Saturday, February 26, 2011

Provisional Tenants

Photo by D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

—Bertolt Brecht

Contemplating Hell, as I once heard it,
My brother Shelley found it to be a place
Much like the city of London. I,
Who do not live in London, but in Los Angeles,
Find, contemplating Hell, that it
Must be even more like Los Angeles.

Also in Hell,
I do not doubt it, there exist these opulent gardens
With flowers as large as trees, wilting, of course,
Very quickly, if they are not watered with very expensive water.
     And fruitmarkets,
With great heaps of fruit, which nonetheless

Possess neither scent nor taste. And endless trains of autos,
Lighter than their own shadows, swifter than
Foolish thoughts, shimmering vehicles, in which
Rosy people, coming from nowhere, go nowhere.
And houses, designed for happiness, standing empty,
Even when inhabited.

Even the houses in Hell are not all ugly.
But concern about being thrown into the street
Consumes the inhabitants of the villas no less
Than the inhabitants of the barracks.

(Translated from the German by Robert Firmage)


—Bertolt Brecht

After the wailing had already begun
along the walls, their ruin certain,
the Trojans fidgeted with bits of wood
in the three-ply doors, itsy-bitsy
pieces of wood, fussing with them.
And began to get their nerve back and feel hopeful.

(Translated by John Peck)


—Bertolt Brecht

I, Bertolt Brecht, came out of the black forests. 
My mother moved me into the cities while I lay
Inside her body. And the chill of the forests
Will be inside me till my dying day.

In the asphalt city I'm at home. From the very start
Provided with every unction and sacrament:
With newspapers. And tobacco. And brandy.
To the end mistrustful, lazy and content.

I'm polite and friendly to people. I put on
A stiff hat because that's what they do.
I say: they're animals with a quite peculiar smell
And I say: Does it matter? I am too.

Sometimes in the morning on my empty rocking chairs
I'll sit a woman or two, and with an untroubled eye
Look at them steadily and say to them:
Here you have someone on whom you can't rely.

Towards evening it's men that I gather around me
And then we address one another as 'gentlemen'.
They're resting their feet on my table tops
And say: Things will get better for us. And I don't ask: When?

In the gray light before morning the pine-trees piss
And their vermin, the birds, raise their twitter and cheep.
At that hour I drain my glass in town, then throw
The cigar butt away and worriedly go to sleep.

We have sat, an easy generation
In houses thought to be indestructible
(Thus we built those tall boxes on the island of Manhattan
And those thin antennae that amuse the Atlantic swell.)

Of those cities will remain: what passed through them, the
The house makes glad the consumer: he clears it out.
We know that we're only tenants, provisional ones,
And after us there will come: nothing worth talking about.

In the earthquakes to come, I very much hope,
I shall keep my Virginia alight, embittered or no,
I, Bertolt Brecht, carried off to the asphalt cities
From the black forests inside my mother long ago.

(Translated by Michael Hamburger)


Today's LittleNip: 

—Bertolt Brecht

On my wall hangs a Japanese carving,
The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer.
Sympathetically I observe
The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating
What a strain it is to be evil.

(Translated by H.R. Hays)



Don't forget two important dates: Deadline for The Ophidian #2, Rattlesnake Press’s online journal of poetry and art, is next Tuesday, March 1! Don’t be left out. Scroll down the skinny blue b-board over at the right and click on The Ophidian for info. And Monday is the last day of The Book Collector’s month-long 25% off EVERYTHING sale. Better get down there this weekend, or you’ll be left out of that, too!

 Soulangian Magnolia
—Photo by D.R. Wagner