Open Call: Family Party

Max Czollek

i turn to those
who buy toothbrushes
secondhand to scrub the sidewalk
only to find the work
has already been done

who trust in umbrellas
even in clement weather
and end up soaked in sweat

who fake a shot to the stomach
to fail the army physical
but are so convincing
they bleed to death

who’d be glad
were their face seized by a stranger
who didn’t first ask permission


i turn to those
who left as fathers
and returned as sons

who stood in Lidl and reckoned it time
to pull the pin from their pomegranades

who kicked in the door
at dawn
and only apologized after

who, under absolutely no circumstances
will be captured alive, their blood cells
clad in bulletproof vests



i turn to the final moments
aboard the wilhelm gustloff, to the burning homeland

i turn to those
who don’t notice the fuse
running from words in the past

those adrift in the baltic, blessed in the meltwater
of icebergs, clinging to a chair leg

those who search for adder stones after storm tide
and amber, who, well-versed in earth science
always find kelp, and never hair


i turn to those
who bid on an eel at market
to chuck back into the elbe
to whom nothing else occurs
on the subject of freedom

who own porch swings
and enough staircases
to climb for a lifetime

those who reach for the sky in surrender
and contend
they’re trying to touch the stars

those who believe the north sea is a sound
who press a bottle
to their eye
who double their bets
and fold without showing their cards


i turn to those
who see, not trucks at the traffic light
but germans in eastern europe

who don’t see planes in the sky
without new york, damascus, kabul, caracas
seoul, ramallah, belgrad, tel aviv, heiligendamm

i turn to those
who march in the pleasant chill
of the shadows of giants

to those wearing borrowed suits
in metros, showrooms, empty glasses
in canopy beds, in fond memories
in my prayers


i turn to the migratory birds
in which i want to believe
with all my heart

to the dancers
i try to pose in the twilight,
with their legs of carbon

i turn to the veins
in the delta of my temple, whose paths i seek
in the limelight of the public toilet
at the memorial site

before i notice i’ve already
forgotten everything i learned there


i turn to those
who’ve always wanted to smoke lucky strikes
at the gas pump

who let their beards grow
to hide their teeth
and no longer fear the dentist

who invent a secret weapon
and forget the blueprint under a bench
on their way to the rendezvous point

i turn to those
who strap a vest to their chest
and carry a suitcase to heavily-trafficked places
train stations, große freiheit, the holocaust memorial



i turn to those
who don’t have nightmares
whose waking world is wretched enough

whose clenched fist
breaks its own fingers, who roll
off the roof in sleep

i turn to those
caught in gust of catkins
for whom it already snows in spring

who annex campuses
because they can’t go any farther
who wade in my shit
whom i have forgotten


i turn to those
whose egress is planned today
who know where to leave their books

who know the old songs
but don’t want to admit
they didn’t like them before

who dip celery
in saltwater, happy even though
they know there’s no ground for it

who sacrifice their expectations to the gods
who only understand poetry and nothing else

i finally turn to those
who believe vacant mirrors hold vigil
for their forlorn faces  

who, upon burying the tear-streaked eyes
of their parents, were rendered incurable
as the evening sky

who are like the swallows
that sleep in flight

and fall from the sky
without making a fuss

translated from the German by Meg Matich