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tearing the rag off the bush again
Four poems from Das Auge des Entdeckers (The Discoverer?s Eye) PDF E-mail
Nicolas Born was an unusual and independent German poet novelist etc. of the 60's and 70's (died miserably in 1979 of lung & brain cancer) who came to the US (Iowa Workshop when Berrigan and Hollo were there), and though a darker and more engaged person by far took some vital lessons from NY School poets that showed in his third book (which these poems came from) Das Auge des Entdeckers (The Discoverer's Eye), which sold big (for poetry) and made him famous in 1972.  Later he translated Kenneth Koch (Vielen Dank, 1976). He hated the German marxist poetic orthodoxy of HM Enzensberger etc, and developed what he called a utopian poetics. A collected poems and selected letters in the last few years have made him famous again. He was a good guy who at the end had really cruel luck.
I met and started translating him in 1969; published work from the first two books in big (Iowa Review, Modern Poetry in Translation) and little (Kamadhenu, Doones) journals back then; got back to it when I was contacted by the family about letters for the selected letters.  I'm working with the cooperation of his widow Irmgard and daughter Katharina.

Landscape With Big Car

With such a big car we’re bound to come through          
                dead        or alive
in the back of the neck a music        
                                     that never stops
sweet air of Montana bitter air of Missouri
our coats billow out like we’re on the run
we fill up
                there are dog catchers running around loose                
us in the sidelong looks of cowboys
us in the spendthrift shade of an airplane                      
us outside Chicago’s field of fire        
            we shake hands with William Fulbright
                        we haunt our way through Arkansas
we visit a poet’s grave in his lifetime
green all around             with just a touch of yellow   
the demonstration runs into the flames of Phoenix
Arizona redbrown outer space black
we’re a point moving westwards
we’re not Americans
               but we’re part of it too                           
a sheriff pulls us over
no we didn’t pick up a black hitchhiker
we’re not horse thieves but we are Germans
our politeness is the politeness of foreigners
                                            we’re getting faster   
we feel like we’re roaring         
                                             packed in sweet air
and in a music that never stops
                                             we’re aging really slowly
thank you Pentagon
for this statistical delaying effect

Before Falling Asleep                         

Under the covers three a.m.
             I want to be off to the BETTER WORLD
this is the wall
             I have to go into
to close off my face
               and put the world behind me
                            in my own
                                            personal past
The curtain’s blowing it’s September--
how silly these facts are
             like the speech-spit                      
                            in the room
that drips
into my memory
                “according to reliable sources”*
I’m already far away from myself
                but I still feel me lying here
                the one hand
longingly around my balls                        
            the other
at my ear                       
                the insertion point
                into me
Here I am
bones in the wall
                I am you and sleeping

*This is about the voice of a news announcer that makes it hard to sleep, which was supposed to be clearer at first, and also about the observation that we’re glad to turn away from the world and toward the wall when going to sleep, while when waking we like to have the wall covering our backs and life in front of us, to get a view of it all. [Born’s note, part of the poem—ET] 

Parting for Life and Parting for Death                         
How dead serious this coming and going
up ladders stairways                     
when someone turns away and actually  
leaves with just a word          
how empty the street is then
how left the one left is
how breathless and scared I follow
the flight and the chase over rooftops
beyond all feeling                          
and how I admire from a distance people    
who part with a joke
and hug each other, terrified
yet then goodbye is just   
a hand
a tear on the platform
a spot of oil in the parking lot
and there really are people who go on living
somewhere else
and people of no return
goodbyes like rumpled beds        
and goodbyes like forgotten toothbrushes
goodbyes out into the air
goodbyes for travel
and your soft goodbye to me
and my hoarse goodbye to you.    
But a wave from the train station
is neither soft nor hoarse
and hearty handshakes mean
longer travels.
Everything behind your eyes is foreign to me
because you’re a Colombian (but that’s not the reason).
I give my father this hand
no one wants to tell him any more
he’s the spitting image of me
(I’m telling him here)
you hear me father!
where are your strong arms
have they grown far away from you
or have you just forgotten them in all
the resumes you had to write?                
And goodbye Uncle Heinrich
brother of my father
who was always just getting right up
from his crowded brown desk
goodbye old willow out my window in 1960
about which I made my first poem
because it brushed wearily on the windowpane
and always reminded me of something . . .
Here I get dizzy  
because I’m almost alone already
with this pencil that’s gone crazy
I stole it at Luchterhands
to get back at Roehler
who said my poem was larmoyant.
Poor dear Roehler
you can’t even be larmoyant
goodbye then until the next pencil
and goodbye to Piwitt in Rome         
who’s burying the wrung dry    
geniuses of sacred painting
one more time                       
and Buch who is one of the few you can
lend money to and to whom
being overweight is no big deal        
goodbye Mother in the years after the war
who with her good hands switched pricetags
goodbye Günter Grass who works like a dog
but otherwise doesn’t really do much
(maybe he has to because we all want it that way)
goodbye first wife
good morning second wife
goodbye old poet in me
always making pronouncements like
which would be kind of late for my legs      
which can’t break out of this trot
goodbye Anna Karin Marianne Gisela
Barbara Margret Peter
goodbyes are still dead serious
and it’s still not certain that goodbyes
are needed at all 
it would be nicer to just go away
and just come back
and I would be happy if
when seen again this poem
from the middle on maybe
would be a little bit cheerful
which in fact it even is.

On the Inside of Poems                  

You can't make a living
                competing with reality
you can't live on reality either
you can survive an operation
                and get everything back
                and go on through Life
                through quickly fading pictures          
that was you
                you and the One in the Oven
Persons panting under their tombstones--
                                              With unspeakable exertion   
                              by you and all your ancestors
                              you shield yourself               
Land and water remain
the sky remains
and you remain
you have nothing to get ready for
little suns light your democracy And
you choose life and death
you have many Beautiful Voices
you are many
your skin is your skin And finally
                nothing but skin
you're the entrepreneur of Life
                impresario of white apparitions 
you're the Spaceman out in the universe
                the author of the course of history
you can print time like books
you dice and sieve and love And the ruins
                of dictating machines are blowing in the wind
unreason is in full bloom
you're the bloom and the unreason
you're day and night in the day and at night
you're the killer
                circling through your own veins
you're father and son
you're the slaughtered Indian
                and the registered Indian
you're all colors and races
you're the widows and orphans
you're the prisoners' uprising
you're a howling that never ends
                knife-throws shots
you're the fantastic athlete of the Dream Miles         
                the iconoclast in the head of democracy
you're the master chain-breaker
you're the secretly shining phrase
                the pennant
                the avant garde of the Free Kitchens
you're Man And
                Beast when it senses death
you're alone and you're everyone
you're your death and you're the Great Wish
you're the map you're spreading out And          
you're your death
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