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.

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Interview with Myself (Anno 1932)

(by Mascha Kaléko; translated from the German)

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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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From this height one sees everything

(after Li Po)
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A younger me would have stood on his head
To prove the earth and sky are of a size
Then seeing beneath his feet the sunlit clouds
Strode off upon that opalescent path.

These days the sun has turned her face from me.
The autumn wind flings tiny knives of frost.
Far down below, the slow east river flows
Beset with whitecaps, fishing boats, and gulls.

Yes, younger, I’d have turned things upside-down:
The sparrows and the swallows at their nests,
The small birds perched among the date tree’s thorns,
All would have stopped, and quirked their heads to see!

But these days I’m no gymnast, me.
Sundown, I’ll sling my sword upon my back;
I’ll set my feet upon the dusty road
And head off down the mountain, muttering of home.

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I gazed into my wine cup

(After Li Po)

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I gazed into my wine cup
Till after darkness fell.

Out of that dark pool
The vines grew up
Twining me around
And the wine was in me
And I was the wine.

Then I dreamed I stood,
Lost in the wine’s dreaming,
And the moon was there
Beneath my feet, there
Where I walked, midstream.

Somewhere an owl hooted

But nobody was there
To wake me.

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If I Was Ever Going to Say It

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Last night, everything still,
I still, all the people still, the world still,
A dream slipped in
Like a memory, not a dream.

He didn’t say Hello
He just said, Hey.
Hey. I got over it,
He said. The way you do.
It wasn’t so hard, or so bad.

And the time we live in now
Is the important thing
When nobody has to say I love you
Which is really Goodbye
Because nobody’s dying.

Then he told a joke.

Then I learned there wasn’t
A single moment
I could have changed.
Just all of them.

Later the stillness broke,
I waking, the whole world waking
As the line of dawn runs around the world
And the sky brightens and then
Everything starts to hum
Like there’s something inside everything.

That was the time to say Goodbye,
If I was ever going to say it.

 

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Don’t pretend you don’t know me

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This morning when you passed
Me and I followed
You on the sidewalk
Your shadow after you’d passed
Was right there in my way,
So I stepped on your shadow’s
Head. All the way down the sidewalk
I secretly followed,
Skipping discreetly, your shadow’s
Trail, stepping and stepping the whole way.

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The Prince Who Succeeded in Slaying the Giant (A Cautionary Tale)

Danger - Falling Giants
The Prince was bold, the Prince was brave,
The Prince was young and strong,
All of these things he was, and yet
He did not live so long.

The Prince sought the Princess’s hand;
The King, to try his skill,
Commanded, “Slay the giant!”
And the Prince, he said, “I will!”

The giant’s name was Fumblegrunt
The largest of that race –
Full thirty yards he measured,
From his feet up to his face!

All night they fought, and then all day;
All afternoon as well;
Until at last the brute was slain
– And then, of course, he fell.

For Fumblegrunt was huge and strong,
And ugly and appalling;
And heavy, too, as the Prince found, who
Reckoned without his falling.

So once you’ve slain the giant –
Though your heart be filled with pride –
O once you’ve slain the giant,
Don’t forget to step aside.

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Two Lives: Caesar / Napoleon

David_-_Napoleon_Caesar_-_statue

Caesar loved the Egyptian Queen
And conquered Europe to impress;
Napoleon, for Josephine,
Decided he could do no less.

The Roman styled himself divine —
His friends took pains to prove he erred;
For Russia’s lands the Frenchman pined
But he, too, found himself deterred.

Poor Julius! The Senate floor
Was where he met his Waterloo;
And Bonaparte proved just as poor,
For soon enough he met one, too.

 

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Chronic Healing

epWywuc[1]He was always just recovering from
some shit, talking his way back to
normal, learning to live in
the present and yanking
the stuck parts of himself out from
underneath the deadfall
he’d somehow blundered into
again.

 

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