08. 18. 2009. 08:25

the return of the letters (poems)

Gábor Schein

"The letter / D was the last to arrive. It played in the doorway with / a spotted kitten, took it onto its belly, played hide-and-seek around / its leg, then settled down on a broken-edged / stone bench, and for a long time could not fall asleep."

(the last room)
 
the double-winged doors are shut. the knight
in armour long since accustomed to the
careless grimaces of those stepping out
into view, his helmet an inverted
urn, a magician's hat, from which,
like parted draperies, the body slumps forth.
the cloud-darkness ripens. the eye an empty
convex mirror, its murky basin
obliterating all that was depicted there,
as the double-winged doors open up
onto each other. all that remains, one or two
clever manoeuvers, a proven conceit. if into
the tempera paints you mix a drop of gold varnish,
also known as Blattgold, the drying surface,
as if you had wiped it with a bouquet of sunlight,
begins to glow with silken, secret light.
 
 
(the builders of the garden)
 
the book is as if I were following you in an ancient garden
in which you find several trees, prettily arranged,
trimmed bushes, restful arbours behind the hedges
shadow-dappled hillsides, many blossoms. I read aloud,
not knowing when you are bored, when you place your hands
flustered in your lap, when you are thinking of something else, and although
I suspect I know with whom your sympathies lie, I don't know
whether you desired the mutual decomposition of the pair, in which
the baroness so tellingly made inquiries of her husband
and their visitor the captain, before the fourth guest
of the party arrived, and the incessant planning, until then,
of the garden, the terraces, conservatories, paths,
and the building of the gazebos served as a sentimental backdrop
for the unhappy relations, the ill-starred affinities.
 

(phonograph)
 
to remain there, turning the squeaking
wax discs which always get stuck
in the same place, like rain pelting the border,
forever erupting at the point where
the battered diamond needle breaks loose,
its whining like that of a dog beaten
half dead with its tether: take that, it's yours,
you rotten carrion!  the dirt stuck together
in tiny clumps from the saliva, the tears,
the rain, to endure this and when one
can endure no longer, to sneak the tether
back to the hand that will let it drop,
to thrust like a knife in one's heart
the shame of unwanted continuation.
 
 
(winter island)
 
I did not follow
after my son,
the winter island released him.
above the river
icy clouds gathered,
and the water became bright, more flaxen
and the days passed, I had grown old
by the time I heard his voice,
which remained here
in this reed-bound earth.
 
 
(the return of the letters)
 
One evening, the vagrant letters returned
to the house behind the dam.
The water had sealed the house off
from the village: debris, dead leaves, pigeon-carcasses
rotted away inside, and in between the piss-soaked rafters
generations of cats proliferated.
The letters still remembered the hands
which had set them in place, and they wandered across
every page, like the cats roaming over every ruinous
nook and cranny, from one margin to the other. First the letter
   S
came in through and opening in the window. Sensing
the feline reek, in a terrible voice it began to yell,
for the wind to blow upon you a tornado, a waft of air,
although as it screamed, the plank on which it stood
wobbled. Hearing the clamour, two
elderly tomcats jumped out. They arched their backs,
and the first letter retreated, tripping on a piece
of tile, and falling down. In the meantime,
imperceptibly, the second letter crept in,
   P.
It stared and stared at the pigeon corpses. As if
they had become greasy piles of rags, and as it looked,
it thought back upon a respected countenance,
with eyes exactly the same colour of grey, and the hand as well,
as it went along the page from row to row,
the very same shade of grey. It then stepped
over the debris and the rotting mud
to the door, nearly fallen from its hinges,
and the evening sun etched itself into the house. The letter
   D
was the last to arrive. It played in the doorway with
a spotted kitten, took it onto its belly, played hide-and-seek around
its leg, then settled down on a broken-edged
stone bench, and for a long time could not fall
asleep. It was a warm summer evening. Above the dam,
the Moon appeared like a grey eye.
 
Desert
 
White moon
without illumination:
The thoughts of a dead man.
 
Who shall take across
beast, human?
The pastor pronounces the letter
of the alphabet, jabbering:
 
may the letter A be blessed;
 
and when he leaves one out,
his staff scythes widely through the air
lost
behind a white hillock.
 
 
Door
 
The breeze picks up
and then dies down.
 
The trees step
back into their places.
 
Somebody
shoves open
the colossal door –
 
my eyes are open already,
even before
those of the dawn.
 

(margin)
 
In the morning
here too the scent of anisette.
 
The afternoon:
mirror-smooth fanaticism.
 
The dry illumination
scorches all.
 
Now the slightest pressure,
and the walls will burst.

*
 
I sit by the window,
my back to the room.
 
The horizon is empty.
A seagull takes flight
 
close to the water.
The breeze has died down.
 
Dusk today
has fallen early.
 
*

He cannot arrive
from the direction of the woods.
 
In the village
dogs jump after him.
 
Disease-ridden and filthy,
like every other vagabond:
 
sewn into his overcoat
he carries the letters.
 
Translated by Ottilie Mulzet
 
Previously on HLO
Poems by Gábor Schein

Tags: Gábor Schein