About the Village

Ernest Wichner

Unexpectedly there was a direction
in which the children and pets and trees and flowers
and birds of the air all turned their eyes and leaves
and blossoms and feathers a direction in which all
unexpectedly spoke

*

On the first day such frost covered the landscape that
words froze in the peasants' throats and throttled them so
they fell silent in spasms silent all winter and
starved for fear of frozen throats of the larynx freezing
in lumps they inhaled when unavoidable
swaths of ice that only slowly began to melt deep
in the lungs the diaphragm they said a glacier lake

*

The parson however when he left had counted his flock
in souls as was his habit and locked the church
the key when he left remained on the sacristy table where
it was found by the sister of the deceased when he had left
she unlocked and recounted the seventeen coffins black in
the middle aisle of the nave

*

Strange village words were gathered into strange sentences
according to the strange village grammar and communicated
by the strange village speakers in their strange village intonation
to equally strange village listeners and in strangely explicable ways
understood by them which was proved irrefutably and village-wide
by their strange village replies

*

In moments of village poetry one behaved
as in village legends and in moments of village surfeit
as in village reality which led by village logic
to unending marriages, births and murders

*

Sometimes the sky turned yellow like cheap paper
and on the then dusty road said to have crumbled
with boredom a child rode an old lady's-bicycle
from which only the dispensable parts had been ripped off
which state of affairs had elsewhere found its way into a poem
in whose crooked middle line an "i" in quotes had
been hidden by an imprecise hand

*

Like any other village in the area this one too was a
mean people-trap and constantly plotted revenge for the
condition it had brought on itself and which as it turned out
could only be undone by totally depopulating
this village people-trap and resettling it with
members of another tribe who in no time at all would
restore the village to its old purpose as people-trap
now with a different language

*

In the nearest small town spring air drove the street sweepers
with wheelbarrows full of nervous children through streets
that cried for access to the sea it's certain they longed for
manhole gratings leading to the watery underground for
the only moving water ran stinking in a straight line rose slightly
in the evening and morning and otherwise got lost in the fields
just outside town

*

In the summer then it was said that in order to avoid
worse calamities the people's council had resolved to declare
the sea and our childish desire for sea air an invention
of welfare bums and families were advised to rebolt
their kids tight in their nuts

*

The tired father used visualization the tired mother
thought in knight's moves the tired grandfather preferred
thinking in hooks to line and sinkers the tired grandmother
thought in Romanian house numbers and what about the tired
greatgrandparents whom tired thinking pictures in the crackling
of the universe or in shutters banging violently in the storm in
the likewise always tired yard

*

And if he struck something solid with his pole he turned
triumphantly looked at you and gradually past you
a contour peeling off changing to blue to yellow
breaking open and fading into the haze above the water

*

When they heard of the storms over there they immediately
wanted to send somebody to report on them and they
discussed it for a long time until they learned of the devastating
earthquake south of it where they immediately wanted
to send somebody to gather information and they discussed
and discussed until they were told of the cruel massacre
in the northeast and suddenly lost all interest
stopped their discussions and went on living in the strange
state of annoyance they called peace

*

And so everything had been steamed down, shrunk down
to a kind of fruit extract and nobody thought of anything but
finding the eye of the needle where you suddenly reach
the reverse of all gestures and could counterbalance the world
with a straw which we practiced until it broke

*

Somewhere deep down the sun was shining and I was
so much myself I could read the time on the round disk
that had neither numbers nor hands that I could entrust
my gestures and movements to the mechanical ballet
with the title identity which however I noticed only later
when I was already sitting in my seat calmly watching it
also it was shortly before that I had learned to pronounce
the word I

*

That's where the evening is a voice was heard it's stuck
in a barrel above the masts it's in good hands
but thirsty as we are we go to sea my wife's voice joined
my own and both rang out an aching farewell oh
evening while outside the masts were clattering in the wind
and the evening barrels rolled homeward rumbling

*

Those who had rolled out into the world in a barrel had
beforehand willed their life to science they yielded an
overabundance of potassium sodium and aluminum
to the light they had avoided in their old age drowsing in
darkened rooms toward death that scratched-up stave
trembling in their summer-blue lungs

*

Dark turned the sky then white with dull gray
clouds above the crouched roofs where we suddenly
heard rain splash with a noise never heard before tiny white
maggots whirring through the thin air above the roofs and like
drum taps tumbling down on the village the sultry time of the
linden had begun and grandfather pale with fright in high boots
and silent as if forever shoveled the maggot rain into a
heap high as the hedge

*

In the locked houses family talk seeped into the plaster
walls as a barely audible whisper as for almost a week
no-one dared go outside white maggot rot a soft bell sound
was hanging over the landscape while heavy and white with rage
acacias linden and elders bloomed open the summer

*

A loudmouth nobody of a hawk came to the village the haughty
man ulysses barefoot fish on stilts a stinking smokestack
clothes flaking off him with rot and moldy fumes talked
conjure-trash cried bloody murder prophecies around his one
black stump of an incisor left to hedge his tongue
a hollow horse's skull will rise where you would see the moon he said
if you don't give if you don't give 'twas booze his highness wanted
booze and chicken innards he was given
on his own shoulders then he ulysses carried off the horse's skull

*

The watercolor moon above the finally not
describable village had shriveled down to a spot
on the faded paper so that all further textual work
lay down in a circle around the village emptied out by nightly
delusions of omnipotence


translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop



Read the original in German

Ernest Wichner was born in 1952 in Zăbrani [Guttenbrunn], Banat, Romania, and has been living in Germany since 1975. He translates from the Romanian and directs the Literaturhaus in Berlin. His awards include the Lyrik-Stipendium Niedersachsen (1997) and the Preis der Stadt Münster für Europäische Poesie (2005). His books of poetry include Steinsuppe (1988), Die Einzahl der Wolken (2003), Rückseite der Gesten (2003), "Bin ganz wie aufgesperrt" (2010), and Neuschnee und Ovomaltine (2010).

Rosmarie Waldrop is the author of several books of poetry, most recently Driven to Abstraction, Curves to the Apple, and Blindsight (all three from New Directions), and Love, Like Pronouns (Omnidawn). Her Collected Essays, Dissonance (if you are interested), was published by University of Alabama Press in 2005. Two novels, The Hanky of Pippin's Daughter and A Form/of Taking/It All, are available in a single paperback (Northwestern UP, 2001). She has translated fourteen volumes of Edmond Jabès's work (her memoir, Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès, is out from Wesleyan UP) as well as books by Emmanuel Hocquard, Jacques Roubaud, and, from the German, Friederike Mayröcker, Elke Erb, Oskar Pastior, Gerhard Rühm, Ulf Stolterfoht. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she co-edits Burning Deck Books with Keith Waldrop.



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