Life During Wartime

2081984776_7a81aa2338_oBig-head lost her boy
In the war, now she’s crying
If you can hear her.

Grey-hair lost his friends
In the war, now he’s crying,
It’s too late to get new ones.

And the townsfolk left their dirty dishes
And left their cups overturned on the tables
And left dinner burning on the stove
When they heard the news and fled
As who wouldn’t?

Now it’s murky dusk.
Now comes the snow.
Now comes the wind.
Fuck! But it’s cold out!

And the townsfolk fled
Except the old men,
And the old women, and the ghosts,
And me, burning this old book
Just to get some light.

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No Evil Star

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_17The world laments with many tongues;
You had your one.
But you said enough, with your rhymes and your songs
And your crying, crying, crying all night long.
You were just killing time till it was time to go
But found time dies too slow.

It’s all right now, I think you’d say.
Maybe there was a better change you could have made
But finally they’re all the same.
After the games you’d played with pain
The gas was easy, anyway.

Were you afraid? Who wouldn’t be?
You knew the soul is what it feels.
A private pain is no less real:
Yours grew until it had to be set free.
I guess you did it perfectly.

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One day he noticed a crack in the world


One day he noticed a crack in the world
so he gave it a poke
and the world,
the whole world, seamed and shattered

There being no place for the pieces to go
they just hang there
gnashing their edges at his slightest passing
and sharp as damn all

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Toy Boat

3238836601_08e731b2d7_oInadequate paddles, a child’s boat.
It got us to the far bank
Where summer grass choked the shore
And the heat scent of summer grass 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.

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To Tempt Spring to Return

After Han Yu


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.




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Post-Script (Anno 1945)

(by Mascha Kaléko; translated from the German)

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.

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Interview with Myself (Anno 1932)

(by Mascha Kaléko; translated from the German)


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.

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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.

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