Monday, April 26, 2010

The House of the Dead

for Maurice Raymal

The house of the dead lay at the graveyard’s edge
And enclosed it like a cloister
Inside its glass cases
Like the ones in chic shops
Instead of smiling standing upright
Mannequins grimaced throughout eternity

Arriving in Munich after two or three weeks
I visited merely by chance and for the first time
This nearly deserted cemetery
And my teeth chattered
Seeing this entire bourgeoisie
Exposed and dressed in their best
Awaiting burial

Swift as memory
Their eyes were rekindled
Glass cell by glass cell
The heavens were peopled with an inveterate
And the earth flat into infinity
As before Galileo
Swarmed with a thousand unmoving mythic beasts
An angel in diamond shattered every glass case
And the dead accosted me
With otherworldly demeanors
Though their faces and postures
Soon became less funereal
And heaven and earth both lost
Their look of phantasmagoria

The dead rejoiced
To see their dead bodies between themselves and the light
They laughed over their shadow and watched it
As if it it truly were
Their past life

So I counted them
There were forty-nine men
Women and children
Who all grew better looking
And then looked at me
With so much warmth
With so much tenderness even
That suddenly
Befriending them
I invited them out for a stroll
Far from their houses’ archways

And arm in arm
Whistling military airs
Yes all your sins are forgiven
We left the graveyard behind

We passed through the city
And met up often
With parents with friends who joined
This little band of the recently deceased
Everyone was so gay
So fetching so hearty
If it would’ve taken a clever rascal
To tell the dead from the living
Then we scattered
Across the countryside

Two light horsemen joined us
We welcomed them in
They were whittling viburnum
And elder
Which they made into whistles
To give to the children

They hadn’t forgotten how to dance
These dead men and women
They could drink too
And time to time a bell
Announced that another keg
Was about to be tapped

A dead woman sat on a bench
Near a barberry bush
And let a student
Get on his knees
To speak to her of betrothal

I will wait for you
Ten years twenty if I must
Your wish is my desire

I will wait for you
All of your life
The dead woman answered

Some children
Of this world or the next
Were singing rounds
The words absurd and lyrical
Songs that doubtless are the remains
Of humanity’s
Most ancient poetic monuments

The student placed a ring
On the young dead woman’s finger
Here is the pledge of my love
Of our betrothal
Neither time nor absence
Will make us forget our vows
And one day we’ll have a lovely wedding
Tufts of myrtle
In your garments and in your hair
A fine sermon at the church
Long speeches after the banquet
And music
And music

Our children
Said the bride-to-be
Will be lovelier lovelier still
Alas! the ring was broken
Than if they were silver or gold

Emerald or diamond
Will be brighter brighter still
Than the stars in the heavens
Than the dawn’s light
Than your glances my love
Will smell sweeter still
Alas! the ring is broken
Than lilacs about to blossom
Than thyme or rose or heather
Or lavender or rosemary

The musicians went away
And we continued our stroll

On the shore of a lake
We played ducks and drakes
Skipping flat rocks
Over water that scarcely rippled

Some boats were moored
In a cove
We untied them
And the whole band embarked
Several dead men rowed
With just as much vigor as living men

At the prow of the boat I steered
A dead man spoke with a young woman
Who wore a yellow dress
A black corsage
With blue ribbons and a gray hat
Decked with a small uncurled feather

I love you
He said
As the pigeon loves the dove
As the nocturnal insect
Loves light

Too late
The living woman answered
Deny this forbidden love deny if it
I’m married
See this shining ring
My hands are trembling
I’m weeping I want to die

The boats had landed
At a spot where the light horsemen
Knew of an echo that answered from the shore
We called to if it without let up

The questions were so extravagant
And the answers so apt
We could have laughed ourselves to death
And the dead man said to the living woman

We’ll be so happy together
The waters will close over us once more
But you’re weeping your hands are trembling
None of us will return

We went ashore and headed back
The lovers were in love
And two-by-two with lovely mouths
They walked at uneven distances
The dead men had chosen living women
And the living men
Dead women
Sometimes a juniper
Appeared like a phantom
The children split the air
Blowing viburnum
Or elder whistles
With hollow cheeks
While the soldiers
Sang Tyrolean airs
Yodeling answers the way if it’s done
In the mountains

In the city
Our band diminished bit by bit
We said
See you tomorrow
See you later
A lot went into the beer gardens
Some others left us
At a dog butcher
Where they bought their supper

Soon I was left alone with the dead
Who went straightaway
To the graveyard
Under the archways
I saw them again
Laid out
And dressed up
Awaiting burial underneath glass

They had no idea
Of what had happened
But the living guarded the memory
If it was an unforeseen blessing
And so certain
That they had no fear of losing if it

They lived so nobly
That those who just the evening before
Had looked on them as equals
Or even less
Now admired
Their power their wealth their genius
For nothing will raise you up
Like having loved a dead man or a dead woman
You’re so pure that you end up
In the glaciers of memory
Merging with recollection
You’re fortified for life
And no longer need anyone

Jack Hayes
© 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010


On the coast of Texas
Between Mobile and Galveston there is a
Large garden with roses galore
It also contains a country house
Itself a big rose

A woman often strolls
All alone through the garden
And when I walk past on the road fringed with lime trees
We look at each other

Because that woman's a Mennonite
Her rosebushes and her garments have no buttons
Two are missing from my jacket
The lady and I observe almost the same rite

translation by Jack Hayes
© 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010


for Mademoiselle Marie Laurencin

Brushed by the dead’s shades
On the grass where day grows weary
Columbine strips naked
And observes herself in the pond

A twilight charlatan
Boasts of tricks he’s about to do
The colorless sky is spangled
With stars as pale as milk

On stage the pasty harlequin
Begins by greeting the spectators
Magicians from Bohemia
Several fairies and some sorcerers

And then unhooking a star
He holds it in outstretched arms
While a hanged man claps
The cymbals with his feet

A blind man sings a baby lullaby
A doe goes past with her fawns
And the dwarf sadly watches
While harlequin grows thrice majestic

translation by Jack Hayes
© 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010


And the sole string of the monochord fiddle

translation by Jack Hayes
© 2010