Six Poems

Translated, from
the German,
by Stuart Friebert

 

 

KARL  KROLOW (1915-1999)

Krolow’s large body of work – thousands of signature poems (3 volumes of Selected Poems!), haunting prose, criticism of the highest caliber, and sublime translations, from the Spanish & English, all charting a major direction for German literature — will endure as long as the German language does. Founding member of the Gruppe 47, which sought to cleanse the language & literature of Nazi viruses, President of The Academy of Language & Literature for three memorable years, Krolow also championed the works of many other writers, among them Paul Celan & Nelly Sachs, whose Jewish roots did not exactly call forth much sympathy from a large contingent of the writing community, to put it mildly. Few German writers move readers to such fervor and regard, who are drawn especially to Krolow’s gravity of concerns and witness-bearing ways to a century of death and destruction.
(Full disclosure: Krolow wrote the afterword to Friebert’s 1st collection of German poems and allowed him ongoing access to Krolow’s ways with poems and supervised many a translation.)
Special thanks to Karl Krolow & Suhrkamp Verlag/Berlin for permission to publish these poems.

 

THE RIGHT WORDS –  IN GERMAN

Not German. Wordless. Children
were just playing with their hair,
put it in their mouth.
Just a wall-clock was ticking,
announcing the second time,
when people made love on
the horsehair sofa, silently.
No worried voice
intervened.

Not a syllable. People looked
at each other a long time,
propped up on elbows, speechless.
The day was mirrored
in a carafe of water tinted red.
Fellow humans were far away.
They went wherever they wanted to.
That’s how it was with us, living on
with long eyelashes,
our white teeth gnashing
in the twilight, the future we feared.

Not a syllable. Silently
we took our bodies by their word.
We were on the side
of ignorance. Wittingly
we let the haste of history
rest on itself
and strange the right words
in German.
Not even a single sentence.
We had enough of a language
with which we deceived ourselves.

 

THE COUPLE
I
Narrow like wrists.

See our silent plane,
the child’s kite,
no longer held by
fingers over a coast
on which one says
good night now.

The homing pigeon between us
climbs higher and higher.

We’re in a pretty house
without doors, sky,
blue on our bodies
that can’t be blotted out.

II
The other life
with two pairs of eyes.

We’re feverish
like stones
in the sun.

Still life of clothes taken off.

Our darkness – like lit-up oil,
poured unsafely out the window.

Our breath flies off
from our common mouth.

 

 

THAT’S  SO  SIMPLE

Just come here if you like:
I want to tell you what the point is.
You can forget cause and effect —
that has to do with logic.
Coming to the point is simpler:
like looking at the clock and taking
the time seriously or turning a light on
and your head burns,
you leave the door open and wait,
the way it slams shut,
or go along the wall,
find no end, get confused,
lose your way, do something
to yourself and don’t know
what the other’s point is.
commit actual things:
thought or done,
look at your fingers,
how they make a fist,
or open to a sky,
which knows no hell: —
that’s so simple.

 

 

OCTOBER

Odor of quinces. A Sunday in October
and too much ozone. People stumble in the light,
an apron full of red pears.
Women, Katherine Mansfield says,
like Sundays best.
Minutes best of all, I say,
in which one needs night like hands,
the night’s skin.
They’re playing with quinces, English
and German women, who
surface from long sentences
— how they all smell —
quinces, shoulders, light sweat of love,
whenever they do what they like!
Afterward they say:
I’ve always felt you too little.
Longing has a first name: homesickness.
The night’s now blacker
under the Merino-blanket,
moonless, October.
Inner illnesses
lie ahead.

 

 

 

LIFE  DEPENDS  ON  IT

Better:
you read lines of music
than the truth about you,
which is nowhere to be found.
It’s a matter of
sticking the right
stamp on the letter
and not listing anyone
as the sender
or God and the world.
Your lover’s voice has long since
died out on the telephone.
Withhold
your belongings.
You disgust when
you attract attention.
There are
more dangerous illnesses
than the flu,
for example:
keeping your head high.
The end of such
a novel is inconspicuously
deadly.

 
ONE  WORD  AFTER  ANOTHER

Imagine,
they’d make a sentence —
one word after another
occurs to me about you
and me and our shared words
would never end,
the way they occur to us
about our life.
Mine’s ending soon —
but yours, yours:
one year after another!
We’re still in the middle
of our sentence,
in the midst of our words,
how they occur to us
about our happiness —
then we’ll be happy.
And the words, which
hold true for us, are for
seizing with our hands —
one sentence long,
which never ends.

 

 

P-Friebert-PhotoStuart Friebert’s third volume of Krolow translations, Puppets in the Wind: Selected Poems of Karl Krolow, appeared in 2014 from Bitter Oleander Press. Be Quiet: Selected Poems of Kuno Raeber in Friebert’s translations is from Tiger Bark Press (2015). Friebert’s 14th book of poems, On the Bottom, is from Iris Press (2015); and Floating Heart, from Pinyon Press in 2014 won the 2015 Ohionana Book Award for poetry in 2015. The Language of the Enemy, memoir-pieces and stories, have just been published by Black Mountain Press.

2 Responses to “Six Poems”

  1. Betsy Sholl

    It’s always great to see Stuart Friebert’s work–translations and his own poems. A real gift.

  2. Betsy Sholl

    It’s always great to see Stuart Friebert’s work–translations or his own poems. Thank you for these.

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