There, in real life, where nothing impresses but beauty, and at 27, my balls still have the say and judge the true worth of a character. There, where all have always wanted nothing but to be loved – but nowadays hope that it takes some time before someone comes along, because the emptiness of our existence can then, under certain conditions, be filled with some sense. Everything can wait! The Portuguese are always late anyway, because of traffic and because of the weather. After all, they have good excuses that we don’t have in Germany. Better late, styled and serene than just in time and spotted with sweat. For the masquerade, it didn’t matter; everything was allowed and I was in a black polo neck. Wearing it, I feel like a brain-wracking intelligence-boxer, a poor author with a rich heritage. But in truth, I just look like a football player wearing a black polo neck. Like someone who doesn’t need to think, because the pullover does it for you. Somehow also a disguise. Really! Have you ever flipped through the business section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine in a black polo neck? Have you ever crossed your legs as far as they’ll go, drunk red wine from large glasses, eaten olives and argued about the value of currency with hard cheese in your mouth in a black polo neck? Maria Terreira says one can never think enough, but please not in a black polo! At least not without laughing at yourself. Because when balance and its opposites are lost, things can quickly become too heady. You lose the fun of adventure, begin to write about seagulls and trees, and experience nothing worth putting into words.

But we are corresponding live from Maria Terreira’s bedroom, where there’s a large, ripe bed that can be mounted from three sides. Despite all the furniture, we spent the first night on an unfolded folding sofa. So tight that we were one, so tight that a piece of cloth (like a black polo neck) felt like a long-distance relationship over a bad Skype connection with time lag. Underwear, like a prison, and socks, like strangled sacks from which nothing takes root. From this day forth, we planned to spend every day together, and not let the matter sink into singularity. After deducting two consecutive days of proud waiting, there remain only 20 more days for Maria Terreira and me before she moves back to her old life. Back to her family, her fears and her horses. Maria Terreira loves horses, and I love girls who love horses. Before going to bed after a long night, Maria Terreira likes to eat, preferably a bifana, a simple sandwich made of meat and Portuguese soul, which I gladly partake of before lying beside her. Maria Terreira loves late nights and I love her long mornings. She loves that I’m tall, and I, that she’s small. She knows answers for which I pose the right questions, and we appreciate one another’s bad and not just good sides. With each passing day, we sense that we’re not who we take each other to be. But we enjoy it anyway, because the finite days supply the required magic and closure, so that we don’t have to seek them ourselves. We have to pull through all by ourselves, like the greatest names in history. For this is a story of locations and their connections. Single shreds that suddenly unite and broaden the horizon by shrinking. Becoming less, no longer standing alone, making you choose more cautiously, the more of them you see.

On the morning of her departure, Maria Terreira asked me to join her. To the door, to the train station, to Porto and to the end of her life. I also wanted to want that, but I didn’t even make it to the station because the metro rides right in front of her house. Maria Terreira remained monosyllabic most of the time, but in her farewell, she said to me in Portuguese that she had really enjoyed the time with me (I think), and in English that my heart isn’t blind but wears mirrored sunglasses, which look cool but are only there to protect from the self and the sun. But she couldn’t take them off me. When the Blue Line drove her out of my life, it became clear that she was gone like the desire she had come with. I felt miserable on my short trip home. As the door, which Maria Terreira had just opened, shut behind me, I didn’t need any of my twelve morning espressos to feel alive. I asked myself if I wanted a life that’s dependent on overly human feelings, or rather to live in freedom that feels like a greenhouse in which identical red strawberries sprout. Should I relinquish my imagination for reality? Together with her, I broke rules that I had specially set myself. With her, I wasn’t only interested in words, but also their roots. Without her, I am pervaded by thoughts and emotions that I will share with no one because of my colossal ego and cool sunglasses. Maria Terreira least of all. Because without her I have no chance against the rules that I specially set myself. Nietzsche or Sartre said that love demands that you surrender yourself to the other to flourish and decay. To get naked, and if that’s not enough, then only because you weren’t reached (he didn’t say that!).

Now, I miss Maria Terreira the most when I don’t think of her. She would have been a great girl if I hadn’t compared her to who I believed her to be. Perhaps the best I ever met outside my rose-petal-excreting imagination. A pastel de nata that doesn’t taste half as good in the best shop in town as it does in a café from which you’d never expect it. These things scare me sometimes, because Maria Terreira is beautiful from inside and out. Different, with each of her words. The one, if there were no others in the world. More than enough, if only one were enough. Can one have it all? Because I already have a broken car, a broken roof and cool sunglasses through which broken cars and broken roofs don’t matter. It’s all relative! Everything is cool and a question of reflection. Anyway, it’s 11 p.m., so for Maria Terreira and her new boyfriend it’s bedtime on Mondays and far too early to party on Fridays. I don’t want to say much about her new boyfriend, because everything I’d say would be awful. But in my imagination, he has the biggest dick, the smartest brain, and tells the most delightful jokes.

 

Lisbon, 19.06.2018

LINGO

I had to leave you. For a lousy 24-hour hotel near the airport. Furnished with a huge inferiority complex and extras with extra costs. Large TV, no smoking and tap water as yellow as the sun. People come here so they can leave again soon. Not pretty, just pretty close. Breakfast is served from five to ten – the worn-out carpet leads the way. I was stuck. Left to my own devices. No longer here, but still not there. Somewhere in between with room service and Rocky 2. Loaded with thoughts, which won’t stay on topic, demand attention, or still wait at baggage claim. In a land far away, where everyone is done eating by six p.m., and taxi drivers are paid through nightlife-stained safety glass. They’re distant, on the wrong track. Their pubs reek of floorboards and spilt beer. A sweet stench that has expanded throughout the entire Commonwealth. A squandered spirit that awaits re-ignition. A hazard that lurks and lingers violently in the air. Testosterone seeking liberation. Manners feel a tad too tight and, after the third pint, speak only of fucking. Almost yodelling, like an animal on heat in a well-pressed suit. Wrapped in a thin sheath of pleasantries every morning, which is crudely overstretched. Then there’s the smug satisfaction, which necessitates special power sockets for further illumination. England maintains its ugliness well – even its most beautiful corners are somehow blemished. But beneath its cling-film-preserved tradition, there are a few foolish rules you can break. Curfews and coppers on horseback striving to defend what’s good without real guns. Every few meters lies a small pile of shit on the street, with space in between for puking on weekends. Hardly anyone smokes, but everyone likes chips and lives in stone houses that are old, and distinguished only by numbers.

I want to smash this serenity, this entire city. All its bricks and windows, its scissor-trimmed gardens, all its no-parking signs. Everything. Only the red phone boxes may remain as reminders of the good old days. Days that you now only experience on airplanes or on Mount Everest. Up, above the clouds, in heaven, where the Internet has no say because only the word of God rules there. How low can one go to get published? Crawling through pubs with retired policemen, burning five pounds for a beer, skipping stones on the beach with a hangover the next day. Happiness feels the same to all, only the path there is different for each. Some need fish and chips, after-work drinks and Manchester to win. Others have to fly away, get stuck, watch Rocky, write everything down, then fly back again to feel something, anything in their bowels besides English food. It’s as if there are two people living inside me. One works and toils, the other sits in an armchair, eats bacon with melted cheese without getting fat, watches movies, and diligently dictates what I should do and how I should feel. Like endless subtitles that comment on everything, even when you stroll silently and only speak now and then to make sure that you’re still here and not elsewhere. With your thoughts wandering to Lisbon or buried under your own notes. Thoughts that need constant attention, like a fat English kid doubled up from hunger, asking if my chest muscles have shrunk because they look so unused in this large mirror, onto which the light shines inopportunely. Or if my new Levi’s 501s aren’t cut a touch too straight and pinch the balls. There’s a pervasive pressure. A subtle fear that at some point the penis might curve around the world if people continue to masturbate with their right hand. Outrageous how far our thoughts can drift. Each of us. Me, and the oh-so-great British. With their shaved legs, made-up faces, good manners and ancient churches, in which you must remove your hat but may keep the filth in your head. A nation that’s no match for its own rules, and whips its beast until the holidays, just to unleash it in Lisbon.

Oh Lisbon, where lilacs are now in full bloom – or what I imagine lilacs to be. Something lilac-coloured. Oh Lisbon, nowhere are you as beautiful as in this airless hotel room. Nowhere as Lisbon as in Manchester. Nowhere as cloudless and bright as in my imagination, where just now a formidable sunset is underway – although it’s probably cloudy again in reality. Even in June, when the aroma of burnt sardines adorns your streets, and locals and tourists press through your alleys, like a baby determined to be born, a little too early, but at least it’s a weekend and one can sleep in. Traditional but not, you throw stone-swallowing street parties, in which old grans join in instead of complaining. A massive gathering to celebrate something, anything, without police supervision. Oh Lisbon, everyone wants to go to you, and not to my hotel room in Manchester. People who want to make something of themselves. And hope that you will undertake it for them. To release them from their overflowing ideals, so that they can bring creativity to the world and return home, bearded and sun-browned. Lisbon, you slut, by now you service everyone. In sleek, black taxis, on the way to your soul, you expose everything to anyone who wants to live the good life amongst your stones. Your shady elegance under which the commotion cools, and your biting heat that wraps around thrill-seeking necks. Your swarming metros, your dripping bifana sandwiches, after which I need to shower. Your beautiful people in beautiful outfits, who think of everything, anything one can think of, or hide when good manners fit a little too tight. Bare yourself! Stark naked, because in summer no one can bear the packaging. Forget what you wanted to wear, be like a goldfish. Without memories that cloud the congested present. The same air, the same lips through which brand-new words pass. The same clothes as in other cities. Everything just a little older, a little more stained. Adorned with memories that have grown into formulas we use to explain the world. The heart has a few more beats under its belt, and we stroll forth. Left and right a chasm, and we stagger on as if on an infinite fairground with feathery guardrails. Does it reveal an intimation or a true representation? Like impressionism, or secrets hidden behind swimwear that would perhaps reveal nothing when stripped off? Oh Lisbon, will you marry me? Me and all the words you allow me to write? I’m ready, not only to share all your attractions, but also the traffic that spreads between them. Through you, I found my way to Henry Miller and fell in love with olives. Decided to have a settled side and a patient one. Now, my future lives in your castles in the air, my dreams stream slowly through your streets and alleys towards reality.

There, deep in your core, I met a girl, whom I will only write about when feelings cool into words. When experiences are outlived and I can finish sentences without training wheels. When every word no longer weighs down every heartbeat, because everything you value is heavier, pulling you into the trap of feelings, making thoughts more cumbersome – and you can only escape once you lean back and look back on the days, instead of facing them drenched in sweat. She has eyes like ripe chestnuts and full hair that dishevels in the blink of an eye. A little like Adrian in Rocky 2, but without the cardigan. You want to lay bathing in her gaze or leap from something high into a deep sea. In cold, clear water, that’s dark and green in reality, but still frozen this summer because you can wear your straight-cut 501s well into June. I’m not afraid of the sea, but whether we can swim into the twilight, up to the deepest point and love one another carelessly like in a romance flick, remains to be seen. In the film, when someone freezes, the sun just comes up – except in the Titanic – and when someone wants to split, we cut to an ad break. Even when they fight to the bitter end, everyone knows that all will be well. We laugh, we cry and we hold on tight with both hands to our cigarettes and wine glasses. We love and we hate, but always in equal proportions. Because joy and sorrow are happily married extremes. The further apart, the more things fit in between. Two ends – like a sausage. You get more out of it, more sensations, more slices.

We almost broke up once, because we were exploding with emotions. We had bought a large, white canvas, on which we wanted to paint something together that would parallel the vision of our life together – would say that we had everything in our hands, each other’s accumulated joys. Then one of us painted past the margin of the other – a little by accident, a little on purpose. I ordered a hearty foundation at the beach café, and got properly plastered. Five hours long, just the tide, my sunburn and me. No smartphone or experiences to draw on. I decided to wait until eight, after which I would turn her name into an unknown number. The waiters came and went. The hours too. A litre of red wine later, I felt like an anvil with wings. Like an old single woman in a summer dress strolling barefoot on the edge of breaking waves on a lonely beach. Staring into space. I saw people lying on the sand, pursuing lives, which in their acclimatised imperfection, could be printed in the papers without the slightest scandal. Between them a big red lifebuoy loomed above the harmony, carrying spider webs. And I imagined that they must be finally saved. Must experience something that takes their breaths away, must endure something that couldn’t be printed in the papers. Anyways, two minutes to eight, she was standing there. Like in the movies, only that the beach bar wasn’t playing the right music and I was sun-scorched and smashed. No professional lover has ever fallen from the sky. Who wants that anyway? I want to stand before the abyss and feel the impact – but not without guardrails. To bump against them until the wreck is parked. At a pinch, I’d play the music myself, syncing the right notes to the right moments. Moments in which you feel yourself deeply, because they freeze your guts exactly where the fish and chips can’t reach, and you notice that you’re a real person with a stomach and senses. Someone who, in the face of this moment, is ready to grow as old as time, and yes to die, or at least burn your belly, because you have truly felt that nothing else fits in, shortly before bursting. As if, despite a sunburn, one would live forever. For a short blink of an eye, the present projects beyond the moment, which we would rather spend on a mattress with a view to enjoy a well-earned breather before death. A little finality here, a little sympathy there, all packed in Portuguese underwear – and your structure is erect. You want to run or explode.

We sometimes go dancing outside, as soon as the work of our feelings is done and we can no longer run or explode; drink wine from bottles until we’re there. Wherever. Without an occasion or need for celebration. Without something that would appear to others like a real happening. The whole world always stopped for us without reason. But even here, in an eternally paused life, in which cold milk and ultra-heat-treated moments flow, one must drink ample water, eat vitamins, leave time for shopping and pissing. Otherwise, you’ll explode again, even though your head is already spinning because what you only imagined before dozing off suddenly comes true. Not what you think – literary self-satisfaction would make one go blind! I mean the whole castle in the air. Built from everything that unites us and is finally inhabited through hot summers and cold winters, summoned from the acclimatised candyfloss of our thoughts. Full speed! And when it all gets too much, you go to the cinema to distract yourself with a cola. Or you write away without being dictated to by your notes: a letter without an addressee, originating from all the places where the two ripe chestnuts and I were together. Places that you need not reminisce to miss. Places you only miss if you were never there. You have to think of something when there’s nothing to forget and spring begins to fever. Oh Lisbon, everything I bear is better with her. And in you. High spirits are better, low ones too. To burn, to melt, run or explode, to kiss, with tongues or without; poor, cold and blue or to lose one’s mind in the sand in the heat. Thank you for the introduction. Without you, I would have drowned in emptiness on the bar floor, would have knocked over her glass, spat while speaking, lost her while dancing or burnt a finger while smoking. Just the last paragraph tied me up for at least two hours – with two left hands, so that nothing has a chance to turn right. With a midday break in between to stir up my loins. The post was also briefly here.

 

Excerpted from Konstantin Arnold,  A Portuguesa.  Letters from Lisboa.  Libertin.  (Unpublished)

 

 

 

Issue 14

Table of Contentsfor Issue 14

2019 Winter

The Bodensee (Lake Constance), where Germany, Austria and Switzerland converge

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Issue 14


Julio, el Portero


Berlin: City of Fairies and Desires


Relocation
… but
Sisyphus
There
On the big wheel
Five lines



To the Previously Most Common Bird in the World
The Extinct
Second Creation
Dodo



Banishment from Hell


A Strasbourg Sukkot


Displaced Persons


Menina
Lingo



The Imperial Hotel


Earth Sciences
White Poem
Chinese Proverb
My Contribution to World Cultural Heritage
Outside the ethnology museum
There is no silence



Quite possibly well and truly
Integration
Away from the World
That Child Never Amounted to Much



The poem moves through a body and doesn’t stop to say hello


Educator
The Heart-Lung Machine Answers
Le petit garcon, platonique
Semana Santa
Versions
Lycanthropy



What became of us


They say there’s several types of love
Why does someone like me go running in this kind of weather?
The fog
The Guiness parable
One more thing
The miracle of the crocuses



Fabulous


Treves, Easter 1041
Calvary, Little Birds
Adamitic
Underwood
Predators
Check for Yourself



Above the Curie Temperature
God’s Picture Book
Power Drills Sing



Tissue Sample : Penelope
Penelope in the Snow



Meenie moanie meep
Sappho turns (her) back
After the Big Race
Curtains for Me
Vulture Circles Eternal
Making Scenes



Exit stage left