Tuesday, 5 May 2015

from Blackwater Quartet, selection 30

after Bertolt Brercht -

From a Reader, for Those Who Live in Cities

(Aus einem Lesebuch für Städtebewohner, 1926-1927)


Your pals wave good riddance, the platform

shrinking as your train makes distance, your coat

thin as the wind and the room a city room

with no address for anyone to find,

inventing yourself dead

and your ghost invisible.

Expect nothing of strangers,

of your parents in the street, passing you unnoticed,

a stranger passing strangers looking down,

the Homburg they gave you in another life

hiding your face

and your ghost invisible.

Eat the dead animal, enough and more.

In any chair in any house sit artfully,

and know the number of steps

from the table to the door. Take the door number

with you when you go. Remember your hat, outside the rain

and your ghost invisible.

Make each word you speak your last,

a smut of yellow light you say will do,

enough for now and nothing signed, the picture frame

still waiting for opinions, and nothing

remarkable and no one to meet

and your ghost invisible.

Let others get on with dying,

name the stones, determine dates, yours

elsewhere, a death beyond ceremony,

and because you have disappeared

there is nothing to discover, your absence

and your ghost invisible.


One too many.

Suddenly you realise you are the one

too many, a spare with no expectations,

but the others chat comfortably,

still unaware of your lost hopes.

You disregard

the niceties of the conversation, finishing

sentences we began, all the while

looking for the word, the sentence pause

to let you leave unobserved.

Only then do we notice you are standing,

only you standing, only then we see through

your temper to escape (stay, stay, we insist). Too late

you sit down again. We have seen your lost hopes.

We have seen you surplus to your own life.

Another hour sitting here, the others

catch each other’s glances

avoiding yours. Everyone knows now,

and then we think it must have been so

always. We think, does he know?

When I tell you of your failings

please understand

it’s for your own good. Take it easy,

put down the knife, have a drink. Somebody

has to tell you, after all.

No good blaming me

(as if you could remember why you came),

maybe the world was bad from the first.

Just keeping quiet about it

is hard enough without your song and dance.

Everyone here is here

because they fit, room enough and no more.

How can this be measured, we ask,

the world so full of disappointments,

so overcrowded.


We like it here, in fact

everything here is to our liking,

your house, the stewpot on the stove

bubbling away. We like it so well

we see no reason for you to stay,

a chimney smoke soon gone.

After all, what are neighbours for?

Be warned though, all your hanging around

saying this is mine or that is mine.

Who do you think you are, your wife

making a scene? The authorities will decide

whose papers are in order.

The bricks on your house will be scrubbed,

and they will say the city

changed for the better. A year from now

they will say, we heard he died, and all the lies

we told about you will be believed, and if

the telephone rings we will tell them wrong number.


What I see in the glass

is me but not quite. I see

sleepless nights. I see

what happens

when your man is no good.

If I catch myself singing

I think, who’s a cheerful girl then,

or, there’s roses in your cheeks.

There’s not a pinch on my hips

that doesn’t belong. The trouble I take

avoiding exertion

is worth it. Just look at that skin tone.

Such a careful diet, bird portions;

it’s a slow thing, waiting to be loved,

always before me, hanging in the air

somewhere, neither here nor there.


They scraped me off their shoes,

nothing lower, nothing weaker,

more treacherous or degraded, but then

not everyone finds it easy, and one day

it occurs to me nothing worse to come must mean

better times ahead. I think to myself

dust yourself off. I think,

my turn now.

I stayed drunk for so long

I forgot walking, the direction anywhere,

then when I remembered who made my low life low,

I quit the booze cold.

It was hard, eating snow

to stay alive, and the rat baits

left me thinner than I remembered,

and let me tell you

I was shocked at my reflection

in the glass, my bony

bedspread-pattern body’s crazy angles.

I guess low any longer

would’ve been the end of me.

At first they had me in

for syphilis. Dose for dose

they tried purging me with arsenic,

but after my low life, even the tubes

pulling pus from my side

were of little consequence, and who

would credit a woman like me

still turning men’s heads,

that crazy take-me look?

I call that a start.

Any man I choose I choose

for that little something special, that

little extra something just for me,

and I never went without. Now though

the feeling fills or fades, but then everybody

has their ups and downs.

From now on,

I choose the ups.

I still call my enemy my enemy.

When a man looks at her

and not me, the cow

hears what I say. Maybe in a year

I can get over it.

Well, maybe I can.

You scrape me off your shoe,

but now it’s you

who belong to me, because I am the future

I will teach you to believe in,

the way you believe

the dressed joints of mortar

make the city of your dreams.


He had that cocky walk, stopping

at every shop window, looking in

as if his looking in made things happen,

his hat set rakish but nobody was fooled.

Everybody knew his number was up.

His friends have heard it all before,

and cross the street now they see him coming.

He says he knows the score. He’ll tell

the landlord what’s what. He’ll write to somebody

and complain, dirty streets, dirty weather.

He has plans for a house, real plans

he says, for a real house, and one to suit

his station. He’ll be sitting pretty,

but no rush. He has a word or two to say

to some people first, when he can find them.


Nevermind the others,

you can’t argue with a tank, and besides

if you see your chance you’ve got to take it.

You owe it to yourself.

You’re no good to anybody dead.

I’m talking hard cash now. Look

it’s your problem where you get it,

just get it. I’ve seen your sort before,

and let me tell you they know you here,

and no good you acting different

if you want fat steaks and not waking up

dead. After all, it’s my neck too.

Forget the woman. With those legs

she can walk well enough on her own.

Nevermind what my intentions are.

If you want to come through this

take my advice. It’s your choice.

Trust me. You can tell me anything

and I’ll forget I ever heard it.

I know you got troubles, but it’ll take more

than your fine accent to get you out of this.

If you get there at all you’re luckier than most.

Go now, while no one’s looking.

No, the woman stays.

That’s how it is for you now. That’s all right,

don’t mention it.


You’re nothing special, and no one cares,

whatever your mother said was true

you can forget.

We’re past that now.

We’ve seen your documents. We don’t care

if they’re in order. The plans for you are our plans.

Your pipe dreams of getting on

need less of this and more of the other.

Just concentrate on the pots and pans.

I suppose you think you’ll be Boss one day.

Well, think again.

We don’t want you to say anything,

because there’s nothing for you to ask.

Everybody’s starving.

Just remember your place

and all those mouths to feed.

Just make sure you jump when we say.




(Vier Aufforderungen an einen Mann von verschiedener Seite zu

verschiedenen Zeiten)


Make yourself at home.

What’s ours is yours. Put your things

where you like. You may prefer the furniture

facing the window. Don’t bother

signing for the key.

If you need anything, just say.


There’s room in the parlour

if you want to join us later,

or you can help weed the garden

if you prefer. We’ve washed your plate ready

and your bed is turned down.

We hope you like it here.


The sheets are clean.

We try to keep things nice.

Some people are so particular

so there’s a pail of fresh water

and a spoon to rinse.

Stay as long as you like.


Rooms like this are hard to come by.

I’m afraid it’s extra to stay the night.

I’m a clean girl, if that’s what you’re thinking,

but I keep myself to myself.

There are plenty worse places.

Why don’t you stay?

I speak slowly

so that you will understand.

Nothing I say can be turned or added to

or misinterpreted. I keep the words plain,

and I choose not to look at you

due to the circumstances of our meeting.

Like you, I am weary of your problems,

and the blackmail of your balled-up fists in your lap,

and (I keep trying to explain),

this reality that you believe
never quite arrives.

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