translated from the German by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright
Well, you old cock-eyed trouser fly,
off to Sinai again,
off to recarve the tablets?
What’s written down for good on your desk blotter?
Every morning good old Godangit
permits it, the dailies, (WAZ, taz,
and the FAZ) go on the newsstand,
and then suddenly like a squirt-gun shot:
No, no, first a few fateful
paradigmatic blows have to meet
in order to teach you,
you beautiful weather first time out in the world,
the clouds are gathering against you . . .
Saaaaaaaaved! yells out the part-time worker
still clinging to his spinning swivel stool;
but not for long.
Firm ground in the land? Yes! But where?—Then say something.
While you’re still throwing rebellious glares
into the butcher’s storefront window and shuddering,
(Paintings that could teach a Goya or Grosz fear)
your own unassuming shop
will be combed through too, restored, socially cleansed . . .
Hello Economy, bottle of Amselfelder beer
for an in-light-of-current-circumstances slightly restrained
without spiritual assistance
the merits of our western humanitarian community
will barely make a dent in his head.
Poetry, as if nothing were wrong here,
this is how far we’ve come.
As if each word not newly pulled from the muck,
each picture spun three times,
each glance certifiedly owned,
where even “human shields”
must still be tendered as pretexts
to silence your woeful cry over the rule of the protecting power.
No, gradually I no longer recognize
mine in my own people
and the Partnership for Peace-Panegyrists
are to me an atrocity.
These boastful orators of treason,
every upset still worth a press conference.
Showmen of your own shame,
who deal with disloyalty
like it was a savings bond.
Coupon clippers of the system
ready at all times to sell their own grandmothers,
assuming they haven’t already sold themselves:
Night, night, and you alone with yourself
on your mount of shambles.
All tablets shattered.
but from deep in your balled-up breast
clear your throat again
and then against the whole
blow your nose—
Peter Rühmkorf (b. 1929) is one of the most famous contemporary German poets and has been translated into many languages. His recent books include Gedichte (Poems, selected by Robert Gernhardt, Suhrkamp, 1998), Wenn—aber Dann: Vorletzte Gedichte (When—but Then: Recent Poems, Rowohlt, 1999), and Gedichte (Poems, selected by Bernd Rauschenbach, Rowohlt, 2000). He lives in Hamburg.
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)