translated from the German by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright
Alone with the shadow of my jacket,
the wide shoulders I never had.
Alone with the wind outside the door,
the stink of the jacket, flapping in the wind.
Who poured wine in my face?
Who spit in my empty pockets?
I had a house between trees,
built on sand, lop-sided as the wind,
I had a shadow
as wide as the path to my house.
Who ripped the gutter off, the
door from its frame, who poured
the milk of my animals into the bed.
I had blossoming books,
a bird in each tree, magpies
like punctuation marks in the long letter
God wrote me. And they dipped
their feathers in my milk,
their beaks full of blood.
Alone with the restlessness of the answer
made of questions: Where is the letter hiding?
In which pocket? Whose house?
It wasn’t any bigger than a magpie’s eye
and it may not have been a house at all,
maybe just a jacket,
dark material, just the shadow
of a jacket, flapping in the wind
Ralf Rothmann (b. 1953) became famous with his novels but is highly respected as a very sensitive poet. His books include Kratzer und andere Gedichte (Scraper and Other Poems, Suhrkamp, 1987) and Gebet in Ruinen (Prayer in Ruins, Suhrkamp, 2000). He lives in Berlin. (2000)
Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright is a literary translator who lives in Waltham, Mass. She spent a year in Berlin translating work by non-native German authors, and her translations of the German-Turkish poets Zafer Senocak and Zehra Çirak have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Delos, and Dimension2. She recently translated Ernst Peter Fischer’s Beauty and the Beast: The Aesthetic Moment in Science. She works as a German-language financial typesetter. (2000)