Four Poems

translated by 

Clay Tablet Bearing the World’s First Alphabet

That had come
much later –

After everything
already had happened –

Without witness
the first stammered

word
this atomic flash

forever
contaminating

the oblivious creation
with spirit


Orpheus

Weightless is
love
eye in eye –

Gods all
spare us the trial
may an impulse
a gaze
across the shoulder
mark its fate

 

Hallowed Twilight

Since when does your silence have
this gentle S-motion of a Gothic Madonna
who misses her child?

Since when have your shoulders
and loins and breasts
been sprouting
curl after curl
soft and fluffy hair
like in the miracle beckoned by St. Agnes?

The fragrance of linden wood emanates from your skin
invisible angels are carrying you upward
high above my ash-gray hairline –

I want to call upon you
but I stand here immured
by this semi-darkness –

creatures
all sorts of strange ones
and tendrils and leaves
are growing forth
from my mouth of stone

 

In Bamberg Cathedral

The girl of stone
with the tender locks
and the dress sticking to her skin
(as though she had come in from a sudden
cloudburst)
she is Synagoga –

She has been blindfolded
for she is supposed to be blind to Truth –

This ought to turn into a poem
about pogroms and smoldering ovens –

But I am only able
to think about the musty variété show
where she the psychic could foretell
whatever her assistant was about to pull out
from my pockets with his glowing fingers
on this summer morning –

a return ticket to Munich
a mechanical pencil made by Caran d’Ache
7 euros 38 in small change
and an unfinished love poem

that she is reading to me
sotto voce, syllable by syllable
as though it were
composed for her 

Translations from the German
By Paul-Henri Campbell

Ludwig Steinherr was born in Munich in 1962. He earned a PhD with a dissertation on Hegel and Quine. He is the author of twelve award-winning volumes of poetry and is a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. His work has been translated into numerous languages. Recent publications include Kometenjagd (2009) and Ganz Ohr (2012), from which these poems were taken, as well as Das Mädchen der Maler Ich (2012). An English edition of his collected poems, Before the Invention of Paradise, was published in 2010.

Paul-Henri Campbell was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1982. He studied classical Greek and Roman Catholic theology. He is a bilingual poet and translator. His publications include poetry in German and English—most recent are Space Race (2012) and Am Ende der Zeilen (2013).