Tuesday, 10 November 2015

from Blackwater Quartet, selection 51




after Bertolt Brecht
From a Reader, for Those Who Live in Cities
(Aus einem Lesebuch für Städtebewohner, 1926-1927)

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

4

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.

5

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.

6

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.

7

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.

8

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.

9

FOUR INVITATIONS TO A MAN AT DIFFERENT TIMES
FROM DIFFERENT QUARTERS
(Vier Aufforderungen an einen Mann von verschiedener Seite zu
verschiedenen Zeiten)

i.

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.

ii.

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.

iii.

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.

iv.

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?

10

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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