Archives

A Space Bounded by Shadows

Author: Emine Sevgi Özdamar
Translator: Yana Ellis

 

PROLOGUE

Suddenly, I was awake. Noises behind the wall, as if a truck was constantly trying to burst through the walls. Animals scuttling in the loft; animals next door tapping their feet against the wall. Someone weeping—maybe the blind woman who stands by her open door listening to the wind around 4 o’clock every morning. At those moments, she looks as if she could see. Every night the light stays on in her room. She sits on her bed; sometimes she sleeps sitting up with her eyes open and when she sleeps like that she looks as if she can see. When she dreams, she can see again because she had her eyesight until she was twelve. The images she saw for twelve years didn’t fade with her eyesight; they’ve just moved from the alleyways and rooms — now black and empty — into the blind woman’s dreams. Now all the noises were back as if a truck stood behind the wall, constantly edging forwards trying to push through the wall. After each noise, dust and scraps of decaying wood came down from the old ceiling where the beams had rotted with time and come loose.

I went down to the kitchen.

The first rays of dawn, one foot still in the night, had already sneaked through the window and settled on the table and chairs, their sad shadows separating the kitchen from this world, so they could return the place to the dead who had once lived here. Now small stones and sand trickled down from the fireplace, hitting the lids of the big pots, dispersing all around the kitchen with mechanical noises. Up in the chimney a pair of doves was cooing and perhaps beating their wings against the narrow chimney walls.

The sad light now crept from the chairs to the floor, enveloping the scattered sand and small stones that dispersed all around the kitchen from the chimney to reunite, in this half-night-half-day hour, with the hands of the dead who had once built this fireplace. The whole island was still asleep and only the blind woman stood awake by her open door and listened to the wind.

I walked towards the front door where the noises were coming from, as if a truck kept trying to burst through the wall. I opened the door; the narrow alleyway — too narrow for a car to drive through — stood empty, but a couple of heavy stones fell from the low broken wall opposite. A donkey stood there with a long rope around his neck, tied to the only tree in the overgrown garden. The donkey tried to escape from the rope, running again and again as far as the rope could reach, bashing at the low wall with his whole body and hooves. Behind the donkey lay the ruins of a Greek chapel and behind it, the Greek Orthodox church.

While I was straining my neck looking at the Orthodox church, the donkey too turned towards it and stood like this — quietly — straining his neck. Had the church whispered something to the donkey while I was still asleep and made it so restless, or had the church talked to itself and the donkey overheard it? Had the Orthodox church always talked to itself, or did it talk only last night to the donkey; both abandoned by their people, both tied firmly to a place they couldn’t run away from. The feet of all the people who walk down this alleyway to get to the harbour and then back up to their houses had vanished hours ago. These feet were now lying behind the doors of the houses in the form of shoes and had to wait for the morning. It won’t be for another hour that the shoes of the fishermen who go out to sea will be turned again towards the front door and put on again; some of the fishermen’s wives will feel strange in their nightgowns while lying in bed, their gaze fixed upon their departing husbands. When the men, with hurried steps, begin to walk through the dark, narrow, stone-paved alleyways towards the harbour, some will even knock on windows in passing, without interrupting their stride: ‘Memet, Memet, get up! It’s five o’clock – kayık kalkıyor, the boat is leaving.’ The water they quickly splash onto their faces will cling to their deep wrinkles and only hit the ground halfway to the harbour.

When these fishermen go to sea in their little boats, they’ll keep silent because it’s still night. But their boat motors, not built for boats but for field irrigation systems, get louder and louder until the whole hull starts trembling and some of the fishermen’s noses start to tickle because of it. Takatakatakatakatakatakatakatakatakataka. These noises, like sky-sized knives, will tear the night into pieces. When the pieces of night night’s pieces start to fall into the sea, thousands of crows will sit on the housetops or on the island’s telegraph posts and caw in chorus until the imam starts chanting the call to morning prayer in the distant mosque. Two loudspeakers are attached to the dome of the Orthodox church. From the church dome the imam’s voice will sneak through the closed windows and start tiptoeing around the rooms. The voice will stroke the hand towels, quietly hanging in the dark, turn the light switches on and off, ruffle the bedsheets and make every dog with half-opened eyes bark. Then next door’s cockerel will start crowing üüürürürü. Then it will fall quiet again until the light chased by shadows starts caressing the trees. At that moment a few peaches will fall from the tree.

But there is still time.

Just for now though, the donkey, the Orthodox church, the blind woman sitting outside her open front door, and I are alone.

The night has pulled something from the darkest corners of its memory and has quietly shared this something between the Orthodox church, the donkey, the blind woman, and me.

 

THE ORTHODOX CHURCH SPEAKS

ISLAND

All houses on this island were related. The people too resembled each other. You could almost believe that behind their front doors, similar masks hung on doornails that they put on before leaving the house; even their hands looked as if they had put on the same hand-masks. Some were fishermen, others olive pickers.

This Turkish Island lies exactly opposite the Greek island of Lesbos.

The island people here had three winds: Imbat, Poyraz, Lodos. There was the Y?ld?z wind too, but it didn’t come by that often. Imbat, on the other hand, was a frequent visitor; Imbat blew from opposite, from Lesbos — first enveloping the houses of Lesbos in fog and haze, then galloping in on the backs of the flying horses across the Aegean that connected these two islands, blowing all the laundry that hung on the balconies or in the gardens backwards; incessantly punching the bellies of bedsheets, trousers, underpants, pillowcases, petticoats, and nylon stockings, flap-flap-flap. Imbat swept everything backwards: the fishermen’s hair, the fishermen’s wives’ hair, the children’s hair, the horses’ manes, and the donkeys’ ears. When Imbat blew, sheets of paper lying on the steep cobblestones flew backwards, away from the sea and up the alleyways. Imbat glued the women’s clothes to their bodies, outlining their breasts, bellies, and thighs, and what was between those thighs. Back in the days of the Ottoman Empire mothers went to the Turkish baths to look for a well-built girl for their sons: a bridal show in the Turkish bath. Imbat offered the same spectacle.

On the days when Imbat stopped blowing, Poyraz replaced it, doing the opposite. Poyraz blew from the mountains, sweeping everything forward towards the sea. The fishermen’s hair flew from back to front, and the fishermen’s wives’ clothes clung to their bodies, so that their bottoms and legs — as if sculpted by artists — could be seen in the alleyways. And so, visits from both winds — Imbat and Poyraz — immediately transformed this island into a Salon de Louvre where you could observe the statues of Venus now from the front, now from the back. Poyraz, which blew from the Turkish Kaz Mountains towards Lesbos, didn’t envelop Lesbos in haze and fog as Imbat did, but instead made the houses on Lesbos visible from afar.

The third important wind was Lodos, the hot southern wind. When it came, the first thing it did was slap all the islanders in the face. On Lodos days the women, men, children, donkeys, and goats looked sorrowfully at the ground like trolls from Peer Gynt, trudging along the steep narrow alleyways or around the harbour as though in a slow-motion film. Even the flies flew slowly, saying vee-vee-vee rather than wheeze-veez-wheeze-veez. On Lodos days, the sea looked like an impotent sky that had fallen to Earth. Amidst the heat, the windowpanes seemed to expand, breathing heavily as if about to burst. One of the older fishermen once said that when Hitler bombed Lesbos, the windowpanes had burst on this Turkish island, and the numerous shards of glass in the sunny alleyways stabbed the eye like a sharp knife, and the Greeks of Lesbos fled here in boats from Hitler.

Just like the winds Imbat, Poyraz, and Lodos, the animals also claim that it is they who live here on this island, rather than humans. Let the countless seagulls living on the twenty-five uninhabited islands surrounding this one teach their baby seagulls to fly whenever and however it suits them, the adult seagull choir encouraging the youngsters into flight scream with loud seagull voices sounding like a never-ending laugh, propelling the baby seagulls for hours from the rocks to the sky, from the sky to the sea, then back up into the sky. Let them use all the rocks on the low or high cliffs as their seagull toilet. Let them fly behind the fishing boats in groups, like a dragon’s tail, hovering motionless in the sky until the fishermen throw small unsaleable fish from their nets back into the sea. As soon as the small half-dead fish hit the water, then the seagulls, before carrying the fish off into the sky in their beaks snapping open and shut, screaming loudly again in chorus as only seagulls can, without tearing the sky into pieces, summon all the gulls from the twenty-five uninhabited islands to the feast. And come they do. But let’s leave the seagulls on their twenty-five islands still uninhabited by humans eating, shitting, and teaching their chicks to fly. Here, on our islands inhabited by humans, you might say that together with the winds Imbat, Poyraz and Lodos, it was the cats and crickets that occupied all the trees and gardens, roofs, and alleys. z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?-z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?z?.

Whenever the fishermen’s wives, feeling strange in their clothes, walked down the steep narrow alleyways towards the harbour, z?z?z?z?z?z? resounded above their heads, and down between their feet, meow, meow, meow, meow. Whenever the women tired of hearing these voices from the trees above and the earth below, they threatened the crickets, craning their necks with a ‘sus yeter giver — enough, be silent, die,’ and bowing their heads, they threatened to banish the cats to one of the twenty-five uninhabited islands.

I’ll take you to Naked Island.
I’ll take you to Melina Island.
I’ll take you to Fig Island.

Fig Island, one of the twenty-five uninhabited islands, once had four fig trees with really juicy figs. But six years ago, one of the fishermen hacked them down to burn in his winter stove. And all the other fishermen have been scolding him for six years because they could no longer find shade when they cast their nets in the bay of Fig Island and wanted to smoke a cigarette under a tree. The fishermen loved those trees because they were always on rocking boats and above them, whenever they raised their heads, they saw the sky also tossing like the sea with clouds always on the move — appearing at first like an animal, then like alleys in the sky transforming the animal into disembodied cotton wool. And from these sky-alleys seagulls fly, suddenly and purposefully, straight towards the fishing nets. Curses were hurled at the seagulls, but the seagulls carried only the fish into the sky and the fishermen’s curses fell into the water. The fishermen always had seagull stories; they gave the seagulls a female name: Aziza. ‘Aziza geldi, Aziza geldi, Aziza gitti. I just pulled in the net, what did I see? Aziza’s come and gone.’

The fishermen’s wives had no Aziza stories to tell; they didn’t scold the Azizas, they almost never saw them. But they had goats or horses and cats.

Ayşe hanım, for example. She lived at the top of the island’s hill. She had stopped going down to the harbour thirty years ago, she said. Ayşe was newlywed back then; she had come from a mountain village. Her husband wanted to take her to the harbour. They drank tea in one of the tea houses; the husband had a horse back at home and said to Ayşe , ‘Wait here, I’ll go to the restaurant to get some stale bread for the horse.’

Ayşe waited for a couple of hours, then walked the steep alleyway on her own, wanting to get home; the houses all looked alike though, and she couldn’t find her house at first. When she finally found it, she saw her husband feeding the horse and talking to him. She swore that she would never again go to the harbour. ‘Go and drink tea at the harbour with your horse,’ she’d said; she has upheld her oath for thirty years and still curses the horse.

One of the neighbours who never married had a sister who was also a spinster. She poked holes in the cats’ ears and adorned them with earrings made of silver threads. She did that when the cats started yowling for the tomcats’ attention. And she put walnut shells on the cats’ paws, for them to pull on as slippers when they entered the house.

Another fisherman’s wife kept a goat, but the goat wouldn’t let her near because, according to the woman, the goat was in love with her husband. Whenever he walked over to the goat, she would lick his hand. If the wife was there, the goat would kick her in the shins and embrace the fisherman with her front legs on his shoulders. Another fisherman’s wife ran away with a shepherd and his herd of goats. Her husband stole the billy goat from the herd and hid it — the shepherd went crazy, ‘Where’s my billy-goat?’ It was autumn, mating season. ‘Give me my wife back, and I’ll give you your goat,’ said the husband. Three weeks later they exchanged woman for goat.

Everyone here has some sort of animal story. No one knows whether they are true or not. The men don’t talk about their wives, but about Azizas; and the women don’t talk about their husbands, but about goats and horses.

The neighbours’ voices can be heard until 9 o’clock at night. Amidst their voices the cats, sheep and birds are also conversing. Whenever two elderly neighbours talk to each other, it sounds like parrots chattering: half Greek, half Turkish. Ela bre Hasan. Kala bre pedakimu. At 9 o’clock people change into nice clothes and call to each other ‘Ela Hasan,’ ‘Ela Sevim’ and go to the coffee houses on the harbour. After 9 o’clock the houses empty of human voices. Only the animals next door tap their feet against the walls. All the feet that go down to the harbour must pass the Orthodox Church.

The first time I walked from the harbour to the Orthodox Church, a long time ago now, the sky still looked undecided after the heavy rain: should it reveal the moon or should it hide it, together with the stars, from the eyes of the world? The path to the church was dark; a few streetlamps flickered dimly; some were not on. The wind blew half-drawn curtains into the rooms, then sucked them back out into the street and showed me the rooms. In one room, a little old woman stood motionless, a cloth in her hand. In the next house, a man in pyjamas was sitting in an armchair, then a small child sat down with him. In the next one, the room was lit, but no one was inside. I saw a large, framed photo hanging on the wall: a man and a woman. From time to time people walked up the cobblestone alleyway in pairs, or a man and a woman walked down the alleyway towards the harbour. Everything — their bodies, their feet, their hair — knew every step of these paths. They were their childhood alleyways: up, down, down to the port, then up and back home.

‘Mama, I’m here.’

‘Son, go and buy salt and don’t forget the kerosene.’

‘Mama, I lost the money, had it in my hand but Poyraz took it away from me.’

‘When your father comes home, he’ll show you Poyraz!’ ‘Mama, I want to die before you.’

‘What are you saying, daughter?’

‘I love you very much, I cannot live without you, let me die before you.’ ‘And what am I to do then, daughter?’

‘Mama, I saw a white snake in the garden.’

‘What would a snake be doing there? You must’ve seen something else.’

‘Mama, I swear it was a snake. May I go blind if I’m lying.’

All these words surely had been spoken in the houses I saw on my way to the Orthodox Church. And like all childhood words they had been living for years with the now grown-up people — under the pillows or the beds or behind the picture frames. Some of those words also surely lived in the wells that endured their loneliness with dignity in the dark gardens of these houses and allowed people to lower buckets for water. And surely, every time, they found their childhood words in the water drawn from these wells.

‘Mama, the bucket fell into the well.’

‘You clumsy fool.’

‘Mama, the rain is coming into the house under the door.’

‘Mama, I have my period.’

And surely in these houses lived not only these Turkish sentences, but in the depths of the wells or in the foundations or in the ceilings or under the wooden stairs, far below, there were also Greek sentences — voices from back then, because from the time of Homer until 1922, Turkish Greeks had lived here on this island. The Ottoman Empire had collapsed after the First World War, the Germans allied with the Ottomans lost the war against the English, Italians, Greeks, and French, who divided the Ottoman Empire among themselves. Atatürk and his followers continued to fight the occupiers, won that war, and called the new republic the Republic of Turkey. And what did it mean to be a Turk back then? A Turk was a concept of the future. The demise of the Ottoman Empire had left behind fear, trauma, and uncertainty. All Turks were to gather under the umbrella of one nation so they would no longer be afraid, and those who were not Turks were a problem for the new nation. And so the Turkish Greeks had to leave Turkey and the remaining Turks were to gather under this one-nation-umbrella and had to practice becoming-one-nation again and again in order to give birth to this nation.

In 1923 the Turkish Greeks were transported from here to Lesbos and Crete and the Greek Turks, who had lived for centuries in Greece, on Lesbos and Crete, were brought here to this island. They called this the population exchange. But the dead in the graves could not be exchanged, the cemeteries remained, and the languages could not be exchanged. The Greek Turks, who were brought here from Lesbos and Crete, have spoken Greek as well as Turkish for generations, and the Turkish Greeks who were chased from here to Greece — on Lesbos and Crete — have continued to speak Turkish, as well as Greek amongst themselves for generations.

And from both coasts, every evening people see the lights on the other shore where their grandparents lived, and when a Greek drowns off Lesbos the corpse appears here on this Turkish island, and when a Turk drowns here, the corpse washes up on the shores of Lesbos. The winds and the sea exchange the dead and return them to their places of origin. The Orthodox church, which had to stay behind on this island, has been an orphan since 1923: no candles, no mass, no Greeks opening and closing the door. What did the church see back then when the people fled? A wicker chair overturned by the wind, pegs left behind on the clotheslines, leftovers in the cooking pots, a departing person dragging behind a branch of ripe lemons to the ship, a person who regrets not having seen all the corners of the island he has to leave, people apologizing to their dead in the cemeteries before they go, hairs from the skins of the slaughtered animals that accompany the people gliding over the sea, jasmine scent in the air, thousands of unpicked tomatoes in the fields, three pairs of broken glasses in an abandoned house, pillows, mattresses, armchairs — with sleeping abandoned cats and dogs — in the alleyways, a pigeon with a hanging head, cigarette smoke over the Aegean, a padlock on the door of a house to which no-one is ever going to return, the olive trees covered with dust rustling in the wind, the waiting of bewildered, unpicked olives, water still flowing from a tap left on, a glass tea cup left untouched on a table, the table wobbling in the wind, tea trickling into the saucer, figs unpicked, burst or half-eaten by birds on the trees, pomegranates split open on the trees, an abandoned truck full of picked cotton, tufts of cotton blown by the wind into the railing of the loading bay and sticking there, a ladder leaning against a garden wall, a lost left shoe lying on the road, the priest’s fishing equipment forgotten in the church, telegraph poles on the main road, the telegraph’s incessant ticking filling the air; clay jugs for olive oil buried in the soil, without lids, unharvested grapes swarmed with flies, blood from slaughtered animals, two stray horses swimming behind the ships on which their owners sail.
They’re going on a long journey
Looking back at those who stay
From the ship’s upper deck
They won’t come back
They won’t return
They stand as if rooted
As if rooted they stand side by side
Casting a knowing look
at every single one who stayed behind
You cannot stop them
Even if you fall to your knees
Stay, stay here
Would anyone ever stay
The ship sets sail
The journey begins
The ship sets sail, unerring
And then, at some point, deep inside you
Your heart opens — bleeding
The dead will enter
A place they know
From now on you are the burden bearer for the dead.

The Greeks who lit the candles in the Orthodox Church board the ship; the candles are still burning; the dogs wander around the cemetery; fluttering tablecloths in a coffee house by the sea, decapitated heads in the well, the lonesome dog sees his owner’s head and howls. In which phase of the moon and by what wind — Poyraz, Imbat, Lodos or Meltem — did they leave? If ships carried the Turkish Greeks from here to Lesbos and, then the Greek Turks from Lesbos to this island on the same day, the hairs of one would have fluttered backwards and the hairs of the other forwards. Wells full of words. Whispering houses empty of people.

 

From Emine Sevgi Özdamar,  Ein von Schatten begrenzter Raum, Suhrkamp Verlag, 2021

Late Guests

Author: Gertrud Leutenegger
Translator: Kate Roy


Translator’s preface

Having myself lived for many years in Ticino, like the author of Späte Gäste/Late Guests, Gertrud Leutenegger, this extract, in which the innkeeper tells the story of his mother’s youthful infatuation to Serafina and the unnamed narrator, particularly resonates with me, evoking as it does the Sicilian origins of many of those working in the hospitality industry, who hail from just such small towns as Modica on that island, and who return, just like the innkeeper, to visit those places, spaces, and pasts in the summer. There is something particularly Marquezian about the ceremony of the toilet paper squares, about the young woman relentlessly unravelling clouds of toilet paper outside a small toilet outhouse at a saffron yellow coloured station in the middle of nowhere to express her feelings for the man with the bushy eyebrows and chequered jacket, who has captured the poetry of that space, and being captured in words surrounded by those billowing, snowy strips. The image is startlingly cinematic, as is that of those poetry papers waving, against the green wallpaper, above the cot of the child who would later become the innkeeper. I wanted to attempt to capture these word images of Leutenegger’s that had struck me so much on my first reading, and grow them on into another linguistic, and possibly comparative context.

 

Perhaps everything just goes back to the writing on the toilet paper, said the innkeeper, while Serafina and I were getting settled in our rattan armchairs in the loggia, breathing a sigh of relief over the occasional wave of cooler night wind. In the dark of the garden, between the gorse bushes, a floating glow-worm flashed here and there. My mother, the innkeeper continued, must have been in love with the young man who told her one day that he was born in Modica, the son of the former station master, who was transferred after the earthquake of Messina to that city of ruins. Apparently he never got over the fact that he had been ripped out of Modica as a child and replanted in rowdy Messina! Now he was studying at the technical school, he wanted to be an engineer, but from time to time he had to come to Modica station. Absorbed in thought, he used to stand for long hours in the blazing heat of the sun, he never set himself up under the protective veranda of the saffron-yellow station building; it was as if he wanted to become one with the shimmering heat over the tracks and the numbing scent of the wild thyme. The innkeeper’s mother, very young still, sat in the shade in front of the toilet outhouse on her folding chair, beside her the metal dish with its scanty coins on a small, rusty garden table, and observed his rare appearances. The man mostly wore a chequered jacket, which seemed very English to her, and a tie, always. When he came closer to the toilet outhouse, she noticed the reserve in his big dark eyes under those strikingly bushy eyebrows. Somehow under their spell, she didn’t move a finger to count off the squares of toilet paper. Perhaps there was something questioning in her expression, for the young man, as if he had to explain his standing there in silence in front of the train station building, began to recount why he always yearned to return to Modica. If he could just hold out long enough in the boiling heat by the tracks, he would see his father before him, the way he walked in front of the station building at the arrival or departure of a train, in full-dress uniform, he never even missed a train that was just driving straight through. Upright, dignified, unmoving, he would stand there in the air stream and raise his hand in greeting to his red peaked cap, its wings of Hermes shining. And his father seemed to him as if he were the God of Travel himself, of this bittersweet gift of earth that he would yet so often curse. Now the young girl carefully counted off the usual number of squares of toilet paper, and gave him three squares more. She thought she spied a smile in the corner of the young man’s eyes. He pulled a pen out of his jacket pocket, bent down to the wobbly garden table, scribbled a few lines on one of the squares, and gave it back to her. In the evening she took the square home and read it over and over. It spoke of a white dress, naked arms, wind, certain nights in March; it seemed to be a poem, though it didn’t rhyme. But, ah yes, she had worn a white summer dress that day!

Now, when she waited in front of her toilet outhouse, it was only in the hopes of the return of the man with the bushy black eyebrows. No sooner had the signal system set a station bell in motion, than the harsh clanging filled her with an excitement she had never felt before. The clear tone heralded the arrival of a train from Syracuse; with the darker tone, a train from Caltanissetta would arrive. Sometimes the trains almost crossed each other and then a frenetic bell-ringing concert sounded into the blazing heat of the small train station. In just such a moment, after many months had passed, the chequered jacket popped up again among the few travellers. The young woman immediately began to count off toilet paper squares, and when the man came up to the toilet outhouse, she must have glowed as if she had set off the multi-voiced ringing welcome from before for him alone. She unhesitatingly handed him the usual two squares and then, not without a tender ceremoniousness, six more besides. The man looked at her pensively. She felt how she was blushing, and stood up from her folding chair so that he could sit down. He paused frequently while he was writing, but in the end he left her three squares scribbled full. When the man had gone, she read the lines over, still standing in front of the toilet outhouse. A vague sadness ate its way out of the words into her: buried voices and dead angels came from them, marshes, dusty streets, betrayal. Nearly a year would elapse before she would see the young man with the bushy black eyebrows get off the train once more, into a warm twilight. The chequered jacket must have been quite shabby, but frankly she had no eyes for that. A sudden melancholy overcame her and she didn’t know how to fight it back. It seemed to her as if she were seeing the young man for the last time. And, without rising from her folding chair or counting off even one square of paper, she began, slowly and carefully, in perfect silence, to unwind the whole toilet roll. The broad white strips of paper fell relentlessly from her hand to the ground, billowed briefly, casting bizarre folds, and remained peacefully lying there. In the end, she sat motionless amidst her veneration, so extravagantly offered. Only after a long pause, said the innkeeper, did the son of the former station master begin to carefully roll up the toilet paper, and he took it with him. My mother never saw him again. Now and again an envelope arrived for her in the post and inside it lay a square of toilet-paper writings. The postmark was from Rome, then Genova, Milan, until the distance grew immeasurable for her. She married late; on her bedside table she continued to keep a bundle of fully scribbled squares of toilet paper: they described her world, her Modica, the heat, the shadows of the dead, the parched animals, the glistening stones and unquenchable sadness. Perhaps, said the innkeeper, my father let her feel his jealousy about these squares, squares which bound her forever with an inner voice unknown to him; in any case, she must have cleaned out the bedside table after my birth. With the help of thin pieces of adhesive tape, she stuck the toilet-paper writings to the green wallpaper above my cot. In my earliest memories, these squares are waving above me in the wind, or is it the sprays of the white-blooming tamarisk near the house wall that are leaning in?

Serafina was showing unmistakeable signs of sleepiness. The innkeeper said more quietly, just as the son of the station master searched for his father back then in the shimmering over the train tracks, in his red peaked cap with the shining Hermes wings, so too do I see my mother, every time I arrive in Modica, a young woman still, sitting in the twilight in front of the toilet outhouse, surrounded by the strips of toilet paper that have fallen in slow waves and settled quietly into billowy folds, lying around her like snow.

From Gertrud Leutenegger, Späte Gäste, Suhrkamp, 2020.

 

 

Shipping Forecast

Author: Sarah Kirsch
Translator: Angela Hirons

 

I usually rise so early that the radio station I listen to is still silent. Outside in winter I see tiered cowshed lights, and always on cue, a bead of light in the lower right corner of the right window, which slowly and searchingly moves into the middle-left square of the left window, as if on-screen, before suddenly disappearing. In summer I have a view of cows and sheep in the various paddocks and on the dyke, unless they’re concealed by fog. Later, after the coffee machine has done its work, I listen with one ear to the shipping forecast. A worthwhile activity for coastal inhabitants because we know first-hand what it means to bear the brunt of hail, storms, the lashing whip of the sun – plus, we can pinpoint most of the places where the final readings are made at 3 am. Towards the end of the information on wind, temperature and air pressure, the film reel in my mind is invariably set in motion: I hear Mariehamn, west four, fog, one degree, one thousand and nine hectopascals. It’s here I came ashore for three days – Mariehamn is the capital of the Åland Islands, on the border between the Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea. Arriving and leaving in summer fog, the strange enchantment of a place like that makes you wonder whether you were ever there, and if it’s somewhere you might ever find again. Back then I walked along the Nørre Esplanadgaten, a sixfold Lindenallee, when I saw a big Old English sheepdog with a tiny, old grey lady on a lead that could extend and retract. The pale grey fog blotted her out, blossom-like, which is probably why she appeared here this morning, bound to the place name of her abode. It began harmlessly enough – after my trip, which incidentally took me further afield and to some spectacular cities, I happened to catch the shipping forecast as usual, and close to the end, the place name Mariehamn, at which point the speaker always struggles to articulate the last two consonants – then came the ensuing drama: the entrance of the dog and the old lady. One thousand and nine hectopascals. The sheepdog lies in the hall and awaits the start of a new day. His mistress, if you will, has risen and already brewed herself a Koffie, much like me. The sheepdog gets a dog biscuit as she steps over him there in front of the kitchen door, his head already over the threshold – no, his mistress, if that’s what she is, tosses half a teaspoon of cocoa into her coffee pot. She’s a sophisticated one. Oh, and she adds a pinch of salt in there too. Just today? Or does she always do it? We still don’t know each other that well. A dusting of fog surely hangs outside her windows, and hooded crows descend, cloak-like, as they did when I saw them there. The old lady sits in the kitchen with her Koffie and reads from the newspaper that’s bundled up on the floor ready for the rubbish. She reads the paper upside down. Including a sentence about the GDR. Where’s that then? Far south. A Nazi land. She knows Göthe, of course. The little birds in the wood. She knows them better still. Wrens in the blackberry vines. Swarms of snowfinches in the city park at this time of year. The peacocks I saw in summer have been rounded up. By the park wardens. They’re housed in a tall aviary through the winter. The sheepdog, who goes by the name Lasse, gets up now. It’s time to fetch milk. Come on old boy, let’s go! But what you need to know is that our spinster is aware of more than she lets on. For instance, she read Arno Schmidt in the original a few years ago. You wouldn’t guess it offhand. It begs the question from whence the language knows her. Islanders are at home with languages. Learned during the war. Earlier on. Before there were any distractions. A book was always a challenge or an adventure. Someone lightened the load of their suitcase in ‘44. What books did I get passed on to me? Strangely enough, Palisade’s Island and Jeremias Gotthelf’s The Black Spider. And yes, Krambambuli by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, in an army postal service edition. The books helped during a dangerous winter. Dangerous in a personal sense. But come on now, Lasse, it’s all such a long time ago and doesn’t mean much anymore. People, pah! I’m not bitter. I’m going for a walk. That’s how my old lady started out life in my notebook. Mornings came and went; the shipping forecast brought her back to me. There was always something happening there, a bit like here behind the dyke. In February I jotted down, pen flying: my humans are still asleep, apart from the cats. The shipping forecast. Let’s see what’s going on in Mariehamn. South three, rain, three degrees, one thousand and two hectopascals. I could really picture it too. One thousand and two hectopascals where the old lady is – that’s a bit much, and just when the decorating’s underway, as it is here.  Everything’s on hold because the weekend has disrupted her workman’s plans. She went to school with him sixty years ago. He still has two days’ work to do, then he wants to prime and paint her boat. A nice friendly black on the outside this time. And waxed on the inside. The sheepdog looks a touch grey from the workman’s dust. He shakes himself, wants to go for a walk. It’s high time now, just before seven. But it’s raining heavily. My old lady sets her reading glasses to one side, drinks her Koffie. Gösta, she says to the dog, since that’s his name, not Lasse – I misheard. So she says: Gösta, only half an hour mind, and not on the cliffs. Come on then! Oh no, a button’s come off. I’ll put it here on the dresser; will you remind me? Now they go, and the door slams shut. The stripped lime trees hang full of crystals, a phantastic image, the rain fine and the wind barely a whisper. They turn a corner and I lose them from sight, from sense. Because I’m watching the peacocks and wondering if they’re coping with the climate here. But winter will soon be over. True – in T. I need to check whether the tortoise is still sleeping. Think on it when the days get lighter. We both have things to do. This one later finds in her notes: 1st March. Every morning I look to see if the trees are still there. The dead ones too. Shipping forecast. Storm front, intensifying over Jutland. I want to hear about Mariehamn and be able to imagine it. North one, minus three, nine hundred and seventy-three. Very interesting. The sheepdog goes skidding down the garden steps with our old lady. Gösta, watch where you’re going! she says, and him: you need to cut my eyes free again! We’ll do it as soon as we get back. But use the curved nail scissors, I prefer those. You can keep your eyes shut. I’ll be careful. You just need to trust me and stay still, no twitching. Easier said than done, grumbles the sheepdog.  But the sky they’re walking under looks black, and two unsettling, white weather trees are unfurling in it. Sky theatre. The old lady’s tormenting me. I only have to hear the name Mariehamn in the shipping forecast and she’s standing there, or Gösta is. I’ve had enough. I turn the dial again quickly when the shipping forecast is announced. I want to be free again! She needs to disappear, along with her mangy dog that doesn’t even have a proper tail, that’s what it’s come to…. What’s complicated about the whole thing is that because I’ve seen her in person – the little grey dear, my old lady – I keep thinking she exists by my design, and that’s why she can’t be killed off like any old made-up character you might find in a popular novel. And damn it, love plays a part too! I’ve vowed to let her die and to give her the best send-off. I know the cemetery, and the Saltvik-Kirka with the pale blue benches. But what will I do about Gösta? He’ll lie on the grave and howl for evermore.

 

From Sarah KIrsch,  Schwingrasen, DVA/ Penguin Random House, 1991.

Poacher

Author: Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker
Translator: Alexandra Roesch

 

Translator’s Note
Told with great sensitivity and authenticity, Kaiser-Mühlecker unfolds a powerful story about rural life, its archaic and precarious violence, about the meaning of family, and a tender chance for love.

 

As soon as Jacob stepped into the clear, ice-cold, amber-coloured water, which was barely ankle-high at this point, he spotted the bitch a stone’s throw away, standing with her forelegs splayed out in front of a deep spot, seemingly staring into the water, which was taking on a grey colour similar to that of the silt lying under the topsoil in the wetlands here. Jacob could see the muscles twitching above her withers. Although the sound of the stream was not very loud, more like a gurgle, it was loud enough for her not to hear him. Step by step he made his way through the water darting away beneath him. The stones, polished and covered with algae or moss, felt soft and slippery, and only occasionally did he step on something sharp; he did not always recognise what it was, as the sun’s rays penetrating the canopy or rather the undergrowth made the surface of the water gleam, blinding him and causing him to step more carefully. Landa was only a short distance away. A few metres. He had almost reached her. Two, three breaths. Jacob untied the knot he had made in the lead and took one last step and reached for the bitch, but before he could grab her, something sharp penetrated the sole of his foot with such force that he groaned, and although the pain did not make him stop, the brief delay was enough to allow the bitch jump away to the side. She shook herself as if she knew she had the time, that he was too slow or could not move any faster because his foot hurt and the water was getting deeper, and so she ran on as if nothing had happened, as if he had not just ordered her to come to him with a sharp command.

‘Damned bitch,’ Jacob hissed and pulled his foot up and looked at the sole; bright red blood, thin, thin as the water with which it was merging, was oozing from the ball of his foot right under the big toe. ‘You stupid bloody bitch. I’ll kill you.’

He knotted the lead in front of his belly and ran up the creek with hardly a thought for his feet, which were growing more and more numb from the coldness of the water. He ran and ran. Shouted her name again and again. It was a hunt that he had lost from the outset, a hunt in which the hunter never once got to see the hunted, a hunt that he did not give up, could not give up. It took him a long time to admit to himself that it was pointless to keep running, to keep limping along, because he would not catch up with her or track her down, and then he gave up. He was hoarse and bruised, bruised and hoarse. There was no sign of the bitch. Jacob climbed out of the stream and took the road back. He walked as if he had logs tied to his feet. As if he had no toes. He walked like a penguin. Every now and again someone came towards him, someone overtook him, a few times a car tooted at him; each time he just raised his chin a little or, with those coming from behind, his hand, not even paying any attention to who it was.

When he arrived home, his boxers were still wet and stuck to him. His feet and legs ached and were numb at the same time: likewise his cock – all he could feel was a dull pulsing inside it. The front door stood open as before, just as he had left it. His mother and father were sitting in the kitchen having breakfast; piano music was playing on the radio, clinking tinnily like everything that came out of that box, and two mosquitoes were sitting on the plastic crucifix on the wall.

He went into the boiler room, put the mug – the John Deere mug, his favourite – with the lukewarm, too weak coffee on the stepladder, took off his boxers and hung them on the clothes rack. He pulled his knees up a few times and felt a little better afterwards. He took dry underwear and a pair of trousers from the rack and got dressed. His socks were hanging over his wellies; he took them, plucked off a few bits of straw and slipped them over his still numb feet. His toes were white, as if dead; when he touched them, he felt nothing. Then he stepped into his boots and reached for the dust mask. He took the ear defenders with the built-in radio from the hook, turned one of the two small dials and put the defenders on. The seven o’clock news was on; he turned it down a little; there was still no mention of anything else but the plague. He reached for the mug and left the boiler room; taking a sip every few steps, he went into the stable. For a moment he had even forgotten about Landa, but when he put down the empty black mug with its image of a yellow, leaping deer in a green field, just anywhere, as always, he remembered that the bitch was not in her place at his side and, in the next few hours, while he finally began to feel his feet again, he kept looking out for her. It wasn’t until eleven that she suddenly returned, and if she had appeared sooner, Jacob would have been furious and would have roared at her and maybe even given her a belting; but after all those hours, he had passed that point, and so he pressed his lips together and said nothing, only beckoned her towards him and stroked her, the suddenly obedient creature, on her head.

‘Yes, Landa. Yes.’

Landa looked at him, narrowed her eyes and, when he stopped stroking her, moved away from him and stretched out in the shade, no longer lifting her head. Jacob followed her, crouched down beside her and stroked her some more. He saw dried blood on her front paws and thought of his own foot: a deep cut across the ball of his foot that didn’t hurt.

‘Did you hurt yourself too, Landa?’

But even before he saw that she had blood on her flank, he knew that it wasn’t hers.

[…]

***

The nights were long, still. They gained what seemed to be excess length from the empty days that seemed squeezed out, that brought hardly any light, only a few hours of twilight. At night, it froze, during the day it thawed again; earth, dirt, dead grass, decaying leaves and small and large stones that stuck to your boots. In the mornings, wisps of mist often hovered motionless over the pools that had formed on the trampled pasture; never anything with any substance; always just wisps. Apples still hung on some of the trees, red-black and shrivelled. Where it hadn’t been mowed again in autumn, the grass lay pale yellow, as if it had fallen over itself, on the dark, wet ground.

Night. No moon. No stars. It had to be about half past one. The hour of the ox. That was the name of that time of night in Japan. That’s what they said. Yes, it was all connected. The young cow that had suddenly started limping had been standing next to the ox. Yes. And his breath, too, in the glow of the headlamp that had been fading for days, was thick and heavy like the steam that rose from the damp muzzle of an ox. Or like the smoke from his grandfather’s pipe. The motorway roared louder than ever, and you could even hear the whirring of electricity in the high-voltage line. Jacob thought about how he had never consciously been aware of these sounds before he had been in the army, and how they had almost driven him mad when he returned.

He had often thought he would go mad because it just never got quiet. Each lorry was followed by the next, announcing itself long before the roar of the bridge with a hum of an unbearable frequency, almost a screech. Then there had been phases when the noise had bothered him less. Lately, however, he had been wearing his ear defenders more often. When the radio was on, it was harder to concentrate at work, but for some activities it didn’t matter and he liked listening to those pleasant voices and at the same time not listening, to understand and at the same time not understand; his thoughts, his perceptions and these voices merged together and became a kind of music, or a kind of language that only he understood in which everything could be said, in which everything was said, a world that existed nowhere else and to which only he had access and which had become more and more of a refuge to him over the years. It was a bit like a dream, because you couldn’t really speak about that either; if you did, the dream disappeared, or what constituted it: the feeling you had experienced. Certain similarities, somehow, and yet it was completely different. A few times he had tried to tell Katja about it, but she had never said anything about it, but had looked at him a little strangely instead; that was when he had understood that he couldn’t make anyone understand these feelings – and that he wasn’t allowed to, either, if he wanted to keep them.

Jacob’s senses were hyper-acute, even more acute than normal, but on the other hand he felt numb. He glanced over his shoulder. No light could be seen in the house. Even Luisa was asleep at half past one. And Marlon always slept through the night anyway. A great boy. Jacob’s pride and joy, who meant everything to him and for whom he would have given his life without thinking about it. At the same time, he didn’t think about him often; he often forgot him; sometimes he didn’t even notice him when he was next to him. Carefully, so as not to make a noise, he opened the gate to the workshop,

‘It’s me,’ he said unnecessarily; he said it in a hushed voice.

As usual, Axel only briefly raised his head. Jacob stepped over to him, squatted down and stroked him. Somehow, he wanted to say something to him, but nothing came; he patted him a few times. How thick his fur had become.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘yes, Axel.’

Then he straightened up and went to the back. The sky-blue tow rope with the galvanised carabiner hung from the hook from which the chains for the woodwork and also a few thinner ones that were still there from the cowshed were also hanging. He took it down and threw it over his shoulder, grabbed the stepladder and walked with it into the middle of the workshop. He unfolded the ladder and adjusted it. It was a good ladder. Sturdy. And it was high. Suddenly, from somewhere, the sound of a moped. Who was that so late? He recognised some by the sound, but it wasn’t one of the ones he knew. He climbed the ladder and put the rope over the pulley hanging from the ceiling and tried to see if the wheel would move freely. Yes, it did. It did not squeak. He climbed down and folded the ladder. The tinny clang. He carried it back to its place. Leaned it against the wall. Then he took off his jacket and laid it on the workbench. Rolling up his sleeves, he walked over to Axel, untied him and stepped back underneath the pulley.

‘Come, Axel,’ he said quietly.

The dog raised its head, then it quickly got up, shook and stretched itself and came. The lead dragged across the ground like a snake.

‘Come here.’

Jacob crouched down and stroked him, hugged him; the dog stood still.

‘Axel,’ he said. ‘Axel.’

Without stopping his stroking, he took the end of the dog’s lead, slowly stood up, reached for the carabiner dangling above him and hooked the lead in it; then he reached for the other end of the rope and pulled on it, putting one hand in front of the other, and it almost felt like when he used to milk the cows by hand. He did it slowly so as not to frighten the dog, but the moment the rope tightened and began to pull on him, Axel resisted and braced himself. Even though it was harder now, Jacob continued to pull relentlessly. Axel jerked his head back and forth, trying to free himself from the noose the collar had become. As if he understood what was happening here, that someone who looked and smelled and sounded like his master but could not be his master was about to strangle him, he jumped at Jacob and snatched at his arm, but did not get hold of it; Jacob had pulled back in time. But somehow the dog had caught him after all; there were bite marks, scratches that immediately began to bleed. Still, Jacob felt nothing but a brief burning in the tense muscles of his forearm; quickly he pulled up the animal, which shook the rope so much that Jacob feared it might jump out of the guide. He stopped pulling and tied the rope to the vice. The dog, which had been almost silent until then, now howled and, without thinking, Jacob grabbed it by the hind legs and pulled on it, hanging on to it with all his weight. Almost immediately, the yelp died down. Jacob, his hands in front of his face, eyes closed, knees just barely above the ground, almost like a supplicant. The trembling of the animal’s body shook him, and there was a choking in his throat as if the noose was tightening around his neck too. Again he thought he heard a moped, and again it was gone a moment later. Like before. Exactly the same sound as before. Where was it coming from? Could it just be in his head? And it was also the same hour as before. This has nothing to do with then, he told himself. It is different. It has nothing to do with then. You can’t walk through water without getting your feet wet. Wasn’t that exactly what they had said on the radio today, weren’t those exactly the words he had been looking for and hadn’t found for himself, words that helped him and guided him and, it seemed to him, in a way also absolved him? You can’t walk through water … no, you can’t. The old life has to end, and this was the last thing left to do. At last the twitching grew less; it finally stopped altogether. Jacob let go of the limp hind legs. Sank to his knees. Took some deep breaths. Then he got up and walked over to Axel’s place, picked up the blanket the dog had been lying on, pulled it over to the carcass and spread it out. You could still see the reddish-brown spots from the lice that Landa had once struggled with. He released the rope from the vice and lowered the carcass. He untied the rope from the lead and loosened the collar with a jerk as if he didn’t want the dog to be strangled any further. A final, horrible sound came from the carcass: the air escaping the body; then it was as silent as before.

 

From Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlacker, Wilderer.  © 2022 by S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Hedderichstr. 114, D-60596 Frankfurt am Main

Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and then Life Will Start

Author: Necati Oziri
Translator: Cristina Burack

 

When you read this, Papa – and already I’m stuck. Should I call you that? I know that Aylin calls you that when she’s talking about you – on extremely rare occasions, don’t go getting any ideas. But unlike with me, you two were still smiling as you let Aylin soar between you, one hand in yours, one hand in Mama’s and then up we go. She tells me these kinds of things every once in a while, when she and I are in a good place. And like this memory, Aylin also still has the word “Papa” from that time. She learned it as if it were a totally normal word. It’s different for me. I’ve often tried it out: Papa? Father? Baba? Saying the word aloud isn’t actually that hard, it’s just I can’t continue. Even stranger than saying “Papa” is hearing myself say it. It sounds like a word from a different language, one that I picked up or read somewhere. It sounds fake when I use it. How do you say “Papa” so that you can’t hear a question mark? Until I have an answer, I’ll stick with Murat. So: When you read this, Murat, I will already be dead.  

During my first internship at the theater, the director had the actors sit on the floor in a circle and gave them a writing assignment:  “Pick a sentence that you, under pain of death, can say belongs to you, that is part of your very being, and then ask yourself who you would be without this sentence.” The director strutted across the dance floor. “For example, the sentence: ‘I’m scared of silent rooms.’ Or: ‘I do everything for my children.’ What would your day, your life look like, if this secret fear hiding behind every encounter were suddenly gone? Or when what you had always believed in disappeared from one moment to the next, or when the reason you leave the house every morning suddenly wasn’t there? And now start writing.”

 I was sitting in a corner of the rehearsal stage, silently sorting a pile of copies, and I asked myself what sentence I would shed. I’ve since realized what it is. It goes: “Tomorrow I’ll wake up and then life will start.” 

I’ve often imagined what it would be like if you had died. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never wished for your death. I don’t think you’re a bad person. Quite the opposite. After prison you probably became the most gentle, loving father in the world. You probably come home from work late in the evening, when your second wife is already in the bedroom, lying on her side of the bed. She must be wearing pink satin pajamas, like the ones you gave Mama for her birthday even though we didn’t have the money for them. (I also know this story from Aylin). Your second wife might be reading a magazine with pictures of expensive furniture, a cucumber mask on her face, her hair wrapped in a towel. She hears the key turning in the lock. She’s been waiting for it all evening. A quick glance at the clock: “Later than usual,” she thinks and remembers how hard you work every day. She knows nothing about your life before prison, your life in Germany; she doesn’t know that you work so much because you don’t want to screw up your second life the way you did your first. So you come home, a stressful day, the office telephone still ringing in your head; you close the door behind you, softly, no one should hear you; you carefully hang up your coat on top of the other jackets and place your shoes next to those stupid dinosaur rubber boots that all the rich kids have. You enter this new apartment as quietly as you left ours back then, when you slipped out of your pregnant wife’s bed during the night. You packed no bag and left no note, and yet Mama immediately knew what was going on when she woke up and the picture frame on the bedside table that had held Aylin’s photo was empty. 

Now: A note from your wife on the living room table. “There’s manti in the microwave and yogurt in the fridge.” Be honest, Murat, she can’t cook, can she? Of course not, you wouldn’t love a woman who feels fulfilled by being in the kitchen. She would remind you too much of your mother, make you feel too much like your father, the general who also wanted to make you into a general. And because your wife can’t cook, you scarfed down a şiş kebab at your old revolutionary pal Serkan Amca’s place. He’s back too, right?  

So you walk past the manti in the microwave; you see a light is still on in the bedroom; you loosen your tie, plant a kiss on your wife’s green creamed-up forehead, maybe quickly exchange words: “Don’t wake him.” “Don’t worry.” Then back into the hallway, the wood floor groaning under your feet. (Black socks. After the slammer the first thing you did was buy enough to fill an entire drawer. That’s the first step to an orderly life.) You crack open the door at the end of the hallway. A beam of light falls over a black wavy-haired head at the end of the bed, underneath the window. You take a step onto the rug, one with streets and parks and whatnot. Be careful you don’t slip on a car in the dark and break your neck, Murat. You sit down on the edge of your youngest son’s bed, put one hand on the bedspread that’s pulled up to his shoulder and with the other stroke his fingers. You imagine he can sense it in his sleep: You are there. Even if another military coup took place tonight, even if they came tomorrow to bring you in, even if at this very moment a friend of the soldier who you killed busted in through the child’s window to get revenge for his friend. You are there. And while you’re thinking this, you hear him breathing softly. Outside are minarets behind the treetops that rustle in the wind. Moon, stars, everything there.  

This image stays fixed in my mind for a moment, as if it were the last page of a children’s book. But do you know what happens next, Murat? Your gaze moves from the night sky back to the closed almond eyes of your son, his narrow mouth, his child’s nose, and very briefly, just for a millisecond, you think about us.  

Suddenly two silhouettes are standing in the room, two shadow children who are looking at you – silently, barefoot; Aylin, at my side, has wrapped her arm around my shoulders. You don’t recognize our faces because you don’t know what we looked like at that age. But you know that we have been watching you the whole time. You stand up, walk past us, lie down next to your second wife. “Everything okay, sweetie?” – ” Yes, just tired.” You turn out the light, and when your son wakes up in the morning, he’ll notice that I parked all the cars in new places on the rug during the night. 

Murat, I wouldn’t even think of writing this now if I believed that you were the kind of asshole father who would beat my little brothers every day. I have to admit, I do sometimes also imagine that: How you slam the door behind you to find your worn-out wife fighting with the kids, how the first thing you do is give them all a bitch slap so that things quiet down for just a moment. I often saw your comrade Serkan Amca doing exactly this in his home. You sit down, annoyed, on the couch or collapse onto a table covered in bills, and while the rest of the family is scared silent or screams at each other or cries, you ask yourself how the hell you managed to end up in this situation a second time. And then you lift your head, and once again I’m there. I’m sitting on the couch, channel surfing, while you lose it.  

And there’s also a third scenario that I sometimes imagine: You’re dead. No idea why. Maybe because an Islamist climbed into your world through the window and bumped you off out of revenge; maybe because your frustrated second wife watched you, smoking all the while, as you slowly choked on an olive during breakfast; maybe also because you simply surrendered in your last days, drooling and demented. (Come to think of it, how old are you now?) At any rate, you’ve died and I attend your funeral, which takes place in a solemnly decorated banquet hall. I cross the room in, let’s say, a white linen suit, stand in front of your coffin, bouquet in hand, and note with relief that you don’t have any baldness you could have passed on to me. The others in the hall begin to whisper: “Who the devil is that young man?” Only one or two comrades from bygone days – Serkan Amca is also here – realize: “Shit, it’s him!” I would stride over to the lectern and talk to your pale face. What about? Who could possibly know, Murat? I would definitely not ask why you left us; nothing interests me less than launching into a Papa-where-were-you number. But the reasons why you couldn’t stand it in Germany anymore – that I would want to know. Why you went back to Turkey of your own volition, even though you knew they would greet you at the airport with handcuffs and immediately lock you up for eighteen years. I would ask you if you really killed multiple people. If you remember their faces, their names, their fear. How you managed to set your pistol on the forehead of a man made to kneel in front of you in the street, his red military cap in his shaking hands, crying as he begged you in the name of his newborn daughter not to pull the trigger, and how you nevertheless did it and left the body lying in front of you before jumping into the car of other terrorist fathers and beating it. I ask myself what your voice sounded like as you told him “Get on your knees.” And whether you hesitated for an instant. I would ask you whether you’re haunted by the souls of the people you killed or whether you’re hugging each other now that you’re dead too. I would want to know whether I am the son of a convinced assassin, a revolutionary, freedom fighter, putschist, terrorist. (What did you all call yourselves?) Or whether you sort of just fell into things and at some point were in too deep to extract yourself. Whether you were a leftist, but nevertheless nationalist asshole whose bedside table held not only a photo of your daughter but also one of Mustafa Kemal. I mean, I don’t know, Murat, maybe we would also chat about soccer or women or how you hooked up with my mother while she was translating your indictment into German for your asylum case. There would be one critical factor in the whole scene: Because you are dead, you have no choice but to remain silent. And that also means: You could no longer intentionally decide not to tell me anything.  

If you’re dead, there’s no chance that I’ll pick up the phone and just call you – both the easiest and most impossible thing in the world – and no chance that you’ll hang up as soon as you know whose voice you’re hearing at the other end of the line. And even if you didn’t hang up, Murat, and we actually set a date to meet – let’s say in a kahvehane, in other words, on neutral territory – you still might sit down in the chair in front of me, two glasses of cay between us, and answer all my questions, at times hemming and hawing, at times searching for words, but you would answer, because you would know that after twenty-five years I have the right to know. Only once I’m through with all my questions, you still might not ask me anything in return. Absolutely nothing. In the worst-case scenario, you would simply wait until the cay between us gets cold, and then you would say goodbye and leave. Do you get what I mean? Fuck your honest answers or your lies. What would be much worse is if you didn’t want to know anything about me when it was your turn. But the dead are mute and cannot refuse to speak to you. You couldn’t ignore me. I would be forced to talk about myself because it wouldn’t make sense anymore to wait for you to prompt me.  

And now it’s the other way around. You don’t die, Murat, I do. I’m lying in a bed in the intensive care unit. Organ failure. My liver decided not to play along anymore. It’s not a metaphor in a coming-of-age novel for immigrant lowlifes or something. It’s much simpler: Cables rise from my neck, connecting my heart to a whirring machine, which is why I can barely turn my head without feeling pain that shoots all the way down my spine. Only when I need to go to the bathroom am I allowed to carefully undo the clips. My right arm is covered in blue spots, puncture points, as many as Mama has moles on her back. They are the stamps of my daily blood-taking; each point means a new blood analysis, bringing with it the news of whether I still have a few days to live. The analysis printouts lie next to me on the windowsill, the pile growing bigger week by week. Every night I painstakingly transfer them into tables on my laptop: GGT, GOT, GPT … The abbreviations here in the hospital are more complicated than anything I had to deal with at the Foreigners’ Office. I try to document my death and in the evening, when fear keeps me from sleeping, I look at the colorful graphs and imagine I understand what it all is leading to. On the little table next to my bed lies a notepad, every page filled with the same sentence: “My name is Arda Yilmaz, and I am doing well.”  The doctors tell me I should write down the same sentence every day. It’s supposedly possible to tell from my handwriting how extensive the deposits of toxic substances in my brain are, the ones my liver would normally filter, and whether the damage is permanent. Personally, I can’t see any difference in the blue letters except that sentence by sentence and day by day, I try less, and hope disappears from my sentences. 

Some mornings, a whole brigade of lab-coat-wearing pricks barges in: senior physicians, attending physicians, chief physicians, assisting physicians, student interns. The most senior pricks gesture to me as if they were weighing some nuts in their hands, while the less important pricks nod and take notes. They don’t explain anything to me. They don’t even speak to me. This also reminds me of the Foreigners’ Office, where the civil servant with the beer belly never spoke to me or Aylin but instead referred to us in the third person. He would say, in Germany, every person needs this or that document, and we were allowed to subsume ourselves in this category, as they so nicely put it. A similar monologue is delivered here, this one about the future trajectory of your existence. Amidst all this, the most they do is ask me questions: whether I can still say my name, what year we’re in, when my birthday is. A couple of times I acted as if I didn’t know in order to see their reaction. There wasn’t any. The lab coats once raised their eyebrows in acknowledgement after I first told them my birthday and then went on to explain that all the information in my passport was entirely meaningless. As for why – that didn’t interest them. But the fact that my brain was still able to communicate this – definitely. Despite all that, I would still give each of them a smooch if one were able to keep me from leaving the hospital feet first.

But the most absurd part of the situation, Murat, plays out at the foot of my bed. Aylin and Mama are sitting there. After ten years of not exchanging a single word with each other, they’re sitting there, and neither of them is reaching for a syringe to stab in the other one’s neck. They spent the whole day here, and they’ll be here again tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and who knows how many days after that. The only thing they know is that soon they will be each other’s only family – that is, unless someone with a matching liver and my blood type who is also a registered organ donor has a fatal car accident very nearby that happens to leave their internal organs unscathed. In other words: Our time is running out, Murat, with every line. 

Have you also ever imagined that I am dead? You don’t know, of course, that I’m lying here right now. Just in case next year, contrary to expectations, you get the idea to pick up the phone or appear before my door to only then learn that you are unfortunately too late, I’ll write it down for you here. You should know who I was. So you never get the chance that I have secretly dreamed of so often: Getting the silent treatment from the dead. I want to forever deny you the opportunity to not know who I was. You should find out how things went for your family in Germany, what the last summer of my youth was like before nearly all my friends were deported or landed in rehab clinics or, like you, had to go to prison, not for instigating a putsch but for wanting to survive. You should know how much it was raining on the day Aylin ran away from home, how she whispered “I’m sorry” in my ear, closed the front door and never came back. You should know how your ghost also constantly watched me here, when your old friends patted me on the back and said I would one day be like you: the hero of a failed revolution.

I will write down this story for you and my little brother, who is currently sitting unsuspectingly on his car rug.  So he can know whose father his father was, so that he learns to treasure all the time and love he got from you. 

It’s nearly as impossible for me to use “I” here as it is for me to suddenly start saying “Papa.” The word “Papa” sounds wrong after it is spoken aloud; trying to say “I” makes me stumble, triggers a cavernous pain, makes my tongue cramp. “I” was never I, “I” was always someone else, especially now. So I’m going to act as if this weren’t my story. I will constantly lie, Murat, nothing is right, but every word is true.

In the only photo I have of you, you’re wearing a pair of thick gold glasses. You’ve got a moustache and under your left eye, between your beard and the arm of your glasses, you have a mole. You’re reclining on a leather couch, a cigarette stub in your mouth and Aylin in your lap. She is laughing, tickling you, as you try to play elli bir with the bald Serkan Amca, who sits across from you. Mama isn’t in the photo. She probably stood up, hauled her round belly into a corner of the room and took the photo. Unlike Serkan Amca, who smiles lightheartedly, you ignore the camera. Or at least you act like you do. Despite the thick glasses, you hold the cards directly in front of your nose. You didn’t want anyone to be able to recognize your face, am I right?  You already knew that you would be gone by the time the film was developed and didn’t know what expression to leave behind for me. Just like I won’t leave you a photo now. So instead I’ll describe myself: Your son had thick black curls, just like his mother and his sister. He used to have a tall, smooth forehead, but since starting the cortisone treatment, it’s become covered in a pus-filled rash that extends over the nape of his neck and across his back. When he hid his slender face from the world in his girlfriend’s blond curls, she would always say she could hear his brain mechanically rattling away behind his forehead. He had imposing eyebrows that looked a little like the Nike swoosh, and underneath them the eyes of his mother, but darker, almost black, deep-set. Your son had your narrow mouth, the thin lips. And he had, like you, a black mole under his left eye. His father’s mark. Sometimes a mischievous smile would flash across his face. Whenever he and his girlfriend had a serious fight, she would always call it his best argument. 

While speaking these sentences in front of the bathroom mirror, practice for writing them out, he covers his father’s mark with his index finger. He asks himself what his face would look like without it. When he removes his finger from his skin, the mark is no longer there. It’s stuck to his fingertip. Arda takes a breath, closes his eyes and blows it away.
.

Necati Öziri, Morgen wache ich auf und dann beginnt das Leben.  2021.  Published by permission of Ullstein Verlag.,

Nastja’s Tears

Author: Natascha Wodin
Translator: Deborah Langton

 

Translator’s Preface
     This absorbing and compelling read tells of Nastja’s experience of coming from Kiev to work in Berlin to earn the money she cannot earn at home.
     Nastja’s story is narrated to us by Natascha Wodin herself. It is discreetly interwoven with historical and political information about Ukraine, Crimea, the old Soviet Union and the new Russia. The subtlety with which this is achieved ensures that the book stays a book about Nastja and her home country, Ukraine, and not (yet) another book about the Wall coming down.
     There is an extraordinary range of action and ideas included in a mere 182 pages.  I think this is achieved by the highly effective device of there being virtually no direct speech as well as by Wodin’s writing style. She recounts in the writer’s voice – clear, strong, objective, quiet in tone, and yet still able to paint a most absorbing narrative.

 

Now in possession of a residence permit, she felt she could indulge in occasional forays through the city streets, a spring in her step even after a ten-hour day. She walked and walked, pausing here and there only to check her rucksack for reassurance that the miracle-working document that allowed her all this walking was still there. Only now did she take in anything of her surroundings, simply because she was no longer on the run.

Berlin was still in celebratory chaos following the Fall of the Wall. Nastja’s favourite route took her round the district of Prenzlauer Berg where the streets were filled with characters and scenarios never before seen by the girl from Kiev. For one thing, there was dancing in the street, then the most daring of fire-eaters showing off their art, here an exuberant Eastern European street band, and there a man in shorts was parading his tattoos, the Statue of Liberty on his right thigh, the Eiffel Tower on his left. And look, a young woman with long hair the colour of the greenest grass, then another, sporting long lace-up boots, her hair the colour of straw and wound round her head as one fat, matted dreadlock. The run-down buildings, crumbling here and there and reminding Nastja of dried-out cake, were bright with painted daubs and scribbles as if  extra-terrestrials had passed by and left indecipherable signs. Many buildings boasted makeshift balconies of scaffolding, cleverly transformed into seating areas by residents as they climbed out of windows, adding a chair or two and even the odd sofa. There was no escaping the din of jackhammers, relentlessly reshaping this world into something different, something new, something Nastja couldn’t picture at all.

Back in Ukraine she hadn’t ever realised how comforting it had been to believe there was a better world than hers. Now she’d arrived in the better world, she’d lost that comfort. No promise just beyond the horizon, no place to focus her thoughts on, no Land of Dreams to step into.

And yet she liked what she saw. She marvelled at the number of children out and about, babies wrapped in colourful cloth slings, proudly carried by their mothers, by fathers, too, toddlers in pushchairs or on the kiddie seat of a grown-up’s bike, or in a trailer on the back. Other children were running here and there, playing with random dogs nobody seemed scared of, or darting about on little wooden scooters. In Ukraine all this would have been unthinkable. Back home, children were clucked over and sheltered, shielded from every possible draught, constantly watched in case they took a tumble or did something they weren’t supposed to. Children didn’t usually appear on the street, and if they did it was firmly holding Mum’s hand. Nobody took children on daily errands and in any case, in Kiev, people didn’t walk through the streets without a purpose and destination, like going to the metro or a shop. Here it was different, people seemed to be in the streets for the fun of it, strolling, chatting, casually dressed, almost carelessly, some sitting in street cafés, others enjoying the sun on a seat outside their doorways, or  just sitting on patches of grass, many reading the while. Everyone had someone to smile at, everyone seemed to know everyone else, to have a secret to share. Beers, filled rolls and cakes were on sale from ground-floor windows while the regular shops, partially obscured by scaffolding poles, offered a display of vegetables and fruit the like of which Nastja had never seen, fresh herbs she couldn’t even begin to identify, impossibly shiny red apples without a blemish.

Often you had only to cross the street to put yourself in another world. She would roam Berlin as if crossing in and out of different countries, their shared feature being languages she hadn’t mastered.  The Roman alphabet was all over the place, she could read it but rarely understood anything. Here she was, living in shame like an illiterate, for the German language remained mercilessly, relentlessly alien to her, as if refusing to pass through her lips, as if she, Nastja, wasn’t good enough. She felt it would be a betrayal to let German in, a betrayal of the world she came from, the world that would always be hers, however wretched and desolate it might be.

From time to time she’d happen upon a Ukrainian street musician, playing the fiddle or an accordion in some underpass or square, mostly familiar Ukrainian folk melodies, tunes she knew well. One of them, sitting together with his accordion on the steps to the Reichstag, told her how several times a year he’d take some illegal route or other through Poland and spend a month in Berlin, playing his music on the street by day and sleeping in the backroom of a Russian restaurant by night. Then he’d travel back to his village in Ukraine, to his family, who could live for a good three or four months on the proceeds, allowing him a fair bit of time at home before he had to set off again on the forbidden route to Berlin.

Just this short exchange with a fellow countryman stirred anew the homesickness that had become the underlying emotion in her life. It had been so long since she’d seen Slava, pale and lean, his two front teeth missing, the boy who wanted to be a magician someday and had always said so bravely that he wasn’t hungry, not at all, you should eat something yourself, Nana. She longed to see her close friends again, women like Shlyapka, with her collection of crazy hats, Sonechka with her chestnut curls and those unexplained bouts of stammering, Lenka, so quiet and old-fashioned, a bit like a governess out of the last century, but given to the funniest of remarks that had everyone in stitches. As for her daughter, Vika, it had yet again been months since she’d had any news.

One day she could no longer resist the temptation and made her way from Wedding to the city-centre address of the unknown couple alleged to be her Jewish parents. There was the name beneath the door-bell. Katz. Piotr had clearly exploited facts to create the fiction. Baruch and Rosa Katz really did exist. Peering at the name-plates, she guessed they were on the first floor and just to the left, but had no idea a woman with the same name in her passport was standing outside. It was one of those semi-derelict buildings, its flaked exterior showing the usual darkened masonry, the three first-floor windows decked with grime, a faded house-plant pressing its last, wilted leaves against the muck-obscured window pane. Nastja had crossed to the other side of the street, and just as she was gazing up at the windows and imagining Mr and Mrs Katz behind them, the main door opened and out came an elderly lady with a shopping bag. To Nastja she looked very Ukrainian, dressed in a floral frock, her eyebrows heavily pencilled, and with every step her downtrodden shoes scuffed the tarmac. Nastja’s heart was pounding. Was this the woman whose name she’d appropriated? Any minute she might turn her head, glance over, and then she’d recognise her … Nastja stood as if paralysed for one, long moment, then collected herself and walked away.

 

Excerpted from Natascha Wodin, Nastjas Tränen,  © 2021 by Rowohlt Verlag GmbH, Hamburg.

Everything We Don’t Recall

Author: Christiane Hoffmann
Translator: Jo Heinrich

Translator’s Preface
Christiane Hoffmann’s creative non-fiction narrative retraces the journey her father Walter had to take as a nine-year-old boy during the Second World War, when the Russians were closing in on the Germans. Like almost a fifth of all Germans by the end of the War, they became refugees: he and his family left their homes and travelled 550km west to a town now at the far western border of the Czech Republic. Hoffmann retraces the entire route on foot and the result is this book; this excerpt is from the opening pages.

I set off at eight in the morning. After just a few steps, the village is behind me, the grey houses and the colourful ones, the abandoned houses and the ones where only an old woman still lives, the houses with young families, the barns with their sagging roofs, and the pale church tower. The village is left behind, as it’s so often been left behind, silent, loyal and full of compassion for all those who have no choice but to leave and go here or there.

The stone angel gives me its blessing and the two-legged village sign nods to me, grinning with its crooked red mouth, the name Różyna crossed through from bottom left to top right. Then I’m alone on the country road, and the wind rolls over me.

The clouds lie over the wide landscape like a grey quilt, and only on the horizon, where the crests of the Riesengebirge mountains reach the sky, is there a shimmering stripe of blue. The ash trees along the road lean south; mistletoe hangs in their bare branches, black like charred Christmas baubles.

It’s mild for the end of January.

When you set out all those years ago, the road to Lossen was deep in snow, the air was icy, a good twenty degrees colder. It must have already been dark at five in the afternoon. You could hear the Soviet artillery shooting over the river Oder behind you: the Russians, as you always called them.

The rumbling beyond the Oder had begun days earlier. The war was approaching the village as a noise, as an ever-louder thunder beyond the river, like a large beast or a dragon, only held back by the thin line of the Oder, rampaging and raging on the opposite bank. The Wehrmacht had blown up the bridges the day before.

‘When we heard the Russians shooting over the Oder’: those were the words you used. Other than that, you could barely remember a thing.

I began asking when I was young and still a child, but even then, over thirty years had passed since that day, and your memory had congealed, like blood over an old wound. A hard crust that always covered what had happened with the same sentences. I asked and asked, but you only ever told the same story: how in the rush to leave you’d forgotten the top half of your sailor suit, the white shirt with the navy collar: Sunday best in a Silesian farming village.It was new, you were nine, you’d been given it for Christmas and you’d never worn it. It was, you said, in the front room under the Christmas tree.

The sailor suit, the Russians, the Oder: you never told me any more than that, but since then I’ve read and spoken to others, I’ve gathered together snippets and formed a picture of that day, 22 January 1945. It was a Monday.

I now know more than you; I know that just two days before, on the Saturday evening, Wehrmacht soldiers had entered the village in a motorised column, and they were billeted in the farmhouses along the main street. You boys had been tobogganing on the Kirchberg and then you came running along to pull the soldiers’ heavy packs to their quarters with your sledges.

On the Sunday the rumbling grew louder; after church the adults stood around in small groups on the snowy village street, talking anxiously: would they have to flee? Fear crept into the farmhouses, where at night the women wept over their fallen husbands and prayed for their missing sons.

On the Monday morning, the Wehrmacht column hastily left the village and everyone became restless. The Scholz family had already packed the day before and wanted to set off at once, but Schütz, the mayor and a party member, stood at the end of the village, pistol at the ready, and refused to let anyone leave. Only at four in the afternoon did the order come to vacate the village within the hour. Schütz was now running from farmhouse to farmhouse spreading the message.

Your mother had scarcely begun to pack the bare essentials; there was too much to do. She stuffed laundry and bedding into corn sacks and filled a crate with oats for the horses. People grabbed whatever was in sight: the smoked ham from the last pig slaughtered, some tools, what little jewellery they owned. People with no transport begged the farmers to let them add their belongings to one of the carts.

Your mother took the horses out of the stable. Your father had been conscripted into the Volkssturm a few weeks earlier, along with the brown horse. Two horses were still left on the farm, you used to tell me: one lame, and one so young it had never pulled a cart. Harnessing the horses proved too difficult for your mother. The sailor suit, the Russians, the Oder, the horses.

The artillery’s thunder grew louder. The dragon reared up over the village, spitting fire and sending people scrambling around feverishly; the air was ringing, the earth was quaking, shells were landing left and right of the houses and tearing craters in the frozen-hard fields. Even the animals were seized by the panic of having to leave: the cows were bellowing, and the dogs were barking and pulling on their chains. The servant girls went round the barns one last time and filled the troughs with feed, scattered three days’ worth of grain for the chickens: you wouldn’t be gone for longer than that, you’d been told, you’d only need to be out of the firing line for a while.

Dusk fell. Your neighbour helped your family harness the horses. Your mother got her mother-in-law onto the cart, as well as your uncle, who was as lame as the horse. Lame uncle, lame horse: you used the same word for both. You yourself would be walking.

And it was in this haste, in the scramble to gather everything amid artillery thunder and fire breath, that only half of your sailor suit came with you in flight. The top was left behind and fell into the hands of the Russians, or maybe it was worn by a Polish boy later. As far as you were concerned, it was lost forever.

The sailor suit, the Russians, the Oder, the horses. It wasn’t you I heard but others in your never-changing words; they were strange, dead words that my questions could never penetrate.  All the same, I wanted to hear the story from you again and again, the story of that moment of departure, the moment that changed everything and defined everything: our family history’s primal scene. The sailor suit, the Russians, the Oder, the horses. Now I will remember in your place. I now know more than you, but I still want to ask you, even now that it’s no longer possible.

I had to put on protective clothing when I was visiting you. It was on a shelf at the entrance to the ward, between tubes and syringes, pale yellow, the colour of liquid snot. The nurse helped me tie the gown at the neck and back, like something you’d wear for an operation. It was disposable clothing. When we left your room, we had to throw it away in the big bin in the corner. Once I forgot to throw away the gown; straight away a nurse in the corridor asked me to take more care.

The facemasks had elastic that went around my head, and they covered my nose; wire attached at the top edge could be bent to the shape of my nose to ensure a good fit. At that time, a year and a half before the pandemic, I hadn’t seen them before. The rubber gloves were the worst. It was good to talk to you, but I’d come to hold your hand.

That first day, I respected the rules. It was what you’d taught me. I now regret so many hours when I could have been touching you. Another oversight.

When my grandmother was still alive, the adults would sometimes sit around her kitchen table in the evenings: you and Mother, your brother Manfred and his wife, Grandmother, her brothers and their sons who often visited. Cigarette smoke mingled with the cheesy smell of the open sandwiches; the lamp, a wire frame that Mother had covered in floral fabric with a brown background, gave out a dim light.

It was almost completely dark under the table. We children would play under there. Half fascinated, half appalled, we’d compare the hairiness of the adults’ legs peeking out between the top of their socks and their trouser hems: your occasional strands of hair and your brother Manfred’s thick fur. Grandmother’s feet were bare in her slippers, her shins gnarled and covered with scars and bruises that never seemed to go away.  We’d pull your socks up and down, rolling their cuffs into soft little sausages. We’d never have dared do that to Manfred’s.

They were cosy, dark evenings. Everything in Grandmother’s apartment, from the curtains down to her slippers, was in nondescript, sombre colours, even the simple furniture she and Grandfather could afford at the end of the 1950s when they finally got their own flat from the housing corporation Neue Heimat.

Skat and political debate were the order of the day. Conversations usually began with the politics of the moment, taxes and Willy Brandt, then they’d move on to the Nazi times, the War and all the things they could only say amongst themselves. That not everything had been bad after all. Motorways and jobs for everyone. That Hitler’s Germany, whether they liked it or not, had ultimately saved Europe from communism. And that destroying Dresden had really been quite unnecessary. And once they’d put the world to rights, when they’d gone through all the wrongs they’d suffered, the conversation’s fervour would subside, passion would slowly give way to melancholy, and thoughts would turn to home.

Above the table, there were sighs. Under the table, we’d try to keep quiet: it was precisely in mournful moments like these that your brother Manfred could fly into a temper. A loud laugh or a stolen slipper could make him lash out unexpectedly and painfully. You’d usually sit there in silence. Above the table, they’d remember the homeland and the reminiscing sounded like a deep, sustained melody, like the prisoners’ chorus from Nabucco, which I knew had been my grandfather’s, your father’s, favourite music, while your mother preferred The Blue Danube.

For me, home was the sound of Wir lagen vor Madagaskar, the old seafaring song: ‘Ahoy, Comrades,’ the section when the gloomy reality, the plague and the putrid water gives way to the refrain and its sustained, almost cheerful melody: ‘Yes, when we hear the accordion on board.’ And when the sailors go quiet, there’s something comforting about their homesickness, in spite of all the desolation on the world’s oceans, because everyone’s longing for the homeland they’d like to see again one day. That’s exactly how it was.

I inherited my sentimental side from you.

Above the table, there were sighs. Underneath, we’d play prisoners or sailors.  And that’s how we picked up the idea of home being something that had always been lost, something that only our ancestors knew, but that we ourselves had never had and never would have. Home was a land of longing, a paradise that we’d been driven out of forever. Its name suited it. Home had a name that could have come from a fairy tale. We imagined it as a beautiful, enchanted place by a river, in a hollow between rolling hills and broad fields, with roses all around. Home’s name was Rosenthal: literally, ‘Rose Valley’.

I’m travelling to Rosenthal in the summer after your death, to the village on the Oder that’s now called Różyna.

‘What are you going to do there?’ my Polish teacher asks, ‘It’s a very small village.’

Before I set off, I google some Polish vocabulary; who knows when I’ll next have Wi-Fi? Urszula’s concern has become infectious: ‘Where are you going to sleep?’ I hadn’t even given it a thought. In Rosenthal.

‘Take a sleeping bag,’ Urszula says. I put a tent and a roll mat in the boot as well; maybe I can camp out back in the cemetery. And some loo roll. Hire: nająć, bathroom: łazienka and power socket: gniazdo (it’s actually a nest, I’ll find out later, they say ‘gniazdko’, little nest). Then there’s the zloty exchange rate, around one to four, and the weather app. It’s going to be very hot. All week.

‘Take some food with you,’ a girlfriend suggests. But I’m certain that won’t be necessary. I’m familiar enough with the East to know that.

I set off. Where am I going? I’m going to Poland, I’m going to Silesia, but what even is Silesia? A province, a landscape, a fallen empire; I’m going to my father’s country. My father came from a country that no longer exists. I’m a Silesian; am I a Silesian? My ancestors were Silesians.

I grew up in Wedel, a town on the outskirts of Hamburg; I lived there for nearly two decades, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere, but Wedel was never home. Rosenthal was home; home didn’t exist. Rosenthal remained my West German life’s distant vanishing point. And whenever people asked me where I came from and I answered ‘Wedel’, it only ever felt like half the truth.

I’m driving east. After Cottbus, the distance signs on the motorway only mention one place: there’s nothing for a long time, and then at some point Wrocław. There’s very little traffic; every so often I overtake a green Flixbus, Berlin-Wrocław 21 euros, but otherwise I’m more or less alone on the route through the forest. Mile after mile, nothing but forest; the East begins here, a gigantic no man’s land, a precursor of Siberia.

Speed limits don’t mean anything in Poland. Everyone drives as fast as they can. That comes in handy; I race towards Rosenthal. Race over the border where we used to wait for hours on end to be allowed through: quiet as mice, mustn’t laugh, keep our mouths shut, don’t attract attention, taciturn people in uniforms, terse commands, wind the window down, hurry up, apologise if the window’s stuck, stern looks into the car, strange stamps in my children’s passport, my mother nervous, anxious to get everything right, a feeling of subordinacy.

Now I drive on without stopping; on the contrary, I step on the accelerator and race past the border guards’ buildings with their peeling paint; I only notice I’m in Poland when the smooth German asphalt gives way to concrete slabs with wide cracks in between: da-dack, da-dack, da-dack. Headache.

The interview for my first editor’s job, a large office not far from Frankfurt’s main railway station, the publisher in a dark green woollen jumper. ‘Have you been to the USA?’

I’d never been to the USA. A West German, nearing my late 20s, never been to New York. I’d been to Leningrad and Moscow, Kiev and Lviv, Riga, Tallinn and Tartu. I’d been to Altai and to Bishkek and to Crimea. I’d been to Barnaul. Ever heard of Barnaul? It’s in western Siberia; back then there were a few Volga Germans in the area, tidy villages, one-street villages like Rosenthal.

I’d never been to New York, and I didn’t feel I’d missed out. The United States could wait; they carried on as they were, they had no secrets. That’s what I thought back then. But then, in front of the big desk in Frankfurt, it suddenly seemed a mistake. How could I become a foreign affairs editor if I’d never been to the USA?

‘So you,’ the publisher said, ‘are an easterner.’

An easterner. None of my ancestors, on either my mother’s or my father’s side, were born significantly west of the Oder; both parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, all of them easterners. Danzig (Gdansk), Elbing (Elbląg), Königsberg (Kaliningrad), Heubude (Stogi), Trunz (Milejewo) and somewhere in Pomerania: that was my mother’s line, and my father’s: Rosenthal, just one and a half kilometres west of the Oder. Not one place in my family history still belongs to Germany. Where should my gaze fall, if not to the east?

There was only Poland that I left out for a long time. I did go to New York at some point. And I kept moving east, to the Volga and the Amur, to Minsk and Kaluga, Irkutsk and Khabarovsk, to the White Sea, the Black Sea and Lake Baikal, to the Urals, to the Tian Shan mountains and to the Caucasus, to Chechnya, to one-street villages there as well. There was only Poland that I missed out.

The three visits to Rosenthal didn’t count: that wasn’t Poland, that was home: the village beyond the seven mountains, a place with no geography.

The convoy sets off at five o’clock, around fifty drawn carts, three pulled by oxen; maybe 300 inhabitants, the eldest almost ninety, the youngest a newborn, just a few days old. A handful of old people stay behind: people who would rather die at home than flee. 300 inhabitants, around half the Rosenthalers; the other half – men and boys between sixteen and sixty – are at war, including Manfred and Gotthard, your two elder brothers, and your father.

Manfred, born in 1925, went to school in the nearest town of Brieg, took his school-leaving exam early, in the summer of 1943, was briefly given the role of Hitler Youth leader for the villages of Lossen, Jeschen, Jägerndorf, Koppen, Schwanowitz, Schönau, Pramsen, Frohnau and Rosenthal and then voluntarily signed up for the Navy. He last visited Rosenthal in April, his first and only leave. At Fuhrmann’s guesthouse, they put long planks on top of barrels and showed the film Riding for Germany with Willy Birgel. That was nine months before.

Manfred’s now in Gotenhafen (Gdynia). And as they’re looking for volunteers for the small arms combat unit, he takes a step forward on the parade ground, because he’s had enough of parading and he can’t bear the thought of his younger brother already being at the front. Manfred is then trained to plant explosive devices on enemy ships in a one-man submarine: an assignment impossible to survive, a suicide mission deep down in the sea.

Your father, born in 1898, was conscripted into the Volkssturm in mid-January; he fought on the Western Front in the First World War, but that was different: he was very young back then, just seventeen, and the war never reached Silesia.

That Monday, 22 January 1945, as the Red Army’s advancing to the Oder at Rosenthal and your mother’s trying in vain to harness the horses to leave, your father’s sitting in a guard room in Breslau (Wrocław), writing you a letter. Sender: Volkssturm Private Herbert Hoffmann, Fortress Battery 3049, Leuthen Barracks, Breslau. To: Frau Olga Hoffmann, Rosenthal, Brieg District.

‘Dear Mother, dear Adolf,’

Adolf: that’s you.

It’s a long letter, especially for a farmer: like a sailor’s letter, it’s full of longing for home and for the life that’s slipping away from him.

‘I must say it’s impossible for me to talk of things going well: there’s no place like home. The military is just no fun for an old man.’

At almost fifty, your father actually feels like an old man; he’s worked from dawn to past nightfall for over thirty years, he’s paid off the farm’s debts and rented extra land. He’s looking forward to handing over the farm to Gotthard, his middle son, turned seventeen in August and the farmer of the three brothers. But Gotthard’s now been in the Volkssturm since the autumn, defending the Oder line.

It’s a letter full of concern for his sons at the front.

‘My thoughts are constantly with you and the boys.’

Full of concern for the farmhouse and his wife, a letter full of dark forebodings.

‘I keep thinking you won’t have to leave home. But if needs must, it will just have to be.’

The regional leader, Gauleiter Karl Hanke, declared Breslau a stronghold the day before: hundreds of thousands of women and children have to leave the city and are forced out into the snowstorm. The war hasn’t reached Breslau yet, but as Herbert’s sitting in the guard room at three o’clock in the morning writing his letter, the dragon’s already raised its claws. The dragon will take hold of Herbert; it will wreck his life and only let him out of its grasp years later, half dead and at the other end of Germany.

Your father will lose control of his life; he’ll obey orders, both German and Soviet; for many years, war and captivity will determine his fate. He’ll never go back to Rosenthal and he’ll never set foot on his farm again. His mother, brother and one of his sons won’t survive the war, and he’ll only see his wife again years later, after he’s lost everything and nothing’s ever as it was before.

Your father knows none of that, but he can sense an impending disaster, he can sense that what meant a lot eight days ago is now fading into the background.

‘We must not despair but trust in God, then even the greatest of hardships can be endured.’

The most tender lines are for you, dear Adolf.
‘I always have an image of him, doing his schoolwork, playing around outside until he’s ripped his trousers, and hiding in Papa’s bed in the evenings. Has he finished reading the sailor book yet?’

It’s a quiet letter, reaching out for the familiar and clinging to the minutiae: hoping for post, maybe even a visit (she should take a 2 or a 12 to the final stop, he tells his wife), sending regards to friends and relatives in the village, hoping things won’t turn out as badly as he suspects.

‘One day everything will turn around and we can go about our work peacefully.’

And to finish, these words: ‘All done, all good.’

It sounds like an incantation, as clearly it’s not all good, or it could be a secret message to his wife: maybe they whispered it to each other as they sank into bed back in Rosenthal after sixteen, eighteen hours of work on the farm: all done, all good.

That Monday, 22 January 1945, changes everything. For a long time it will define our fate, for decades and generations; it will change your life, your family’s lives, mine, and my children’s. After that, for a very long time, there’s no firm footing for our family anymore.

Under my childhood, too, there will be dark, boggy ground, like a moor into which I could easily sink. I have to take good care to stay on the marked paths, always be home before nightfall and not look too deeply into the dark; it can drag me down. It’s the knowledge that you can lose everything from one day to the next, from one hour to the next, from four to five o’clock, house and farm, sons, brothers and parents, home, and even memory.

Excerpted from Christiane Hoffmann, Alles, was wir nicht erinnern. Zu Fuß auf dem Fluchtweg meines Vaters, © Verlag C.H.Beck oHG, München 2022.

What I Knew

Author: Tabea Steiner
Translator: Jozef van der Voort

 

It must have been September; I was six, maybe seven, when my father asked, Do you want to come with me?

A cow was very ill and had to be sent for emergency slaughter. I stroked her fever-cool nose, rubbed the white patch on her forehead, gazed into those big eyes with their long lashes. Then my father led the animal into the trailer, where she lay down on the floor. He bolted the door and lifted me onto the child seat mounted on the fender above the huge tractor wheel. I had to hold on tight, and all through the journey my little boots clattered against the vibrating metal.

The butcher was waiting for us outside the abattoir. Everything was ready. I looked round the clean, tiled room as my father brought in the cow. By now, every step was a struggle for her, but I don’t remember her being in mortal terror. Perhaps she was just too tired.

Out, the butcher said to me, his bolt gun in hand, so I crept off and went round to the window, where I stood on tiptoe to watch the butcher cock the bolt and pull the trigger; saw the cow crumple, big and heavy. She jerked a few times, and then she was dead.
The door flew open; the butcher came rushing out and boxed my ears. I can remember his hand and his thick, endless, beige-grey plastic apron, but where his face should be is a blank in my memory.

Come on, said my father. He took my hand, put me back in the child seat, said goodbye to the butcher and drove off. After a while he turned on to a narrow country lane, stopped the tractor and switched off the engine.

The butcher didn’t want you to see the cow die, my father said. Then he turned to look at me. Do you understand?

I didn’t understand. I knew the cow had to die, and I knew why as well, but I didn’t understand why I shouldn’t see what I already knew. Besides, I was used to a lot of things from life on the farm where I grew up.

I knew what it meant when the cows in the field jumped on each other’s backs. They did that when they were in heat. A vet would be summoned with his case of pipettes. Together with my father he would select one of the tubes before pulling on a thin plastic glove that went up past his elbow. Then he guided the pipette full of semen into the cow and tossed the soiled plastic into the bin. Nine and a half months later, the cow gave birth to a calf.

As soon as the tips of the calf’s little yellow hooves began to protrude from the cow’s vulva, my brother had to fetch the two-handled iron calving chain. This was wrapped around the hooves, and my father would haul on it in time with the labouring cow. A nose would appear, followed by a head, and then an ear would flop out. At this point it wouldn’t be long before the whole calf appeared.

I knew that no one would send me to bed until the new arrival had been seen to, and calves often came into the world late at night. But I was still too little to make myself useful, and so nobody noticed me standing by the wall of the cowshed in my wellingtons and pyjamas. Sometimes I wore one of my father’s old coats draped over my shoulders.

From a safe distance, but still close enough, I watched my grandmother rub down the bloody, tousled calf with a bundle of straw to stimulate its circulation. When it had stopped trembling, she left it to its mother and went to the kitchen, where she boiled several litres of red wine, cracked a few eggs and stirred everything together with plenty of sugar and spices – cloves for sure, maybe nutmeg too. She poured this mixture into the exhausted animal, which drained it in one go and then drank several buckets of water. After that, the cow started to lick the calf clean, revealing the pattern on its soft hair.

In the meantime, my father sexed the calf. Really good dairy cows were only ever impregnated with high-quality semen. When my father opted for expensive semen from a good stud bull, it put him in a bad mood if the resulting calf was male. If a cow only needed to be inseminated in order to go back into dairy production, it didn’t matter what sex the calf was, and a cheaper sire would generally be chosen.

When cows have just given birth, their milk tastes unpleasant for a time and has to be kept out of the tank. One day, Grandma decided I was old enough to learn how to make this beestings into chocolate mousse. First I had to gather some eggs from the chicken coop. I was the best person for this particular job as I could crawl under the laying pen, where the hens sometimes hid their eggs when they didn’t want to give them up. Then I strapped on the one-legged milking stool and milked the cow by hand. I loved doing that because cows have a hollow place between their belly and their udders where you can rest your forehead and keep it warm. But when I was nearly finished and the pail was almost full, the cow lashed out and kicked it over. The thick, dark-yellow milk trickled into the finely chopped straw.

I was allowed to draw some fresh white milk from the tank, which I poured into a pan. Then I melted the chocolate and cracked the eggs. One of the yolks had a patch of dark-red slime in it, which meant it had been fertilised. Whisk it quickly, Grandma said as she turned on the oven. Then you won’t have to look at it.

We had a cock in the chicken coop; Grandma said it made the hens easier to keep. But we never hatched any chicks. We bought our young hens from a battery farm where they were separated from the young cockerels, which were surplus to requirements. That was how I knew that the chicken on my dinner plate and the schnitzel we ate on Sundays usually came from a male animal.
And I also knew that the rabbits I reared and fed with grass and pellets until they reached a certain weight, and which I then loaded into a wicker basket and took to the butcher in the neighbouring village on my bike, would eventually land on someone’s plate somewhere. That was how I earned my pocket money.

I grew up with my grandmother, and I was well aware that she was my father’s mother, and that he in turn was the father of my brother and me. My grandmother took care of me, and most nights she made sure I went to bed on time.

She insisted that my brother and I never slept in the same room, but we eventually started to rebel against this stricture because we always had so much to discuss and to tell each other. We talked about how we’d seen the next-door neighbour’s breasts while she nursed her baby in the garden during the fine weather. And we wondered why I wasn’t allowed to run around in my vest in summer while my brother was allowed to take his off altogether. Grandma only ever told us that it was because of the old man who also lived next door.

We racked our brains over how the neighbour, who was a talking point for the entire village, could have had a baby when she didn’t even have a husband. And when I finally learned how to read, I asked my brother what the word ‘sex’ meant, which I’d seen in the newspaper. Grandma hadn’t wanted to explain it to me; she’d said it was only for grown-ups.

One day, another farmer came over after lunch with a copy of the newspaper. She sat with my grandmother in front of the house and they chatted about the news, but when they noticed me, they fell silent. I’d been listening in, however, and I’d already heard them speaking indignantly about this new era in which a woman could report her husband to the police just because his natural urges had got the better of him.

I crept away again, wandered past the calves and snaffled a handful of their milk powder, which I liked because it tasted like white chocolate. Then I sat on the ground behind the blackberry bush, as I always did when it was warm and dry enough and I had something to ponder. I knew that my grandmother had good intentions and that she wanted to protect me. But I didn’t understand why she and the farmer had gone quiet, and I still didn’t know why I wasn’t allowed to run around in my vest. I didn’t understand why not only Grandma, but my father and the butcher and everyone else in the village always made such a secret of everything. But above all, I didn’t understand why there were things I wasn’t supposed to know when I could already see them anyway.

Only much later, when I had grown up and my grandmother was very old, did she tell me how her own brother had come on to her years ago when she was starting to become a woman.

But when I was still a child, I already knew that the old man next door had wanted to marry my grandmother after my grandfather died very young. He had ended up marrying another woman instead. Yet only when my grandmother and the old man were both dead did it emerge that he had spent years abusing his daughter. I don’t know if my grandmother knew about it, or what exactly she knew if she did.

And I can’t ask my father anymore either.

 

From Frauen erfahren Frauen, ed. Jil Erdmann.  Zurich: Verlag sechsundzwanzig, 2021.  Published by permission of Agentur Poppenhusen, Berlin.

for anna akhmatova
assisi
robinson crusoe
hölderlin

Author: SAID
Translator: Amy Kepple Strawser

 

Translator’s Preface
These four poems originate from a section of SAID’s ruf zurück die vögel (2010) along with four others also named for, or dedicated to, famous historical or mythological figures: “icarus,” “for rosa l.” [Rosa Luxemburg], “for alexander dubček: november 1989,” and “return of icarus.” Those four appeared bilingually in International Poetry Review’s Special Issue: Voices in German (Spring 2012) in my translations.

Here we see another interesting set of characters represented: the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966); St. Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226), the patron saint of animals and nature; the fictional figure Robinson Crusoe (title character of the novel by Daniel Defoe from 1719); and the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843). In brief poems of short lines, SAID encapsulates astute observations of his subjects’ intentions and fates. Yet these figures—ones the poet may well have admired—are not spared his sharp eye. His ability to distill one or two key facets from their life stories into snapshots of crystalline verse speaks volumes about his poetic skills. An air of mystery and intrigue lingers in each of these poetic musings. One can easily discern neither authorial praise nor disdain here. In these poems, SAID provides miniature lyric morsels of his heroes—or antiheroes—which leave the reader with more to savor and digest than may first appear.

 

for anna akhmatova
and then came eleven friends
to learn your requiem by heart
from then on they slept no more
they murmured softly
in locked rooms
each on their own
night after night

 

assisi
clambering down
to the flayed limbs
of your bride
and yet
no trial by fire meted out
wisely the sultan
rejected you
the tender backs of the geckos
have little room
for your reveries
the nights in assisi
are tenuous
francis
you invented the lie

 

robinson crusoe
you count the days of the week
until friday comes
and serves the guests
friday counted his enemies
on his fingers
before he consumed them
at first he rejected
your salt
for the flesh of the vanquished
yet with your bread
he too
betrayed the wild ones

 

hölderlin
departed on foot
to become a stranger –
for whose eyes?

and then
for the entire flight
to stare at the beloved
river flowing?

“come into the clearing, my friend!”
scardanelli awaits

 

From SAID,  ruf zurück die vögel: neue gedichte, C.H. Beck, 2010.

Transitions

Author: Maja Haderlap
Translator: Aaron Carpenter

 

Mountain locales have a mysterious effect on me. They start a mechanism of remembering in me and at the same time awake my instinct to take flight.

In each mountain village, I automatically keep an eye out for streets and paths leading out of the area into the valley or elsewhere. Mountain villages make me uneasy, because they remind me of my childhood and of how much I am searching for a location, for a point of departure in my texts, so I can leave it immediately, because going away and coming back retraces the movement of my writing, in a manner not always known to me.

I know that the mountain locales I have conjured up exist only very rarely, that by now many mountain villages have transformed into summer and tourist communities, that they have discarded their histories and memories. And yet it is exactly the mountain locations with their exposed topographies that represent walking, traversing passes, chasms, and crossings; wandering in impassable terrain between languages and borders, which in turn dictate my existence as an author. The mountain locations with their references to tradition also sharpen one’s sense of change, of transformation, of the character of memory.

The instant I arrive in a mountain village, I remember the childhood smells that I carry in my memories, stories that I believed were forgotten and that I find again rolled into bundles in my pocket. During my explorations of locations and memories, the histories of discarding an old culture, an old language, of words left behind gain contours. In a depopulated mountain village, you unintentionally reproduce cultural change. How else could you explain the desire to want to morph into something else after a trek through the mountains? As soon as you climb down from the mountain, you want to exchange the mountain face for something urban, put on more comfortable shoes, like when you quickly applied mascara to your eyelashes as a schoolgirl or put on different pants before getting on the bus that went into the city.

At this point, I want to take up a narrative thread from my novel Angel of Oblivion that at first glance is not recognizable. It is a tale of the loss of one language and gliding into another that was always there, even if it wasn’t spoken in my immediate family. It is the story of a transition, a metamorphosis, perhaps of a loss, that doesn’t concern just me but should fundamentally make us consider whether the changing of a culture, the leaving of a language, makes us richer or poorer. Where do the transitions lead, to cultural richness or to spiritual impoverishment, desertification?

The example of the Slovenes can make this change visible. The Slovenian language is spoken or understood by around 12,000 people in Carinthia. This language has been struggling to survive for decades. It is struggling for its function in everyday society and for recognition as the second official language. It is struggling to be a self-evident part of public life and to not have to first draw attention through loud protests. It asserts itself in families and in village communities, but leads the life of an outsider in the political and cultural institutions of this country. It is still a political issue, which means that it must be subordinate to a principle of allegiance: you can be for or against it, you make a statement with it. In recent decades, it has suffered the loss of lissomness and liveliness. But it also gained empowerment through bilingual educational institutions. Carinthian Slovenes defend themselves tenaciously against the daily erosion of their language, against the silencing of communication in Slovenian. They protect themselves, but don’t have the financial, economic, and political means to assert themselves as a socially influential group. They are on the defensive.

I have been a witness to the loss of the Slovenian language in Carinthia for as long as I can remember. Slovenian always seemed to be against the spirit of time and on the cusp of erosion in political and societal contexts. It was always the persistent ones who held onto it, and the ones who were insecure who gave it up. Those concerned have long suspected that a language lives only when it is used, but it will disappear if treated as a jewel in a museum. A language cannot just struggle with the past; to insist on its rights, it must insist on its presence in daily life. Because memory is not hereditary. The language of the collective and its memory do not simply proliferate. They must always be acquired, imparted, established, and kept alive with purposeful practices and measures.

People’s command of Slovenian in Carinthia is visibly shifting to a passive competence, with gratifying exceptions, but as we know, the exceptions are not the rule.

With this background, for many years there has been something of a conjuring about the language of Carinthian Slovene literature. In literary texts, the Slovenian language is imagined and celebrated. Authors claim that Slovenian is a kind of embossed seal that has been unalterably burned into their cultural memory and must therefore define writing. I too thought this way more than ten years ago. I too wanted to set a political example through my writing in Slovenian and fight against the disappearance of the Slovenian language in Carinthia. But what has happened in the meantime? What shifts have occurred in my writing?

With my departure from my home enclaves, I apparently began to peel off the Slovenian words, to put on the clothes of a new language, to see myself in new stories and contexts. I kept a lookout for another written language that is not entirely foreign to me and that allows me the greatest possible freedom of thought. The German language grew on me, it helped me. I felt freer and less bound in it than in Slovenian, since Slovenian was burdened with the guilty consciences of those who had left.

However, I have never migrated from the inner core of Slovenian history. I still see myself as anchored in it. Which brings me back to a sense of place, to a sense of individual belonging. In Angel of Oblivion I attempted to transfer the collective experiences of the Slovenes inherent in the memories native to the Slovenian language into the German language. A transfer of experience took place, which may also have contributed to the feeling many people had that the text spoke to them, in a special way to those too who still carry remnants of Slovenian cultural memory, but due to assimilation and the repression of the Slovene language had lost the living connection with it.

I too was only able to approach these painful memories through the German language; I regained my body’s memories and returned to the smells of childhood. Through language, a new nerve cord grew in me, which was able to overcome and outsmart all burying and encrusting of emotion.

I see the great advantage of lively bilingualism in the fact that when you switch from one language to the other, you don’t feel any rupture or foreignness, and that one’s personal starting point is also doubled through the lively exchange between the languages. So, I see myself standing with both feet in two languages, although I must admit that my Slovenian leg wobbles a bit every now and then. In Carinthia, it is difficult to maintain the playful balance between the languages because the relationship between the two languages is not balanced.

Sometimes when I walk through my mountain places, the words run after me like playful puppies who have left their nest in high spirits. They wag their tails and lick my feet so that I will pick them up and nuzzle them. Sometimes the words collide in my head, or they combine, overlap, form a new word animal, cast shadows in the other language.

Writing is a process that keeps going, that is full of promises but also loaded with fears. For me it is a process of rewriting, a transition, a border crossing, a departure. In the movement of my writing, I keep commemorating my first language, Slovenian, like in the following poem:

memory, forget-me-not, monument
what the torn-up field before which
I stand has sown. the autumn sun
is already throwing magnificent colors at
the clouds. even with my eyelids closed,
its flaming complexion blazes.
near the farms that I circle,
i look for words that have been
discarded, like scrapped implements,
scooping them up like one picks up dry twigs
from the forest paths and piles them
by the wayside. from the valleys
the mountain ridges grow up to higher peaks.
the old language crystallizes in
my voice and memorizes the ciphers of
memory: spomin, spominčica, spomenik.
memory, forget-me-not, monument.

 

 Maja Haderlap, “Übergänge” in “Kakanien – Neue Heimaten,”  burgtheater.at, 2014.