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

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.

Berlin: City of Fairies and Desires

Author: Leander Steinkopf
Translator: Stefan Kramer

For everyone, there is a fairy that will fulfill one wish. But only a few will remember the
wish that they made; only a few therefore recognize that fulfillment later in life.
–  Walter Benjamin

A bum lies down on the sidewalk, stretches his arms towards the sky and sings Ave Maria. I pause, the flow of pedestrian traffic piles up behind me. Actually, I feel like lying down on the ground with him. I don’t want to sing along, I’d rather keep my hands in my pockets, stare into the sky, and enjoy being an obstacle. But I step over him, as if I had someplace to go. I like this part of Friedrichstrasse; it feels like you’re in a real city. Here, one can observe people who have responsibilities and are in a hurry. Everywhere else in Berlin, watching means exchanging glances among idlers – but along these few hundred yards of real city, from the river Spree towards the south, one finds that special peace of asserting one’s own slowness against the agitation of the others. Only here, and not for long, as one soon runs into the shoppers, and their sauntering makes that slowness seem vulgar.

In Dussmann’s bookstore tall men with suits, trench coats, and briefcases rise above the lowered heads of the readers. With open mouths and sharp eyes they look over the tables of new publications. Even when they are standing still, their coats continue to flutter with urgency. Over the shoulders of the readers they grab a hardcover book from the pile, quickly turn it every which way as if inspecting a vegetable for flaws, then pay for it with a credit card and have it gift-wrapped.

I go to the shelves in the Personal Improvement section. Nobody pauses there; they only glance  at the book titles in passing. To stop would mean admitting that one has problems. It’s enough to take a book in hand or just fixate on a title long enough, and one’s cover is blown: as a smoker who can’t quit or a yes-man who can never say “no,” as depressive or impotent. I like to linger here and look at these books. Not those that might help me, but the others that I cannot comprehend. I think they could have their greatest effect not when they’re read at home in secrecy, but when read openly, on the subway. You could see everyone’s greatest weakness from their book covers, and you’d be less alone with your inadequacies.

I walk along the river Spree, where potheads smoke their first joint of the day and office workers take a break to refresh their memory of what the sun looks like. The government district seems to consist almost solely of glass, it seems to require no fences or walls; everything is open, access denied only by the heat sensors and surveillance cameras. Looking from the promenade along the Spree at the federal Chancellery, it looks dead quiet; there’s only an occasional flock of birds rising into the empty sky, as if the German chancellor only reigned over a field on which some crows pick at grains.

Some way further along the Spree, a bridge is weighing down on the river, squeezing the promenade into a tunnel, where four bums reside. They’re not at home at the moment, just their four mattresses are lying here, the top ends towards the wall with equal gaps between them, as if in a four-bed room. At the head end of each mattress, where there would be a nightstand next to a bed, there is one plastic bag each with their belongings, protected only by the outward appearance that nothing could be less worth stealing. Someone appears to be lying on the last mattress, but a closer look reveals it’s only a rolled-up blanket, covered with another – an arrangement borrowed from the hero of old spy movies, when he knows that he may be shot dead while asleep.

The small park at Turmstrasse has been newly redone – the lawn, the playground, the benches, everything. The whole place is a foreign object in the Moabit borough, without any of the grime that would form a connection to its surroundings. The politicians believe that such a small  area of promise could change the city, could lift one of its districts out of its squalor. But the city takes back what belongs to it. First, it’s only a few beer bottle caps, trampled into the ground near the trampolines, and cigarette butts in the sand under the jungle gym; that is the seed for what is to come. Soon tendrils grow over this foreign object, first hastily smeared tags on the playground equipment, then a proliferation of graffiti. Shoots grow into each crack, tear the planks off the park benches and the wastebaskets from their mounts. Shortcut footpaths cut diagonally across the lawn. Dog shit mixes into the gravel paths. At some point the first child gets bloody fingers from the broken glass and the discarded syringes in the sand of the playground, and the parents take their child elsewhere. Dog owners avoid the place because their dogs jump into the ever-deepening puddles and carry the mud into their homes. Old folks don’t find a place to sit down anymore, for on every seating surface there is a shadow of dried urine. When only the boozers still come, followed by those who collect empty beer bottles for their 25-cent deposits, then the ecological equilibrium of the city has been restored; let the next politician come and try to change anything.

I sit down in a Turkish fish shop and order a plate of Hamsi anchovies. On the TV, the players of Istanbul’s soccer club trot into the half-time break, then Erdogan receives Abbas for a state visit. At the second table, an Indonesian mother sits with her little son, squeezed between the entrance door and the seafood display. A hundred fish eyes stare up from the crushed ice in it. Her husband comes in with two beers from the organic food store next door. They have ordered fried seabreams, and a mackerel sandwich for their son. The old Turkish owner isn’t in; his daughter is running the store today. Her mouth never smiles, is pierced in one corner; it spits out words as if they tasted bitter. She wears a wool cap and athletic jacket against the cold behind the seafood counter and the mist of frying grease that descends upon everything. She puts on a metal-reinforced glove and scrapes the innards out of the seabreams with a short knife.

A young man enters: so German, so polite, so soft, with pale skin that immediately sunburns on the first day of spring. He has waited two weeks for his three-day beard to grow. I know some people like him as well as I know myself.  The German knows that he does not belong here, that he’s the stranger here, that any kindness he encounters is mere hospitality. The young Turkish storekeeper turns around, her eyes icy blue, and asks him, “What’d you like”? “I’d like some of the salmon fillet,” he replies with a coarse voice and clears his throat. “What?” she says, and he repeats himself. Ever since he’s lived around here, he’s been looking longingly at the oriental beauties; he can’t help himself, not even after finding, suddenly and conclusively, a woman of the type he knows from his school days, ash-blonde and Occidental.

There are things I don’t really do anymore  eating Döner, taking the U1 subway, and visiting Friedrichshain. But Judith lives at Boxhagener Platz, in the worst of Friedrichshain, where the people are loud and happy, the tourists sit packed tight in leatherette pubs, and tattoos seem to grow all by themselves, like a fungal breakout in a public pool.

It’s slowly getting dark, so it’s getting crowded at the Warschauer Strasse train station. The security guards of the Deutsche Bahn are leaning against the railings of the bridges that connect the train platforms. There are four of them, looking at the young women, talking about them, occasionally shouting something at them from behind in Arabic.  Visitors to Berlin are lining up at the Currywurst vendor and at the instant photo booth, for they need some sustenance and memories before the long night ahead.

I too have memories of this neighborhood, and when I stay away from Friedrichshain, it’s primarily to avoid them. There once was a woman who stopped me as if she wanted to ask me for directions, but then she asked me what should be done with the twenty-four hours before her departure. I showed her the city, and she discovered it for me with her fresh gaze. In the morning we had to run for her train, we stretched our necks like meerkats on the escalator up to the platform, and saw the train still waiting there. She left me behind in this city, and I roamed restlessly. Memories pulled me into building entrances where we had stepped aside to kiss, and I followed the paths on which we had gotten lost. She was sitting in the train, sometimes got up to smoke a strong cigarette at the window, then sat down again when she got dizzy. The city was contaminated by her love for a long time.

She was only one of the many who come here with their pent-up drive for freedom, who want to experience every night until dawn, who see opportunity behind every fence and life in every crowd. They vacation in this city without regard for the people who live here, for whom there is a tomorrow. And then they travel back home, take a long shower, sleep in, and go back to their daily routines. But for several days after that woman’s departure, my brain remained dirty and fragile, like an unsteady pile of dishes standing in turbid water in the kitchen sink.

In the burger joint at Boxhagener Platz, numbers are called out over the loudspeaker like they do at the unemployment office. The hungry customers sit outside the door, drinking beer from the late-night store while waiting for their order. The lawn in the middle of the square seethes with conversations. Off and on, a hissing noise foams from the slush of voices – that unique sound that’s made when someone opens a beer bottle with a cigarette lighter. In a pub the music is turned up. The evening has grown warm from all these people.

“Come on up, the door is open,” says Judith over the intercom. She’s sitting in the kitchen, at a soundproof window with a view of the noisy party outside. She’s made herself chamomile tea and holds the teabag on its string inside the tea cup as if expecting that something may still bite today. “How goes it?” I ask. She doesn’t answer. “Do you want some tea?” she asks after a while. “Coffee,” I say. She goes to the range and unscrews the coffee pot. She tries to empty the coffee grounds into the composting waste bin, but she isn’t slapping the pot hard enough, so she scrapes it with a spoon, very slowly, like an archaeologist excavating a fossil. She then fills the pot with fresh water from the faucet in a thin stream, and when she switches on the stove, she turns up the heat click by click, six times in one-second intervals, before she places the pot onto the burner. “There’s a party on the rooftop,” she says with a longing in her voice as if the roof wasn’t just up two flights of stairs.

I let her climb the ladder first, so she can’t escape back into her apartment behind me.  Then I ascend to the fourth step, put my coffee cup onto the roof and climb up after her. I notice that Judith briefly smiles as she looks around. Blankets have been spread out on the gritty roofing, candles are burning, people are crouching and hand-rolling cigarettes in their laps. They are drinking warm beer.  They tear off pieces of flatbread to wipe the food remains from nearly empty plastic bowls. The sun is setting, bands of clouds catch the colors. TV antennas poke into the evening sky like blades of grass. Chimneys are everywhere, the natural furnishing of the roof surface.  Their bricks radiate the warmth of the sun that they have collected during the day, just like the warmth of childhood fantasies: Mary Poppins and Karlsson-on-the-Roof.

Judith regards all this with a smile, but then she looks around intensely, and squats down as if getting ready for a fight.  Her gaze seeks and finds a nearby chimney. She pushes against it with her back and slides down it slowly, now sits there with her knees pulled up. She may be enjoying all this, but she is fearful that her body will disobey her for a few seconds, get up, run, and jump.

I sit down next to her and she rests her head against my shoulder. In the light of the sunset you can now see the dark contours of two men who daringly stand with one foot forward at the edge of the roof, and hope that a woman, receptive to the prevailing romantic mood, will fall in love with that pose. But even without any women they delight in standing silently at the precipice,  as if it was wonderfully  different from waiting at the edge of a sidewalk to throw oneself in front of a bus.

The light in the sky is red, then pink, then purple, finally blue; the city is changing color like a bruise. And I suddenly feel lonely, because I don’t know who I would call to watch the end of the world with me … who would be willing to come? I turn my head towards Judith, but I would not want to be with her when the end of the world arrives – although I can vaguely remember a time when I would have accepted the end of the world if it meant I could be with her. I feel so forsaken that it nearly makes me panicky. Nearing the apocalypse, one could finally be honest with oneself; the next day, one wouldn’t have to lie when someone asks, “How was it for you?” But I can’t think of anything honest that I could do right now. Then it’s finally dark, and again the end of the world has not come.

A young woman looks up from the bowl of hummus that she just now still wiped clean with a piece of bread – slowly, as if meditating. She looks at me and smiles suddenly, then gets up and heads towards me. I get up, too, since her purposefulness calls for a goal.  She gives me a tight hug, as if we’ve known each other forever and haven’t seen each other for a long time. The scent behind her ear radiates so strongly that I have to blink. And she knows my name, so I don’t ask for hers.

One of the men who was standing  at the edge of the roof earlier hunkers down next to Judith, who is cowering beside the chimney. She is holding her legs pulled towards her, her forehead rests on her knees, her long locks cover her shins. The man looks like he’s straight out of the military, a hybrid of beer drinking and bodybuilding. Somehow, he wears his muscles the way a bank trainee wears his suit: they don’t seem to fit, he constantly plucks at them. He talks to Judith with an empathic voice: “Hey, little one, what’s wrong?” He really does say “little one” and sits down next to her, exactly where I just sat. When he notices that I observe him, he gives me a kind of fraternizing wink, as if we had just agreed on our territories without saying a word. And I know exactly what will happen. He will feel her up, and she won’t object, but neither will she raise her head. And then he will embrace the bundle that is Judith with both arms, and she will cry because she now feels secure, and both will remain like that for a while. And when she finally lifts her head, he will kiss her, and her tongue will dig around in his mouth mechanically, like a power shovel excavating a trench. Then he could just throw her over his shoulder and carry her home – he’d certainly be strong enough.

The woman who knows my name takes my lack of attention for the absent-mindedness of genius. It makes me uncomfortable when a woman takes an interest in me without my doing anything to deserve it. Something must be wrong with her; perhaps I remind her of the father she never had, or I am the chaos that’s missing in her perfect relationship. I have already experienced that often. A woman has found the prince of her dreams, but now the fairy tale of seeking and finding is over, and they are in the “happily ever after” phase. And in time, she develops the desire for a man who is all that that her prince is not. And exactly because the prince of dreams is so perfect, she desires some washed-up guy. In fact, she should be happy, dammit, but if I were to simply ask, in the middle of our conversation: “Are you missing something in life?”, she would immediately begin to cry, so that I would console her. She does not want to betray her perfect prince, but even less does she want to betray herself.

I see that the military man is getting up and offering Judith his hand to help her up. Judith looks at me, briefly and guiltily, and I shake my head in disbelief. Then I briefly feel a hot flush over my skin.  Impatient, I grab her arm, and her indifference lets her be swept along. We go down the ladder as fast as if it were a waterslide. The military man stands at the top and looks dumbfounded. And the woman who knows my name smiles,licks her lips,and thinks: interesting.


Excerpted from:   Leander Steinkopf,  Stadt der Feen und Wünsche.  Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich, 2018.


The Imperial Hotel

Author: Adolf Muschg
Translator: Alan Robinson


During the bus journey the metropolis had insinuated itself seamlessly. The apartment blocks, covered in advertising, crowned by enormous characters, their façades overrun by videos, squeezed closer together, pushing first green spaces, then the streets between them into the depths below. The multi-lane highway had also needed to climb in order to cut a wide swathe through the mass of dwellings, on which one lost all sense of speed. At what seemed a leisurely pace, the bus advanced amid a procession of disparate vehicles, which now overtook on the right, now fell back on the left, to get in lane for one of the exits marked in white writing on green signs. High up in the distance to the right, the Skytree, the city’s new landmark, peeped between the wandering towers, then was cut off from view, only to re-emerge larger in the next vista. The sky was an immaculate blue, every outline was etched clearly, free of haze. To Paul Neuhaus, his khaki bag on his knees, the settlement now beginning to envelop the road from all sides appeared immensely orderly and completely unmysterious.

Finally the bus branched off too, descended a ramp into the bustle of ordinary street traffic, and resigned itself to a slow crawl from one traffic light to the next, until, after weaving round several corners and passing well-kept parks, it reached a congested terminal which, the microphone voice announced, was Tokyo Station. From here the Imperial Hotel was only a few steps away. But first he had to get from the bus station to the train station. Or was he there already?

Having made it across a dozen lanes of traffic to the building on the far side, he was now apparently in the station: every departure board breathed the consummate efficiency of Japanese railways. He was directed to innumerable destinations, an escalator led up or down from every platform, but none to the Imperial Hotel. And the longer he wandered among shopping areas and columns of pedestrians, the more he realised that this station was a city in its own right. He didn’t want to ask anyone, having learned from previous experience that communication problems merely added to one’s disorientation and it was simply ridiculous to be unable to find the exit from a station. In the end he took the first one he saw. Admittedly, he now knew less than ever where he was, but rescue was at hand: a taxi.

So much for a few steps! The drive to the hotel seemed to take ages, past some kind of fortifications, with a moat and gigantic walls, behind which only treetops were visible – the Imperial Palace? – ending up again in a covered, multi-lane terminal. Right in front of them was the bus that had brought him from the airport, for he recognised the driver waiting in front of the empty luggage compartment.

Imperial Hotel? Paul Neuhaus enquired.

There, said his own driver, pointing to the rear of the terminal. An array of clay-brown uniforms was indeed standing in attendance there, and when the door beside Paul sprang open – he also had to get used to self-opening taxi doors – a porter hastened to his car.

Welcome in the Imperial Hotel, Sir, he said. No baggage?

I hope you already have it.

Paul remembered in time that the taxi-driver would have regarded a tip as an insult.

So much for his first steps in Japan. He didn’t part with his bag, however, and entered the hotel with an honest No thanks and a forced smile.

Once through the revolving door, he examined his fingernails, ran a comb through his hair and freshened his breath with a spray. The ground floor lobby had only artificial light but gleamed like amber. What first caught his eye was a large circular bowl surmounted by a globe of white flowers. Above it, as a counterpoise, hung a chandelier covered by white parchment. The golden-brown lobby was supported by columns of the same hue, which disappeared at the top into square openings, capitals of sheer light. Dark armchairs were abundantly distributed in numerous alcoves, and bands of fabric in a spectrum from golden yellow to deep brown ran the entire length of the left-hand wall. The right-hand wall was occupied by a row of desks, at the first of which his suitcase was already waiting. But where were his friends?

Suddenly a gentleman in black attire appeared before him, raised his hands and then seized Paul’s own, which he pressed tremblingly for some time.

Could this be Ken-ichi Tenma, Ken? His once luxuriant hair was now thin, receding at the temples and – as he bowed towards Paul – revealed the beginnings of a tonsure. But his large eyes gazed piercingly as ever, vibrated as it were with resoluteness beneath his oddly raised eyebrows. Even when he wasn’t speaking his lips twitched, as if the whole man was charged with nervous energy. The tic was new. He’d condemned himself to making constant witticisms in the days when he still turned up in jeans – a characteristic phrase was I don’t allow anybody to believe that I am Japanese. But his dark outfit was conventional only at first glance; a second look detected its stylish cut and almost clerical collar.

Welcome to Japan! he cried, at the same time sweeping his arm with a showman-like flourish towards the armchair from which a woman in a white kimono now rose. Mitsuko had already appeared to Paul in a dream, but with no face. Now this face greeted him with a shy smile, which vanished immediately when he tentatively shook hands with her. She too was older, wore her hair in a tight chignon and white make-up on her face; the brows above her narrow eyes were pencil-thin, the lips above her strong chin were pursed. In her kimono she now also reminded Paul of the doubled Harunobu figure above his desk. However, this time she began to speak German, hesitantly, but with faultless grammar and much closer to colloquial speech than her husband’s stilted idiom. It emerged that she now gave German lessons herself, having trained at an international school for interpreters.

On the rare occasions he allowed her to say something, Ken passed over her reticent comments discourteously, even brusquely. Long-serving married couples evidently displayed no affection here either – the less so, as convention dictates that one disparage one’s possessions. That Mitsu had dropped the -ko from her first name occurred to Paul only later; she had used the polite form at first. When she bowed, the silver outline of a crane was visible on the back of her kimono.

Ken seized on this ‘conversation piece’ to rectify the mistake. It was the phoenix that had accompanied Tezuka Osamu’s life’s work, his symbol of rebirth in fire. – Did Ken still draw manga? – He was no longer innocent enough for that. He had once dreamed of publishing books, and manga would soon be the last ones printed; whether they were worth the paper was a different question.

But before we celebrate our reunion, don’t you want to go to your room? It’s on the 29th floor. I can accompany you: it’s somewhat complicated to find.

He wanted to drink a toast first, Paul objected. His suitcase would surely find its own way to the room.

Ken gave the porter appropriate instructions; then he suggested the bar in the furthest, slightly elevated part of the lobby, it was still quiet and you could smoke there. – I don’t need to smoke, said Paul. – But I do! Ken replied, with a nervous laugh. Paul’s suitcase was wheeled to the lift, while the friends withdrew to the almost empty stage behind the still silent orchestra podium. They sat in the corner of the balustrade, overlooking the art nouveau lobby and the toing and froing of guests. Ken studied the drinks menu intensively and, until the right champagne arrived in its ice bucket, silence reigned at the table. They raised their glasses, after Paul had requested that they resume addressing each other informally, as ‘Du’; but the mood wasn’t yet convivial.

To everyone’s health! Ken could understand Paul’s wish to pay his respects to Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s hotel had even survived the carpet bombing. The Americans had taken care to spare it: after all, they’d needed quarters befitting their rank as victors. Back in 1923, the year it was built, the hotel had fortunately withstood the Great Kantō Earthquake, thanks to the floating foundations on which Mr Wright had erected his monumental ‘H’ structure in pre-Columbian Maya style. What had finally killed it was the Japanese economic miracle. Room prices would have been prohibitive if the airspace spurned by Wright’s flat Palace had remained unused. His monument had therefore been demolished and reassembled in an open-air museum near Nagoya, while in Tokyo the obligatory skyscraper was constructed – with the decoration here as a fig leaf.

You’re staying in a fake, explained Ken, gesturing with his half-smoked papirosa, to accustom you to the fakery in our next economic boom – involving Fukushima, of course. The deadline’s rather tight to get everything cleaned up before the 2020 Olympics, if you consider the half-life of trivium, strontium, caesium and their cronies, but the government’s motto is: Yes, we can! And only ten kilometres away from our Great Work, radiation levels are now said to be almost healthy.

Or do you doubt our prowess in transforming a defunct nuclear reactor into the industry of the future? Dai-Ichi is a laboratory, a testing ground for techniques that we need in any case, but now post-haste. Robots, for example, that don’t conk out with radiation. Now all they’ve got to do is locate the melted uranium, so that we can dispose of it – by then, we’ll have figured out where. What do the Russians have so much space for? Surely a ‘deal’ could be struck there. Perhaps the radiation can be used for heating? There’s always a demand for that in Hell and why shouldn’t the Devil agree on a decent price? After all, we’ve been in business since Hiroshima and Nagasaki and our reactors aren’t decorated with Buddhist wisdom for nothing. In principle, nuclear energy is still the cheapest kind, humans simply have to adapt their capacity, perhaps arrange for a mutation that can cope with it. But do we still need an organism, when computers manage so much better? If they require feelings to reproduce, that can surely be programmed. And why should a bot fear a chain reaction, if it can feed on it? At last we’d have created a perpetuum mobile – time would no longer matter if every day is Judgement Day!

Ken is rather embittered, Mitsu warned, but he ignored her.

Okay, this might take some time. Luckily, the nuclear core doesn’t stink any more than all the cash that’s already been invested in its disposal. And until it stops stinking all that counts is making it profitable. Larger than life! And when will it have been successfully disposed of? Quite simply, when we have other cares at our disposal! Why must we take such a narrow view of Dai-Ichi? Why shouldn’t the tsunami have sparked off a whole new exchange of elements? Seawater in, nuclear power out! Why are we constantly flooding the ruin with water which doesn’t cool it anyway? Why don’t we make a cognitive leap and regard the extinguishing water as the amniotic fluid of a new Creation? Why not throw a counterpunch: scientific versus maritime tsunami? Be my guest: just a small quantum leap in planetary evolution! Then the no-go zone where stray cattle munch grass until it kills them, where wild boar storm well-kept homes, where carparks full of new cars are overgrown – then the desert of civilisation will herald a futurity beyond rationality! Turn no-go into go-go, then humanity will have been taken care of and you’ll be able to say you were there when it happened!

Conversation at the bar fell silent; new arrivals also cast doubtful glances at the Japanese gentleman who was clearly laying down the law to an older westerner, in German and in the presence of a mortified, formally dressed Japanese woman – and wasn’t done yet.

But they tell us that the first step is always the hardest and that what Japan now needs above all is for settlers to return to the contaminated areas – guinea pigs who will of course be properly compensated for their laboratory lives.

Because let’s be honest: what do we really know about the long-term effects of radiation? We mustn’t allow ourselves to be distracted by the tragic fates of some individuals. They need to be reconfigured for public consumption; just as digital images are Photoshopped. With that there’s no limit – why should there be one for human resilience? Up to now this has been mere assertion; the disaster finally offers a chance to test it. Who’ll still be around in the so-called no-go zone in a few years’ time? In what state, and with what degree of consciousness? What will become of families, or relationships? Might this not be the start of a new success story for homo sapiens, in which humanity – after a certain transformation of its values – celebrates its rebirth? Perhaps with a little help from our friends, the genetic engineers? Who knows? But why not take a chance, if only because we’re left with no alternative?

Of course, the whole thing could only work if it was kept under wraps – at least until the public is completely malleable and one alternative fact is as good as another. We’re well on the way there already. Adversity could become prosperity overnight, and Japan be the first country to realise it – at the very core of globalised civilisation!

Ken was driven by a grim nervous energy that left Paul dumbfounded. Something had to erupt, but it wasn’t clear why it had to be now – unless Ken was making it his business to shock his guest and torment his wife. However, Mitsu was now sitting composedly, as if her husband’s outburst was no longer her concern.

Ken was smoking constantly, his fingers trembled, but he didn’t seem drunk.

Do you know that Prime Minister Kan wanted to evacuate the city of Tokyo in March 2011?

Yes, said Paul. Suzanne and I had just flown to Japan. Gai-jin, Fly-jin didn’t apply to us.

That was when you visited Tadao Ando, said Ken. Ah, these daredevil architects!

It’s a pity your wife couldn’t come with you, said Mitsu.

A great pity, echoed Ken. – Now we will have to look after Paul. You must get an early night and eat properly again. I’ve made a reservation in the sushi restaurant here in the basement. The fish will certainly be fresher than on your flight. Or would you prefer Chinese?

We’ll also need to discuss our trip, said Paul. I’ll just unpack a few essentials beforehand in my room.

Take the lift over there to the mezzanine, then go straight ahead to the far end of the shopping arcade, about fifty metres, until you reach a glass door. Open it with your card and then you’re already in front of the lifts to the 29th floor. We’ll wait here. Take your time.

When Paul stood outside room 2917 and swiped the key card over the sensor, he had a sense of déjà vu: the Swiss Hotel in Chicago, when he’d tried the wrong room door. He walked into the small room – furnished functionally, it seemed – and headed past his waiting suitcase towards the view from the window. He felt both exhausted and breathless, as if Ken’s tirade had sucked the air out of his reunion with Japan. Of course the window couldn’t be opened at this height. Luckily, the air conditioning was silent.

Paul stared past the neighbouring skyscrapers at the park beneath his feet, in which, here and there, he could make out a low roof. So this was the Imperial Palace. He hadn’t been in Tokyo before but felt he already knew this vista of canyon-like streets and railway tracks from the film Lost in Translation. Any social obligation was really too much for him today. How he would have loved just to lie down on his bed and close his eyes.


Excerpted from Adolf Muschg, Heimkehr nach Fukushima.  (Coming Home to Fukushima).  Verlag C.H. Beck, Munich, 2018.

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

Author: Matthias Politycki
Translator: Christophe Fricker


They say there’s several types of love

: a scream at night
: a poem on paper
: some cake and Darjeeling
: a snowy white feeling

Us lot, however, we’re down by the beach,
we stare at the ocean, expecting to see – today! –
this island emerge
in the distance – keep looking, long reconciled
with this century, still thudding in us, gone wild.

: island and city! Yes, of course –
: island and hamlet! Why, what else –
: island and chamber! Pray tell –
: where a tale with pig-tails will dwell!

Island with pig-tailed tale, you know,
and the casket of coral, remember,
in which it has hidden the magical spell
as written in delicate icing letters
with pink and pearly powder on top. –
My mind is enthralled, you must stop!

But us lot – the sea breeze is gentle –
we stare at the sea and the sea and the sea,
we don’t know the scream or the snow or the night,
we sit here and stare. The blue sea in sight.


Why does someone like me go running in this kind of weather?
Some cheering on for a Thursday

Running, running, always running
through the park, through tree-lined streets –
running, running, running, running
like an animal and … never stop!

Just keep going through the puddles,
cleansed by mud and tried by wind,
run until the trees around you
sing and lights begin to spin,

run until not just the dogs and
some forgotten older guys
stare at you with piercing eyes,
run until you are all numb,
what are days and what are hours,

running, running, till beside you
palm trees wave their flappy top
and some gorgeous orchids sop
you with their enticing scent –

but you will not be undone,
you will run as though it’s Tuesday,
spring in step you run right past them,
running, running, always running
like an animal and … never stop!


The fog
That would love to be friends with you

Or like one of these little
Korean islands
No more than
A craggy exertion of rock
Way out in the ocean
Which might, at best,
Have a pine tree on top
That typhoons have shaken
And warped into submission
And bent deep down to the ground
And you

With no skies atop
Let alone a bird
Above around behind and in front of it
Nothing but miles and miles of
Towering, spreading
Fog that would love
To be friends with you
But the same is
Probably true
For the pine tree too.


The Guiness parable
Barman’s Lesson, Given at the Brazen Head in Dublin

Stop! said the barman, hold your horses. Jesus Christ!
I held the glass already in my hand which he
had casually put down in front of me: a Guiness
is never to be rushed, it’s still alive when you
extract it from the keg, just look at it, how gray
and wan and terrified it looks, it’s coming to,
it needs to come into its own. Another three,
four minutes till it’s settled down, all black,
into its pint glass – foam so white, head half the height
of your old priest’s dog collar, firm though, any mouse
which ran across it wouldn’t leave a trace.
But then – and only then! – is this beer ready,
a great beer ready for you to enjoy. Until then:

I looked around in awe: eighthundred years of thirst
encased in somber wooden panels; when my time
had come, the barman drew the outline of a harp
onto the head – the emblem of his brewery.
But wait! He beckoned me to stop when, once again,
I reached out for my pint because he recognised
at once that I was just a foreigner and dumb:
Oh why so greedy, man! Enjoy your every sip
and your reward will be to see within your glass
how foamy gulp rings form the formula of your
own drinking, giving you a parable. Of what?
And how? He did not specifiy. Oh well –

So there I was. My glass in front of me, with all
of Ireland within it waiting for me: smoke
and mist and eau de peat and joy of song …
the barman over at the other end
informed each drinker how he nearly put
this moron off his drink – the one back there,
the foreigner! Who, carefully, now dared to pick
his glass up and who, far from drinking, has just
sipped at it.


One more thing

Not to be greedy any more,
no more hope, no more fear,
to just go ahead and sit
at the intersection of past and future,
turning into a given,
friendly yet not a fool,
quiet, not harmless,
relaxed, but not bored,

To taste a handful of strawberries
just by looking at it in the end,
to smell a freshly-mowed lawn
just by thinking of it with great pleasure,

And then, after a few years of practice,
with or without fasting,
to focus once more
and drink up the entire
Kleinhesseloher See
in one go – that would be it!


The miracle of the crocuses
St James’s Park, as entered from Queen Anne’s Gate one 24 February

I had fifteen minutes to kill, you know,
and walking over to the park
seemed an idea as good as any –
it was one of those badass spring days,
thirteen degrees, at least, if not fourteen,
and everybody was just descending on the park
to get their share of the sunshine and
take a few quick pictures of Buckingham Palace
from the bridge,
and so there was this chatting and chirping
in all the world’s accents.

But it wasn’t the magnificence of the sky,
mirrored in the lake underneath me,
it was those crocuses that I suddenly,
at the back of all the shouting and screaming,
all shiny and white and shimmering purple
against a subtle green background –
it was those crocuses and also, I swear to God,
maybe also some daffodils here and there –
it was this crazy audacious all-out blossoming
that almost made me lose my balance
I was so in awe!

When was the last time I was
so dearly amazed?
I stopped in my tracks and
took a deep breath –
I would have just loved to show you,
would have loved to be ardently silent before it
together with you for a while, I swear.

But then, you know,
I only had fifteen minutes and
I really needed to go, exhale,
go back.
And you weren’t there


From Sämtliche Gedichte 2017-1987.  Hoffmann und Campe, 2018.


Treves, Easter 1041
Calvary, Little Birds
Check for Yourself

Author: Heinrich Detering
Translator: Paul-Henri Campbell


Treves, Easter 1041

no they have not come for the procession
not to venerate the holy man
not at all have they come for they lie
here as always

they do not desire his blessing or his
robes blankets gems they don’t give a damn
about the money that he holds out to them as
they raise their heads

when they whack the bishop and his minions
out of their saddles toss the coins aside
assault the horses jumping at them with fists
the horses

strangled torn chewing their flesh drinking
their blood the raw sacrament of beasts
the only ones who still do not understand
bleeding to death


Calvary, Little Birds

of dust and mud he had made little birds
that flew across the road upon his command
all had seen it (a generation ago)

his footfall was so gentle that as he stepped out
from the shore onto the lake he did not leave
the slightest trace on the water everyone saw it

when a friend died he called him up
out of the earth upon that command he returned as though
gravity itself pulled him upwards some saw it

like now when all see him there on the road
caving under the weight of a wooden beam
forcing him down on the ground sweating and bleeding

a beam upon which he soon will be hung to die
and all of them see birds coming the birds
the hungry little birds



when Adam named each creature
he ruled the world escaped fear
and forgot his own expiration

when Adam named each creature
none of them understood a word indeed
it seemed they were not even listening

when Adam named each creature
he banished himself with each word
into a language that was of no concern to them

when Adam named each creature
they barked bellowed warbled on
and simply trudged darted sailed away

to dark mysteries and to
mute depths to
mute depths



the border ran right through our car
in the woods between Sweden and Norway
when we had lost our way when we
came to a halt at the border post in the underwood

ruckus hooting on the backseat
in the woods between Sweden and Norway
the joy that a line ran between us

an utterly invisible line



when they chase doves around

in the parking lot in the schoolyard
at the bus stop

when their shouting sounds as if
they were mimicking gunshots

when they grow in strength because the
doves are fleeing from them

then they are evil

Check for Yourself

after I was born mother counted
each one of my toes and fingers
and then calmly leaned back into the pillows

after she had told me that again
yesterday on the phone I sat still for a moment
then I counted and checked one more time and

leaned back into my arm chair everything
indeed was still there


From Heinrich Detering, Wundertiere. Gedichte.  (Of Beasts and Miracles.  Poems.)  Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen, 2015.

A Strasbourg Sukkot

Author: Barbara Honigmann
Translator: Margaret May


Our whole quarter had turned more and more into a “second ghetto,” with many young Jewish families moving in and setting up their “Shearim” house of prayer and instruction in a nearby street. Our local district mayor, who is very concerned with peaceful inter-faith relations, even made a little speech at its dedication ceremony. So Peter felt that the time had come to erect a “sukkah,” a tabernacle or booth, in our courtyard. This would mean we’d no longer have to make our way through the streets every year during the eight-day Sukkot festival lugging bags of pots and bowls full of ready-prepared meals to eat in communal sukkahs. Nor would we constantly have to be invited to the tables of others who had no problem getting permission to build sukkahs in their courtyards or on their balconies. Peter suggested we put up a sukkah in one of the furthest corners of the courtyard next to the bike stands, small and unobtrusive of course, so that the neighbours wouldn’t take offence. Because I’m afraid of confrontation with the neighbours and by nature or upbringing try to avoid any conflict – in other words, I’m a coward – I didn’t really believe in his project or provide any effective support. But I didn’t oppose it either.

This all came from my bad memories of the first Sukkot we celebrated in Strasbourg, thirty years earlier. Just as we had sat down to eat in the sukkah, the neighbours from the upper floors pelted its canopy – open-weave, of course, as prescribed – with rotten tomatoes and other rubbish. We were actually in a courtyard surrounded by rather grand upper-class apartments dating from the late nineteenth century, in the vicinity of the European Parliament – in other words, one of the “better quarters” of the city. Our host at that time owned the biggest and most long-established kosher butcher’s shop in Strasbourg. So perhaps it was this symbolic figure who was the target of the rotten tomatoes, which gave us all a fright when they thudded down with a noise that reverberated round the courtyard. Most of the people who had gathered in the sukkah came from the “Etz Chaim” community, which was still mainly German-speaking, and they would often invite us when we first moved to Strasbourg and were learning French.

In New York, by contrast, there was even at that time a whole Sukkah City in Union Square, as I read in the paper. Young architects took part in a competition to build sukkahs in all conceivable materials and shapes, and these remained there during the seven-day festival (which lasts eight days in the diaspora). They were not just for show, either: people were allowed to sit inside them to consume their festive meals.

Here in Strasbourg everything is much more discreet, but immediately after Yom Kippur, four days before Sukkot, you can see a crop of sukkahs suddenly sprouting out of the ground, as it were, dotted around on balconies and in courtyards. Moreover, the Jewish community and the whole panoply of synagogues and other informal places of prayer and instruction will put up sukkahs to which you can bring your pre-prepared meals. There you meet other families and share a table with them, either eating together or at different sittings. You unpack your food and pack it up again while the children go off to play and then have to be told to calm down, so it’s like a campsite. That’s how we’ve been doing it for years.

But Peter was quite convinced that it was time to build our own sukkah. He went from door to door in our apartment block, explaining Project Sukkah at great length to all our neighbours, assuring them that we wouldn’t be creating any disturbance or mess, saying the whole thing only lasted eight days, and asking them to agree. Eventually he had 29 signatures of consent from neighbours, out of a total of at least five stairwells opening onto the block’s inner courtyard, a communal space housing the refuse bins, a few garages, and a growing number of bikes. He came back and said that most of the neighbours had seen no problem, some were even enthusiastic, others had been in favour, and some had agreed only with reservations. It had to be said that one, an emeritus professor, believed he had to draw Peter into a religious dispute. He argued that the Jews really should not be clinging to such outward signs and medieval regulations but ought by now to be moving with the times. Peter explained to him that these regulations were not in the least bit medieval but in fact dated from ancient times, when the Jews were already living among the most modern peoples and cultures – which, by the by, had long since collapsed – and the whole thing about outward signs was another old canard, which even St Paul had gone on about, to no avail. At which point Peter politely wished him a nice day.

Next Peter took up arms in the bureaucratic battle and sent a letter to the house management requesting a vote at the general meeting of apartment owners on whether permission for the temporary erection of a sukkah in the courtyard should be granted. For Peter, punctiliousYekke that he is, had decided to pursue the legal route. There followed a short war over formalities, in which we even took on a lawyer – a friend of ours, of course. And this was followed by a back and forth of letters, warnings, and reprimands, until finally the house management decided that our Project Sukkah contravened the house rules and some regulation or other, but it didn’t impose anything like a ban as a result of this decision. It simply didn’t put the issue on the agenda for a vote. So since there had been no pronouncement, neither permission nor prohibition, we interpreted the undefined legal position to our advantage, according to the principle that whatever has not been expressly forbidden is allowed, and we ordered a sukkah online from the American Sukka Depot Center. Delivery was prompt, and all the appropriate accessories were included, according to the rabbinical directives and dimensions, no smaller and no bigger, all cleverly put together in a kit that could be conveniently stored in your cellar for reuse the following year. The materials for sukkahs have developed in parallel with the general equipment for camping, hiking, climbing, trekking, and other outdoor activities. They are light yet sturdy, water-repellent, quick-drying, and require absolutely no tools for their construction, everything just slots together. The kit also contains the S’chach, the canopy. Ours is made of bamboo, though some people just lay branches across the walls. According to regulations the canopy has to be made so that it is not really secure but lets in light and sun, and wind and rain too, and you have to be able to see through it. In this way it is meant to remind us how unsheltered and unprotected we are in this world and how full of holes our lives are. Yet also, because the festival always falls on the 15th of the Hebrew month, if it’s not cloudy you can gaze admiringly at the full moon shining from afar in the starry sky.

On the Sabbath, which inevitably occurs during the festival, the words of Solomon the Preacher from Ecclesiastes are read out: “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity … there is a time to get and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away.” Jews need to be reminded of this when they are sitting in these makeshift, unstable, and draughty huts – reminded of the fragility and uncertainty of their existence. And they must compensate for this with tenacity and adaptability, just as they did after the exodus out of Egypt, when they lived in tents in the wilderness – that empty, uncertain place where their newly won freedom consisted primarily in not knowing where to go next, what to do, or how things would turn out.

So for several years now, for about a week in autumn, our sukkah has its place, unobtrusive but impossible to ignore, in a corner of the courtyard next to the bicycles. It has two windows, and we always leave these open so that people can look in and observe us and see that we’re not slaughtering Christian children or engaging in any other unseemly activity. Moreover, we’ve fixed a note to it, protected by a plastic pocket in case it should rain, which says in large type: “Dear Neighbours, this little structure is only temporary and serves as the tabernacle for the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, which ends this year on …. If you have any questions or comments, please ring at the Honigmann door. Many thanks for your understanding.”

Then for eight days, at least twice a day, we move down from our second-floor flat into the courtyard, carrying food and drink, pots, plates, and glasses. Sometimes it’s quite chilly and we have to put on warm socks and a coat – after all, it is already autumn, and we’re living in exile in a northern land – and we sit squashed together rather uncomfortably, a bit like true nomads.

So far there has been only one incident, when some students in a neighbouring flat were having a noisy party. Around midnight they started throwing bottles and burning cigarette butts out of the window, and some of these fell onto the sukkah. But the bamboo canopy managed to withstand this, because even though bamboo does burn, it’s hard to ignite. Other neighbours had already called the police because of the noise, and the party was brought to an end by the guardians of law and order.

When the eight days of Sukkot are over, and with it the whole Jewish season of festivals, which begins a good three weeks earlier with Rosh Hashana – some people call this flood of feast days the “tunnel” – we emerge in a state of some spatial and temporal confusion, feeling a bit jet-lagged. Now we tell one another about our experiences with friendly or unfriendly neighbours. The biggest conflicts, apart from those with dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semites, are with anti-religious Jews, who just can’t see why the city tolerates such religious practices and call the police to enforce what they see as the secular order of the French republic. Sometimes they even saddle their neighbours and fellow Jews with lawsuits. Of all the anecdotes told about Sukkot experiences, the favourite is always the one about the policemen who are called out and actually do hand out a formal warning, stipulating that this construction, this tabernacle, must be removed – and indeed within no more than eight days. And this always provokes great mirth and roars of laughter among all those observing this eight-day-long festival.


Excerpted from Chronik meiner Straße (A Chronicle of my Street).  Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich, 2015.




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

Author: Björn Kuhligk
Translator: UniKent Translators 2019


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



Author: Konstantin Arnold
Translator: Farnaz Riedel


Lisbon, 15.02.2018


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


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




Displaced Persons

Banishment from Hell

Exit stage left

What became of us

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

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

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

… but
On the big wheel
Five lines

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

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

Berlin: City of Fairies and Desires

The Imperial Hotel

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

Treves, Easter 1041
Calvary, Little Birds
Check for Yourself

A Strasbourg Sukkot

Tissue Sample : Penelope
Penelope in the Snow

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


Issue 14

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

Julio, el Portero