We have been travelling so long
we no longer know where we live.
But if we did know
we would go straight home...
We call this city Athens
but we really can't
have arrived in Athens yet
since this place corresponds neither with
our memories nor our imaginings.
And since it is not Athens
how can we leave again
as long as we do not know
what place it is we are leaving?
So let us stay here a while
take a look at the ruins and get to know the city
and if after a time
we begin to feel so much at ease
we are convinced that it is Athens
we can begin again
to wonder where we live
and at that time
hopefully go straight home....
On the way to Ithaca
On the way to Ithaca I see myself at last:
A shape more blurred with the crest of each wave
as the men who created
its cold blue contours by rowing the ship forward
gradually are left astern, perish in their dreams
or fall dead on the oars:
Their disappearance brings me, bit by bit,
to the arrival that has always pursued me:
Pink mountains, capped with snow, jutting
from a pink sea, dissolve my features in theirs.
I am the nobody Ithaca has made me.
The Ithaca mirrored in the sea I had abandoned.
The Ithaca I thought was my longing
when that longing still had a form and could be stilled.
See what I mean? Of course, not all of it is like this. You also have:
China observed through Greek rain in Turkish coffee
falls into my coffee
until it gets cold
and runs over
until it runs over
so the picture at the bottom
comes into sight.
The picture of a man
with a long beard
in front of a Chinese pavillion
in rain, heavy rain
that has congealed
over the windblown facade
and over the face of the man.
Under the coffee, the sugar and the milk
which is curdling,
under the worn glaze
the eyes seem burnt out
or turned inward
toward China, in the porcelain of the cup
slowly emptying of coffee
and running full of rain
clear rain. The spring rain
atomizes against the eaves of the tavern
the facades on the other side of the street
resemble a huge
worn wall of porcelain
whose glow penetrates the wine leaves
the wine leaves which are also worn
as if inside a cup. The Chinaman
sees the sun appear through a green leaf
which has fallen into the cup
the cup whose contents
are now completely clear.
Head of Clay
The storm has washed a head of clay up the shore.
It is a sea nymph
and from the relationship of the face to the neck
it seems she has something in her hand
she is fond of. She looks
most of all like a girl from the country on her way to the dance
but has something sad about her
which she can't explain.
Now you carefully scrape the chalk from her face
to try to find out
what it is that troubles her. She looks
as if she were sleeping, dreaming
in a meadow. But on her cheek
near the right corner of her mouth is
embedded in the clay a birthmark
which she is trying to hide under a tuft of hair.
It is shaped like the imprint of a finger
the little finger of the right hand
and put there long ago when you once
touched her, only once, to thank her
for something you no longer remember.
Maybe it was only that she yielded
to your wishes exactly the way you wanted, so beautiful
you couldn't bear to leave her alone.
and just by way of comparison, here's one of the poems from APR (translated by Thomas E. Kennedy)
The House in Sweden
I bought a house in Sweden. And never
have I done, felt or seen anything more absurd
or seen a more insane row of words on paper.
"I" to start with certainly does not belong here.
"I" could just as convincingly have been an apothecary
or a lynx made of asbestos
and "bought" sounds like the only word
that has unhappily survived
a long dead Siberian language.
And "house." I who never wanted to live on earth
and of all places in Sweden: Not on your life.
Therefore I bought the house
so the apothecary's crisp bells could be heard
in early spring far out in the darkening birch wood
and the asbestos lynx could have a lake to mirror itself in.
I looked it right
in the eyes tonight as I prepared my suicide.
There stands the house in these words
on the length of the lake, whose depth is clearly visible
through the black holes of the ice.
It is a house. And because it is me
it is as red as blood but running nowhere.
More Nordbrandt poems here.