Der Rose kündigen für den Tag, an dem alle nach Dornen fragen
An süßduftenden Tagen, an denen Regen auf allen Bänken sitzt
und ein Rentner über die Rohheit der Jugend erzürnt
-denn der Regen ist jung und tritt die Bänke mit Wasserfüßen-,
an schweren, dunstigen, ebendiesen Tagen
ist der Garten ein Revier der Zierde,
der Schnecken und Würmer,
der Zähne der Löwen,
der Größe der Rosen,
der Majestät und des Grüns.
Ich sitze und gehe manchmal,
es ist ein Tanzschritt eher als ein Wegbereiter,
ich komme nicht an, ja ich verlaufe mich sogar.
Ich trete auf die Zehen meines Baumes.
Mein zarter Schuh versucht ein Muster, versucht etwas bleibendes zu zeichnen,
der Regen wird kommen und wird vergessen machen.
Ich werde mich wegspülen, ich werde unter der Straße gluckern, ich werde mich
wenden, an Ecken an die Oberfläche sprudeln,
ich werde Wände hinauf und hinabsteigen.
Meine Hände spielen im Haar der Farne
und ertasten das Zarte und Gegangene.
Ich denke bei mir, wie leicht und sonderbar die Flächen sind, auf denen wir wandern
und gar nicht leben.
Der Rose lecke ich den Hals, den schlanken und ihre breite Stola lässt mich im
Der Dorn, der kleine Sarazene, ist voller Eifersucht. Sein Schwert ist alt und meine
Lust sehr jung. Die bunte Dame gewährt, dass ich ein Blatt von ihrer Brust ablöse,
ein Blütensegel, ein bauschiges Tüchlein, das ich mir um Lippen und Fingerkuppen
lege, um, wie ein Schwärmer, dummer Junge, kleiner Muck vor ihr zu lagern und wie
einer, der nur Rosenworte reden darf.
Meine Dame hat ihr Herz auf meine Zunge gelegt mit dem einen Kuss.
An Tagen, wie ebendiesen. In Nächten wie jenen,
entsage ich dem Duft und schicke mich, um sie zu betrügen,
an die Hände und Münder anderer Sträucher.
Ich beiße in die Tomate, ich feiere die Röte der Völle.
Hin und her schwingt mein Verdacht,
der Garten raunt. Ich bin entdeckt,
enttarnt als Larve, die ein Blatt zerreißt.
Die Ameise kommt, um nach mir zu sehen.
Die treue Amme trägt mich hinab.
Manchmal bin ich ein Haus, das verlassen wurde von einer Schnecke.
Ich liege als stille Erinnerung am Rand und Halme wachsen in mich hinein
und Vögel hallen wider.
Meine Mauern, die gewunden und wund, zittern wie einsturzgefährdet.
Kein Denken an die fröhlichen Feste.
Sie fragen nach Dornen, die Undankbaren.
Für ebendiesen Tag, sage ich, habe ich der Rose gekündigt.
Abandoning the rose in expectation of the day when everyone wants thorns
On sweetsmelling days, when rain sits on all the park benches
and a retiree rages about the youth these days
-- for the rain is young and kicks the benches with watery feet --,
on heavy, humid, days just like these
the garden is a haunt of adornment,
of snails and worms,
of the dandies of lions,
of the extent of roses,
of majesty and of green.
I sit and go sometimes,
it is a hop-and-a-skip rather than the start of a long march,
I don't arrive, yes I even get lost.
I step on the toes of my tree.
My delicate shoe attempts a pattern, attempts to draw something lasting,
that the rain will come and cause to be forgotten.
I'll wash myself away, I'll glug under the street, I'll
turn, bubble up at corners to the surface,
I'll travel up and down walls.
My hands play in the hair of the ferns
and discover the tender and departed.
I think of myself, how light and strange the surfaces are on which we wander
and don't even live.
I lick the throat of the rose, thin, and its wide stole allows me
to dwell in the shade.
The thorn, the tiny Saracen, is full of envy. Its sword is old and my
lust so young. The gaudy lady allows me to remove a leaf from her breast,
a flower-sail, a fluffy sheet that I place at my lips and fingertips,
so that, like an admirer, dumb youth, little peasant, I might lay siege to her like
someone who is allowed only to speak rose-words.
My lady placed her heart on my tongue with that one kiss.
On days just like these. In other nights
I forsake the scent and send myself, in order to cheat on her,
to the hands and mouths of other shrubs.
I bite into the tomato, I celebrate the redness of fullness.
My suspicion waxes and wanes
that the garden is murmuring. I have been discovered,
revealed as a larva tearing at a leaf.
The ant comes to examine me.
The faithful wet-nurse puts me to bed.
Sometimes I am a shell abandoned by a snail.
I lie at the edges like a silent reminder and grass grows inside me
as birds echo.
My walls, chambered and raw, tremble as if in danger of collapsing.
No thought for the happy celebrations.
They want thorns now, the thankless ones.
For just such a day as this, I say, I abandoned the rose.
Aus der Hand frißt der Herbst mir sein Blatt: wir sind Freunde.
Wir schälen die Zeit aus den Nüssen und lehren sie gehn:
die Zeit kehrt zurück in die Schale.
Im Spiegel ist Sonntag,
im Traum wird geschlafen,
der Mund redet wahr.
Mein Aug steigt hinab zum Geschlecht der Geliebten:
wir sehen uns an,
wir sagen uns Dunkles,
wir lieben einander wie Mohn und Gedächtnis,
wir schlafen wie Wein in den Muscheln,
wie das Meer im Blutstrahl des Mondes.
Wir stehen umschlungen im Fenster, sie sehen uns zu von der
es ist Zeit, daß man weiß!
Es ist Zeit, daß der Stein sich zu blühen bequemt,
daß der Unrast ein Herz schlägt.
Es ist Zeit, daß es Zeit wird.
From: Mohn und Gedächtnis (Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1952)
Fall eats its leaf from my hand: we are friends.
We crack time open from the shells of nuts and teach it to walk:
Time returns to the shells.
In the mirror it is Sunday,
In dreams we are sleeping,
Mouths speak truth.
My eye descends to the sex of my lover:
We look at each other,
We speak of dark things,
We love each other like poppy and memory,
We sleep like wine in the mussels,
Like the sea in the bloodstream of the moon.
We stand at the window, wrapped in each other, they look up to us from the street:
It is time that they know!
It is time that the stone brings itself to bloom,
That a heart beats for unrest.
It is time for it to be time.
When I began reading analytic philosophy seriously in the early 1990's, my introduction to the contemporary scene was Richard Rorty -- particularly his books Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity and, more importantly, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.
His breezy, seemingly superficial conversational style ... and, perhaps more significantly, his hard-won hostility to what he perceived to be the aridity of philosophy in the analytic tradition ... made Rorty, in some ways, ill-suited to be a popularizer of contemporary work in philosophy, even of philosophers whom he admired, like Quine or Davidson. Nevertheless, those very traits made for work that was always engaging, unfailingly provocative, and often brilliant.
She said, I think it’s time we passed the test. The cars were
Backed up along I-95 from the Cross-Bronx to
The Hudson River Parkway. It was noon when we hit
Manhattan. I told James I didn’t know the city
And he smiled; he’d spent a summer here. He wanted to find
A job in a gallery. We headed down the parkway
Toward the island south of Houston. The Hudson glinted dully, black
And unmoving on my right. To my left, beyond
James, grey stone flowed like sludge outside the window, only
Every second arteries of light would pierce the pulsing
Sooty wall which penned the city, grimly thrust toward the water.
I had James drop me off in Washington Square and took the
Subway north back toward Columbia. I had a friend
Enrolled there said St. Luke’s would give the test for free. No
Questions. The subway smelled like urine; I scuffed my foot against
The floor and felt the train slip liquid in its tunneled
Course beneath the concrete dermis of the street. When we
Emerged onto the el I can’t remember. I
Thought the slip of metal under skin was never quite so
Painless, and I felt afraid not only for the loss
Of the surf that hammered gently beneath my ears, but
The loss of something like my innocence. Pneumatic
Doors spat me onto the street. I remembered the
Name Morningside Drive from my father; he’d gone to
Yeshiva somewhere around Columbia, on
125th Street or something. He said he’d been
On the dome of the tower and had seen the city
Pulsing below. I found St. Luke’s as a shadow on my
Face; it swallowed me within its cool stone silences.
Directions and misdirections: each fading form in
Fluorescent rooms a momentary glimpse of the loss of
Life, mixed in with life’s blood, pulsing in some veins. She said, We’ve done too much together to keep guessing. I think
It’s time we took the test. So she returned home to her
Women’s clinic which gives the test for free, and I went to
St. Luke’s. The corridors swam with motes of light as I
Found the hall, a narrow waiting-room with rows of seats along
The wall hung with drawn, expectant faces. We would not
Find out that day – that much we knew for sure, each heartbeat
Muffled so as not to offend the walking dead. I sat until
The patient flow decreased to a trickle. A woman
With starched skin nodded as her uniform crackled, and led
Me into a bare room with a counter, faucet and
Centrifuge. We sat beside each other at the
Counter, and I clenched my fist as she slapped my vein and drove
The needle home. I thought I felt my skin’s elastic pop as
The needle tunneled, thirsty, into my arm. The nurse said, Pump your
Fist, and crimson raced into the plastic vial of the syringe.
She changed vials three times, each time frenetic to stave each precious
Drop with the rubber tubing with which she’d bound my arm’s
Tides: the blood rushed and receded with each new vial. I turned my head
And gazed at deep red froth reflected in the chrome of the faucet and
Thought about the miracle of water. She’d tapped my arm with just
A toothpick’s length of steel and brought forth a flowing, purpling
Stream. That I was even there was proof enough I’d still dispute
A God who’d bring forth water from a stone, and now would have it
Poisoned as it was consumed: I’d eat of knowledge even unto
Death. I dreamed a woman’s flesh, hidden, mucous-covered and thirsty,
And stirred to find my own inner body bridged with metal to the
Vacuum of the world. The gurgling stopped, my pulse obscured by
The buzzing of the lamps within my ears.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Then the empty
Hall, the wall devoid of faces, and corridor of
Lights alive with buzzing fluorescence. The wind whipped across
The faces of the world as I exited into
New York. I half-expected water to spring up upon
The desert of concrete as each footfall struck the pavement, as
Each siren’s screamed dispute had challenged someone to respond. I might have
Died at any point in my life and it would have been enough,
But I lived to count my pulse in colored vials in a
Room in St. Luke’s. It would be nice to think that spilling blood were
Test enough, that now there’d be no need for proof, or other signs,
Or love, a thought gurgled in corridors within my brain. But
Spilling blood merely became a tidewater for other tests.
On the subway to Soho I dissolved into the
Mass of people merging south. James had looked at art
So long, he failed to notice the bandage on my arm.
We got into his car and slipped into the north-bound stream
Toward home. She’d gotten her results at home, but wouldn’t
Tell me until I’d gotten mine. That night as I lay
Staring at the inspiration of each sleeping breath,
I placed my hand gently on her beating heart. Her pulse
Seemed then as different from the life that pulsed within
My veins as the thick liquid that sat within those vials. That night my
Life called for measures other than the pounding of my tidal heart
Yet I could barely feel the loss of which my blood was the merest part.
Noen dager senere i mai
på vei ned fra Vålandstårnet.
Varmt, luften klar. Vi kunne se langt
forbi øyene. Talgje, Ombo, nesten helt inn
til innerst i Ryfylket. Og enda lenger i vest, utover sjøen
forbi der en bror til min mormor
ble bombet, forsvant. Det var da
jeg tenkte litt på at vi sier
”nye dager”. At vi med det
ikke mener gode dager
eller dårlige. Men bare
at dager skal
komme, dager komme.
A few days later in May
on the downward stairs of the Vålands tower.
Hot, the air clear. We could see
far over the islands and beyond. Talgje, Ombo, almost all the way
into the innermost part of Ryfylke. And still farther to the west,
over the sea
beyond the place where one of my mother's uncles
was bombed and disappeared. It was then I thought
a little about how we say
"new days." That with this we
mean not good days
or bad. Rather merely
that days will
come, days come.
Ah, how I love Christopher Hitchens! (And by "love" I mean loathe.)
Thankfully, given that it's Hitchens, there will never be a shortage of media outlets offering him opportunities to remind me why -- and just how much. The latest (at least as of 9 am EST) is this brief interview in NY Magazine, "Are you there God? It's me Hitchens."
In it, he manages to bash Hanukkah -- Hanukkah! -- and put in a plug for his Jewish street-cred by mentioning that he likes to throw a "little seder" for his daughter ... over the objections of his (Jewish!) wife. All the while proving that it's not Hitchens' contrarianism that is so annoying, it's his self-serving smugness ... well that, and his willing role as an apologist for our bungling misadventures in Iraq.
Speaking of erecting false idols ... one must, however, admire his succinct account of the origin of religious feeling in man. (Gender-specific language very much intended, or didn't you read Hitchens' unbelievably -- even for him! -- boorish article, "Why Women Aren't Funny," in VF? Ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly, Hitch's article is not all that firm in the funny-bone department either.)
One of the readings that resonated particularly with me -- hardly surprising given my entry on Kiki Smith's work, "Birds are Stand-Ins for Souls" -- was an excerpt from Barbara Frischmuth's The Shadow Disappears in the Sun. In this passage, the anonymous narrator, an Austrian woman living in Turkey, visits Ersever, a poet of the Third Period, in his shop below the apartment in which he lives and writes:
When I had been at his place the last time, Ersever had given me a sheet of paper on which there was a bird made out of writing without punctuation. In the upper right corner of the picture above the bird's tail was a bouquet of flowers painted in realistic fashion, and it seemed to be an addition from a later period. The bird resembled a woodpigeon, but it wasn't certain whether there was some connection between the bird and the third book of Clilia and Dimna, which bears this name.
There are made more pictures of birds than anything else, and these depictions have even found their way into the mosques. Sometimes they have human heads or flowers for eyes. It is said that even birds have an Order, one supposedly founded by King Solomon. Once a year the Dervishes meet among the birds in their monastery, where they eat, drink and talk for an entire week. People love the birds, they represent the soul. Whoever was touched by the shadow of a huma-bird became a pilgrim. The ruler among the birds is the stork; he comes from Mecca and sometimes wears a turban on his head. The crane is supposed to have received his voice from Ali, and Haci Bektas Veli came to Anatolia in the form of a dove. The rooster wards off the lion and lightning, and the nightingale is in pursuit of unio mystica.
In one of Ersever's poems the expression "Street of the Juniper-Bird Songs" occurs. When he gave me the sheet I asked him if he had a special relationship to birds. He said that birds had it easy, they only seldom were embarrassed by having their feet touch the bodies of the dead, which is what the top layer of the ground consists of.
As promised, I wanted to post a bit about the first evening of the "Contemporary Austrian Literature Marathon" at the Austrian Cultural Forum. Here is the line-up:
- Christoph Ransmayr
- Martin Pollack
- Peter Henisch
- Barbara Frischmuth
- Elisabeth Reichert
- Anna Mitgutsch
- Frederic Morton
- Thomas Glavinic
- Erich Hackl
- Daniel Kehlmann
Both Frederic Morton and Daniel Kehlmann were on hand to read from their work. Morton read excerpts from A Nervous Splendor and A Thunder at Twilight -- both of which are paradigm examples of history writing for a popular audience. Morton was a shear pleasure to hear; at 83 he's still sharp as a tack, and his asides -- particularly on the parallels between the twilit empire of the Hapsburgs during the fin-de-siecle and the overextended Bush-league empire in which I type these lines -- were wryly witty and perfectly delivered.
The surprise of the night for me, however, was Kehlmann. I've yet to read his latest smash success, Die Vermessung der Welt (Measuring the World), but the excerpt he read, a set-piece in which a young Gauss is examined by the ruler of the German state of Brunswick in order to assess Gauss's suitability for a stipend to pursue his mathematical studies, was sparklingly erudite and dryly humorous.
Kehlmann seems to be something of a literary Wunderkind, having written 6 novels before the age of 30 -- including 3 before the age of 25. One would love to be able to find fault with Kehlmann's literary qualities, given such a prodigious output (I'm mindful of Dorothy Parker's comment, "That's not writing, it's typing"), but -- if the excerpt that he read is any indication -- Kehlmann seems to be the real deal.
Kehlmann's manner was not that of a literary prima donna, but of a consummate craftsperson. His father, the noted Austrian director Michael Kehlmann, was a fixture in the the Viennese politically-charged, satirically sophisticated kabarett scene of the early 1950's, and Daniel Kehlmann grew up surrounded by some of the most creative and linguistically fertile members of the scene, including Helmut Qualtinger, Gerhard Bronner, and Georg Kreisler. One hears echoes of this milieu in the younger Kehlmann's discussion of his own work, and it's utterly winning. Read his work.
I don't have a ton of time to post now, and I'll post more on last night's first installment soon, but I wanted to alert any readers in NYC to tonight's part deux of the "Contemporary Austrian Literature Marathon" in the Austrian Cultural Forum. Tonight's lineup includes readings from the works of:
- Marlene Steeruwitz
- Peter Handke
- Gerhard Roth
- Gert Jonke
- Josef Winkler
- Evelyn Schlag
- Norbert Gstrein
- Paulus Hochgatterer
- Dimitre Dinev
- Kathrin Roeggla
- Elfriede Jelinek
A number of the authors read tonight (by Jacqueline Knapp and James Rutledge) belong to Austria's younger guard -- Gstrein and Hochgatterer are in their mid-40's, Dinev and Roeggla in their mid-30's -- so it is an opportunity for NY audiences to hear works by up-and-comers whose writings are otherwise not so easy to find.