12. 15. 2008. 08:36

Berlin-Hamlet (excerpts)

Szilárd Borbély

"From between the creases of fabric / gapes / a face, like the countenance of Europe scorned. / It spits / into the distance, but does not speak. It reflects, / like thought itself. Above, the floodlit city / looks to a new epoch. The escalator / rises into the heights, and creates correspondences, / like a metaphor degraded in the course of time / into a simile. The mind listens."

36. Alexanderplatz

On Alexanderplatz, by the entrance to the U-Bahn,
trampled cardboard. The square is being
rebuilt. Everything here is disciplined. On the
a paper box with a few coins inside. A Belorussian
opera singer’s greatest hits. Beneath the arches of
     the S-Bahn
white steam in the lamplight. It drifts up from
the Weisswurst stand. Sitting at the bottom of the
with their dogs, teenagers begging
and smoking grass. The back of one hand tiredly
to the pavement. Between the fingers, at the end of
     the joint, the tiny bit
of ash trembles. Guest workers in grubby clothes
return home from the construction sites
in the centre. During the day I eat with them
at the makeshift kiosks. In the morning, frost-bitten
on the cold charcoal clumps of earth. The workers
Slavs and Romanians, but there are Spaniards
and Italians among them too. The collectivity of
     people living
far from their families, in the depths of the winter
on the heated station platform. In the corner
an overcoat, a leg protruding, and people
stepping on it. From between the creases of fabric
a face, like the countenance of Europe scorned.
     It spits
into the distance, but does not speak. It reflects,
like thought itself. Above, the floodlit city
looks to a new epoch. The escalator
rises into the heights, and creates correspondences,
like a metaphor degraded in the course of time
into a simile. The mind listens. Behind it, the train
pulls out. Ringing memories arise. The doors slide
closed. Attention, the train is departing, says the
     guard, presses a button, and
crosses to the other side. On the surface, a new
epoch is being built. Because of the construction, the
to the exit constantly shift. This is a veritable
labyrinth. Ariadne, my dear, I tell you,
the exit is not far. The winter sky
clasps its fingers against the square, where in the
milky fog, opal from the lamplight, the vendors
prepare for Christmas. Light falls
on the cobblestones like battered straw. The man in
     a frayed
tuxedo and foam-white scarf sings of snow-covered
Mother Russia. And before the path leads up
to the surface, edgy Vietnamese cigarette-sellers
seek out your gaze. From the obscurity here and
one or two bends forward. The goods,
not his own, are in advertising-covered plastic
shopping bags. For a few seconds,
between interlocking pairs of eyes, the signal of
hatred and fear in the winter evening from the
emanates the jarring strains of Stille Nacht,
the melody familiar from being put on hold
at the telephone exchange. And as if the heart
      for now
and forever would stop, and something else,
     perhaps the land itself
would throb, and not cessation, and the despised
foreign race would become conscience itself,
and the heart, the voice. At such times
the sky is low. The city itself is like the winter sky,
hanging in space, in its windows blaze
the stars. In the shop-fronts and vitrines
shame is on fire. The tired darkness, like
the hearts of those executed
at dawn, stands still. A raven flies across
the cold emptiness. Above the city rises the
     winter sky.
40. [Tiergarten II]

There was a day when my eyes grew weary. All morning,
I watched TV. Then I went to the movies. And I can only
recall that the film wouldn’t end. Then
nervously I got up, groping my way towards the
     aisle. Treading
on the feet of some people. Still saying
excuse me, as I came out onto the street. In the
I watched the movement of the light coming from
     the projector,
the sudden alternation of colours and shadows. This
is how I spent the day. I was already bored stiff by the first one,
The Tempest. There was too much. Too much of everything in it.

Why am I so intrigued by the disappearance of the body?
– he asked, as he came out of the Kino and looked up
at the sky, which now, as it already had for days, dully
and joylessly cast its grey towards the
restless, precipitous city. A sentence like that belongs in a
crime novel. It would incite the maniacal assassin
or the still unsuspecting victim. He came out of the café
late in the evening, stopped in the doorway, took a deep breath,
turned up the collar of his coat, and looked around. He hurried
to the nearest S-Bahn station, and just in time
ran up the stairs. He forced his way into the
carriage, the scent of a woman’s perfume
struck him in the face. Calmly he looked back
at the platform slowly disappearing into the
     distance, at the man
running alongside it in an impeccably tailored
    trenchcoat, his face
ashen-grey. Apparently desirous of revenge, which
    is why he dispatched
the train. Only four stations to the Tiergarten,
hold out till then. And then…? Then so many things could
happen – This evening I will read the sequel.

Lately I had been reading a lot of crime thrillers, and sentences
would form in my head which could have come
from a detective novel. He got off at the Tiergarten, after the movies
it was good to walk here. The park, its paths laid out on a radial plan,
the scent of decaying leaves, all made this place familiar.
On the long straight path, he started off towards the central point,
towards the angel at the top of the column. He thought about how
he didn’t know what bonds tie memories
to the one who remembers. Perhaps just the sentences,
or simply a rough draft: the exact notation
of time and place. The rest are broken fragments fading into indistinction,
mingling with the oversweet scent of the rotting leaves,
with the smell of the dogs belonging to teenagers
begging by the staircase of the Friedrichstrasse station. Then the
anxiety at the sight of the skinheads, still children,
their eyes innocent. How many generations of fear
gaze out from your eyes? Why are you so tired?
Was it all so ugly? Are you happy now? Would you
have believed it? – he asks himself, muttering. No problem, though,
no one here will understand. The many pairs of eyes, like from gilded wooden panels,
look down on me from the soot-filled heavens, from the burnished gold
of the evening sky, now I speak to them: I liked
the U2 video, when Bono sits atop the column, and you can see,
up close, the statue’s pathetic face. I stand beneath it
and I cry out: “Angel, o winged angel, angel resounding
and white! Angel, o great winged angel!”

Of course, it didn’t happen like that. But on that afternoon,
at the beginning of November, I really did go to the Tiergarten
for a stroll, after I walked out of Greenaway’s Pillow Book.
I don’t recall now why I didn’t like it,
why it irritated me so. I watched the rooks, as they
swarmed the crowns of the trees. Some of them
alighted on the ground, scavenging
among the dead fallen leaves. I met a few solitary
joggers, pursuers not of asceticism but of
pleasure. When the body is swept across the weariness of exertion, and
the hormones generated by the brain render the bounds of the self indistinct.
That is why I used to go running. But to stroll is in itself an art. It is easy,
like the blue parallel lines arising from the bowl of a pipe. –

That picture came into my head, I don’t know why, when
in the doorway of a house in the Moabit district I brushed against
a monumental African prostitute, smoking a cigarette.
I was so astonished to see this colossal body for sale,
by no means a usual occurrence in this place,
that I forgot to ask: how much and what?
Just to know the price. I declined the offer, and quickly
crossed the passageway connecting the two streets. The head,
its hair shorn like a boy’s, resembled the angel from the U2 video. Her yellow-black
skin was nearly luminous. The lights sparkled on it. Her breasts
bulged out of the tight leather jacket she wore. Her powerful
thighs were hardly covered by the tiny, gaudy red
shorts. Her laced high-heel boots, nearly as black as her skin, reflected
the lights penetrating from the street. This dark body made
me think of a golden-hued statue. Yellow fog,
enshrouding the streets in its neon phosphorescence, billowed
between the trees. At times like this in childhood
I eagerly awaited the Christmas holidays. I imagined what
would happen if an angel were to appear before me. If with honeyed
harps, in pink-tinted light, the heavens would be revealed,
like in the Opera House. And I would laugh, and I would cry, and I would think
it was a dream. Instead of this, Christmas evenings were colourless,
the grip of anxiety never allayed. That face which I wear is
the imprint of this. It is calculated, like the cover of a book.
I head off to the Brandenburg Gate, wishing to avoid
the new construction sites. I look at the sky, and I muse
upon the empty dream of pure nothingness. What can it mean?

How beautiful are the sunsets! How beautiful, under the vault of the heavens,
is the shelter of the earth. It is Friday, Friday afternoon, and
in a moment twilight will come. The city enfolds itself in mist, gathering
its memories onto itself. He watched, for at times like this, the people
moved uneasily through the streets. Perhaps they were seeking
their relatives, or the houses or squares where they lived. From the level
of the second floor, where the S-Bahn tracks are, from the lit-up
windows, faces luminous and weary listlessly observe. At times, the lights
briefly go out. And sometimes the train stands still
on the open tracks. The day slowly ends. People returning home
buy the evening papers. And as in the mornings, waiting for the train,
they leaf quickly through them, and then cram them into the nearest bin.
He didn’t understand this custom. He waited a while, for everyone to board
the train, and when it had left, took one out.
He read the evening programme. Then sat for a while yet
on the platform bench. He put on his baseball cap. Lit up
a match. Watched as it burned itself up. Then a second one.
With that he lit up a cigarette. He was about to turn 33 years old.
Translated by Ottilie Mulzet

Tags: Szilárd Borbély