Toy Boat

3238836601_08e731b2d7_oInadequate paddles, a child’s boat.
It got us to the far bank
Where summer grass choked the shore
And its scent grew heavy on the cooling air.

Somewhere a car-camper played a radio.
Everything seemed to stand still:
The boat still; the water still;
But we startled the shorebirds and they rose all about us, all at once.

Continue reading

To Tempt Spring to Return

After Han Yu

13722130495_2081586ddd_h

The low grasses, the tall trees: which of them tempts spring to return?
In fall, the trees flaunted their dying leaves; the grasses withered, leaving us melancholy.
Now they vie in beauty, tempting spring to return.
Even the poplar and the subtle elm offer up their pallid blossoms to the wind
To overflow the sky, to fly like snow, to tempt spring to return.

 

 

 

 
Continue reading

Post-Script (Anno 1945)

(by Mascha Kaléko; translated from the German)

Bloch_portrait-of-a-boy
I’ve traveled far in thirteen years –
Although what I looked for was hardly romantic;
But without any taste for new frontiers
Still I seem to have crossed the Atlantic.

All that I had, I’ve left behind
But the moment I look around, I find
I’ve a child like the one my parents knew:
His parents are immigrants, through and through.

My son writes “ALIEN” – learning to spell.
He tells me, “Don’t speak German, dear.”
He’s eight. He wants to know, as well,
Is it “all right” not to be from here?

Just what I once asked Rector May!
And like me, too, in another way:
For he’s sure that peace will come to stay
Once the stupid War has gone away.

Continue reading

Interview with Myself (Anno 1932)

(by Mascha Kaléko; translated from the German)

csm_Foto_5_02_1765303feb

In the talkative town where I made my debut
My parents were immigrants, through and through.
We had a church, a doctor or two,
And a loony bin with a lovely view.

My favorite word as a child was “NO.”
If I made Mother happy, it didn’t show.
And thinking back to that long-ago
I wouldn’t wish my own child so.

The Great War found me under the sway
Of the parish school and Rector May,
And thinking that peace would come to stay
If only the War would go away.

Well, I entered the academic race
And the teachers were pleased at my rapid pace –
Despite my having not a trace
Of Nordic hair or an Aryan face –

At graduation, Teacher said
We were all so smart, and so well-bred,
We could go forth, work hard, get ahead.
But I took an office job instead.

I work eight hours of every day
And my duties are light, but so’s my pay;
And at night I while the time away
With poetry – to Dad’s dismay.

I love to brave the wilderness
Of maps, and wander, bodiless;
Still there are days, I must confess
I sometimes wish for happiness.

Continue reading

That Old Feeling

(by Mascha Kaléko; translated from the German) 

Erich Heckel, Still Life with Wooden Figure, 1913The first time that I thought to die
–I still recall the scene–
I died with so much skill and grace
In Hamburg, just the perfect place,
And I was just eighteen.

And when I died the second time,
It filled my heart with woe
That I could leave you nothing more
Than just my heart, laid at your door,
And footprints, red in snow.

And when I died the third time,
I hardly felt the pain;
Familiar as my toast and tea,
Like an old shoe, is death to me.
I needn’t die again.

Continue reading

As to theories of spontaneous generation

1439407571_620cc3ee0e_o
Time was, we had to be cautious
since the dead world could quicken
and anything was always inexplicably
about to become an animal:
bare dirt birthed worms,
toads sprang full-blown from muck,
and nothingness bred mice
from stale bread, cheese, and a corner.

We now know that’s not the way of it:
life’s not spontaneous,
but always it’s the product of
some effortful seed
and some intent or accident of sperm;
life breeds life, and furiously
goes on living.

Not magic but poetry.

Continue reading

Always Being Hungry

188743415_a43768d5b7_oCoyote ate up all the animals
Crow ate up all the birds
Pike ate up all the fish
Grasshopper ate up all the crops

So when Yaitse
That pasty-faced monster
Ate up the rainclouds
And the sun went crazy everywhere?

Nothing to eat but bones, we had
Nothing to drink but tears.

pike

Continue reading

Kaddish

(by Mascha Kaléko; translated from the German)

Red shriek the poppies in the green fields of Poland.
Death lies in wait in the black forests of Poland.
Wheat rots, unharvested.
The reapers are all dead.
However much their mothers starve
The children cry for bread.

And frightened from their nests, the birds have ceased
To sing; the trees lift up their limbs for grief
And bow and whisper lamentation towards the east;
And when the wind takes up their sorrows like a prayer
And when they bow down like old Jews in attitudes of prayer
The broad, blood-sodden earth is shaken,
The stones themselves awaken.

This year, who will sound
The Shofar for the supplicants beneath the ground?
The hundred thousands whom no headstones name,
The hundred thousands God alone can name.

How shall they be entered into Heaven’s book aright?
Lord, we beseech you,
Let the prayers of the trees reach you
Tonight, as we light the last light.

Continue reading

Still awake

3853566155_771f35d751_bThat time you lay with me
and the moon so bright

we doubted our own eyes: springtime,
and silver frost on the ground!

Like a blow, your absence.
I look for you under the bright moon
In the springtime

but the moon sinks. You are absent.

That’s why.

 

 

Continue reading