The Old Jewish Cemetery
is one great bouquet of grey stone
on which time has trodden.
I was drifting among the graves,
thinking of my mother.
She used to read the Bible.
The letters in two columns
welled up before her eyes
like blood from a wound.
The lamp guttered and smoked
and Mother put on her glasses.
At times she had to blow it out
and with her hairpin straighten
the glowing wick.
But when she closed her tired eyes
she dreamed of Paradise
before God had garrisoned it
with armed cherubim.
Often she fell asleep and the Book
slipped from her lap.
I was still young
when I discovered in the Old Testament
those fascinating verses about love
and eagerly searched for
the passages on incest.
Then I did not yet suspect
how much tenderness is hidden in the names
of Old Testament women.
Adah is Ornament and Orpah
is a Hind,
Naamah is the Sweetness
and Nikol is the Little Brook.
Abigail is the Fount of Delight.
But if I recall how helplessly I watched
as they dragged off the Jews,
even the crying children,
I still shudder with horror
and a chill runs down my spine.
Jemima is the Dove and Tamar
the Palm Tree.
Tirzah is Grace
and Zilpah a Dewdrop.
My God, how beautiful this is.
We were living in hell
yet no one dared to strike a weapon
from the murderers’ hands.
As if within our hearts we did not have
a spark of humanity!
The name Jecholiah means
The Lord is Mighty.
And yet their frowning God
gazed over the barbed wire
and did not move a finger —
Delilah is the Delicate, Rachel
the Ewe Lamb,
Deborah the Bee
and Esther the Bright Star.
I’d just returned from the cemetery
when the June evening, with its scents,
rested on the windows.
But from the silent distance now and then
came thunder of a future war.
There is no time without murder.
I almost forgot:
Rhoda is the Rose.
And this flower perhaps is the only thing
that’s left us on earth
from the Paradise that was.
translated by: Ewald Osers.
when she would talk about herself
my mother would say:
My life was sad and quiet,
I always walked on tip-toe.
But if I got a little angry
and stamped my foot
the cups, which had been my mother's,
would tinkle on the dresser
and make me laugh.
At the moment of my birth, so I am told,
a butterfly flew in by the window
and settled on my mother's bed,
but that same moment a dog howled in the yard.
My mother thought
it a bad omen.
My life of course has not been quite
as peaceful as hers.
But even when I gaze upon our present days
as if at empty picture frames
and all I see is a dusty wall,
still it has been so beautiful.
There are many moments
I cannot forget,
moments like radiant flowers
in all possible colours and hues,
evenings filled with fragrance
like purple grapes
hidden in the leaves of darkness.
With passion I read poetry
and loved music
and blundered, ever surprised,
from beauty to beauty.
But when I first saw
the picture of a woman nude
I began to believe in miracles.
My life unrolled swiftly.
It was too short
for my vast longings,
which had no bounds.
Before I knew it
my life's end was drawing near.
Death soon will kick open my door
With startled terror I'll catch my breath
and forget to breathe again.
May I not be denied the time
once more to kiss the hands
of the one who patiently and in step with me
walked on and on and on
and who loved most of all.
Translation : Ewald OSERS
Fragment of a Letter
All night rain lashed the windows.
I couldn't go to sleep.
So I switched on the light
and wrote a letter.
If love could fly,
as of course it can't,
and didn't so often stay close to the ground,
it would be delightful to be enveloped
in its breeze.
But like infuriated bees
jealous kisses swarm down upon
the sweetness of the female body
and an impatient hand grasps
whatever it can reach,
and desire does not flag.
Even death might be without terror
at the moment of exultation.
But who has ever calculated
how much love goes
into one pair of open arms!
Letters to women
I always sent by pigeon post.
My conscience is clear.
I never entrusted them to sparrowhawks
Under my pen the verses dance no longer
and like a tear in the corner of an eye
the word hangs back.
And all my life, at its end,
is now only a fast journey on a train:
I'm standing by the window of the carriage
and day after day
speeds back into yesterday
to join the black mists of sorrow.
At times I helplessly catch hold
of the emergency brake.
Perhaps I shall once more catch sight
of a woman's smile,
trapped like a torn-off flower
on the lashes of her eyes.
Perhaps I may still be allowed
to send those eyes at least one kiss
before they're lost to me in the dark.
Perhaps once more I shall even see
a slender ankle
chiselled like a gem
out of warm tenderness,
so that I might once more
half choke with longing.
How much is there that man must leave behind
as the train inexorably approaches
with its plantations of shimmering asphodels
amidst whose perfume everything is forgotten.
Including human love.
That is the final stop:
the train goes no further.
And now goodbye
To all those million verses in the world
I've added just a few.
They probably were no wiser than a cricket's chirrup.
I know. Forgive me.
I'm coming to the end.
They weren't even the first footmarks
in the lunar dust.
If at times they sparkled after all
it was not their light.
I loved this language.
And that which forces silent lips
will make young lovers kiss
as they stroll through red-gilded fields
under a sunset
slower than in the tropics.
Poetry is with us from the start.
like hunger, like the plague, like war.
At times my verses were embarrassingly
But I make no excuse.
I believe that seeking beautiful words
than killing and murdering.
Translated by Ewald Osers