Kurt Beals translating Anja Utler
1st Leaf: Here
.open spaces in the middle of the common fields. i'd been wanting to speak with them.
And when I draw, the trees reach out from their soft tips, branch, swarm, out from them and beyond, they: whip white in the air, some bright on their backs and me — I, I have finished and drive them out. Then stay back, dark for us alone, we; we have finally touched.
2nd Leaf: Radiant Joy.
.that it would have grown into a stone.
Me, in my bright dress, girl.
"It has fur."
."And when it gets too cold?"
"It's a watchdog."
They dress me brightly. "So people can see you in the dark." I'm never outside in the dark.
In the afternoon I go behind the shed, all summer, behind the woodshed, squeeze in between the wire fence and the boards, into the shadows, the shed presses into my back, still scratches that evening, a light scent that lingers all night.
spalt voll Draht
für die Steine,
There I am, there's a kennel beyond the fence, that's where he's lying. I come as a simple stirring of the afternoon, I've been coming here so long, I think, we know nothing more than: me, a shaky spot, pale, a washed-out scraping from the mechanics of the day, like an unclear line of metal on the tongue, before the owner brings water in the evening. Then I'd already slipped from the field, a faint reflection of the morning light that pours in every day, a cutting blade, but quickly softened by the shadows, the darkness made of eye, of fur, bends to itself.
And I, too, dive into the dense black, grey, and brown, he doesn't look at me. I turn towards his gaze; pound the earth with my eyes, across the few stones, the sparse grass, it's a short way to the wall in front of his face. And he switches with the shed, the wires, with the wall in his eyes he lies calmly, a barely breathing rift, fur rippled as if it all overlapped, and nothing. Around the corner of the house, signs of stirring, and I'm stamped out, sprung out, a flickering ball, caught and flashing, this afternoon there's nothing that I have to do there.
After that, many years of ordinary time. I'm loose and free, never think of those afternoons, and rarely of that too-warm night: quiet behind the second-story glass, two streets, they cross in the flood plain, the dog running all around. The moon helps him rise; his back climbs as a line of light up to the high-voltage wires, shoots. These clusters of smells dance all around for this one nose, this one time it reaches in, plunge it in once, rip it, mount it, piss on it. So that he doesn't yelp. For many minutes it's all too quiet, the overhead wires hum an ordinary night.
"He had to be shot."
solches — ein erstes mal solcher
stein, eine schwarz gebackene
die nägel gehen los darauf,
schnell dass es ein
regen, rausch- aus dem
tock- t- tackt es dass ich
prassle wie renn- dass rast die
luft solche mich auf
harkt alles fell von den rasenden
kralln her aufkrallt hinauf in die
ohren füllt sie füllt
rausch- durch die streu- die
schnauze — einmal solche
rasende luft solche weiter
zug in der
zunge den zähnen ist sie auch
für die augen die streckn
hinaus dass wir alle
weit hinaus dass
einmal verlassen fast
schon verloren verschollen ist
von der mündung was für ein
fünfter lauf — schon setzt er auf kn-
geht er reißt all-, alle schale
auf noch ein
gekugel gemisch brok-
ken tropfen und luft
aus dem plötzlichen fremd-
fremdkomm- ein letztes riech- s-
ich? ist —
But that,at least.
And when I draw.
There is nothing but white.
Don't draw anymore; haven't though of it for a long time. I don't do anything now.
Stand. The window. Feet on the floor, the floorboards, the windowsill under my hands, firm, and my neck, my shoulders. Look out. On one side, rubble, the meadow, the embankment on the other — And pulls me towards it.
Whether she knows how she — threw me with her question, set me down; where I alone. That I wait for her; return; inevitable like the Spring.
kann, nicht — schon ist deine
Nacht jetzt, jetzt sage ich
dir — und habe für dich eine
Frage: denn was soll ich —
That's how she leaves me, now, with the days and the floorboards the head where something lifeless spreads and etches in, into the lips. I wait; bring my few things from before; keep them there. Like empty insect shells on the windowsill. Poke through them for remains of good larvae. Pick through all the sitting, standing, touching. Where I, with me, where else I have spent my time.
There must be more there than white. It is frost.
.a mosaic of needles, single leaves, several centimeters thick. the ground merges into them; they take on water, it scatters light.
And when I write down, there are the leaves and me underneath, I'll have to write faster, since Spring always comes so soon.
Make quick passages, remember how the fragments come loose after a rockslide, climb on them. Stubby knuckles against the rock, what brute power from all that time; and from the shadows crushed leaves empty segments insects — what couldn't it survive? What happened?
gar nicht hier.
From there, put together a few sentences that can bear up, be borne. The kind that rest less heavily, not that the strength won't drain away, but maybe a looser noose. So that I can get away before she again, and this question.
Scatter cells. Where I can then fix my eyes. That will stick my eyes together then. On the few days before the frost falls; one day of Spring, a second and three and too late —
Because actually it's easily said: I, female, 43, didn't kill anyone. I took a gun and with it I took people (a few, female, young) away for a few hours; away from the quiet rhythm of their steps, their barely unraveling time.
I wanted to bring them all; but I certainly brought at least one to the world that way. Set her on other, thinner soles — now put your foot in the sandy flesh of that empty mine, something will stick to you it will drive through you — and forget nothing —
Our short drive into the gravel, boulders, with our tires into the side of the crumbling mountain, dug up, eaten up, and only there: asked her to get out, one shot per tire, after a couple of sentences whispered into her suddenly raw ear: You're bycatch, sweetie, my pretty thing —. Her arm on my chest, head pressed against the metal, pressed, squeezed. Click; she hears it too: empty.
And by the time they found their way back into their limbs from the fear — You can go now, you're free — I was already a-, was one of the dark snakes, the damp arms of sand, to follow them with a light step as they safely stumbled home. To be sure that they arrived, once and for all.
To know this much — it was enough that I could act, through the years, quick sentences and heaps of numbers, were rough, were sharp jabs, with which: I could sew together my limbs that wanted to rip apart, sew them together, and a sharp jab calls for quick action, action, forward, so that they'd hear within them — we, we are grateful. Where otherwise they seemed to be made of wood made of stone or metal that mutely fell ap-.
It wasn't enough that I could stop, stop it all, falling and falling out of step, having to hold onto something so that the head wouldn't con- to walls and dam and floorboards, its emptiness behind the —. In this sudden sitting, long, and standing, how long. Until I have the nerve.
But the cottage is well chosen. Right at the edge of a plot of small gardens, a train track behind; where it curves, a small mound of gravel and steel, the garden colony turns and thins out. Runs out onto a sharp point of land, a cottage; this one. Mine for these few weeks. Where the road, a residential street further down to the south, ends. And one of those fields of low hard scrub brush runs across this road towards the east and the river, runs up to the stub of a road from the north, runs into it — safe side way, a side road that lies undisturbed, listening beneath its own crust: how near the seeping water is pressing in from the banks, how high it is rising today on the outstretched, frozen yellow stems, grasping, churning. How deeply the crystals are already cracking.
And the fallow field runs north to a fence, just beyond that a warehouse; as long as I've been here I haven't seen a single person by this fence, by the warehouse, no one, not even walking a dog; the people stay close to their homes, to the strips of grass around the asphalt surfaces, garages, talk there too, but don't venture out onto this fallow field that ends in a small grove to the east, the usual bank growth, meadows, poplars, nettles, a few alders and a lot of shrubs that I could trace but not name. And amid that, the river. Fathomless nearlessness,
all from here, was able to draw a small piece of it, that was long ago, from a tiny piece of time,
late February, everything else: attempts, love, nothing.
And it's very good for me to be here; carefree; I won't leave here again. The city isn't so big, there aren't too many people looking for a place to sleep in the winter. In the north there are more warehouses with dumpsters, enough food thrown out every night, I already, still, want there to be less of me, and when I go there I don't see people coming and going. Two or three times I went into the small city, I don't want to go again; so the days are quiet, I spend them looking, and of course the fear.
But tomorrow, when it's dark, I'll bury the gun behind the house; I won't shoot myself; in the small strip of ground between the western wall and the railway embankment, where the ground is sandy. Sometime, someone will want to plant something there, will test the soil, find it — think it still works? — pull the trigger and kill something, just to test. I still have the knife anyway.
But clearly even that can't help me cut away the sounds; and so there's the new fear. She, of course, must already know where I am. And here I am as if blind. Even though I could see so well, unfold it all, take it apart and put it in order, from the corner of my eye, every movement, every bump in a layer of shadows.
hinter mir, gleich kommt ein Arm
um den Hals, hart — gleich diese
Frage und was soll ich — jene die
ich doch selber nicht habe aus-
halten, ich —
And how could I have known that, that my eyes need the sound, too, that etches the lines into them; even if the rustling and cracking, the rubbing of leaves and stones has never been the hollow place for anyone else that it was for her; so that they could roll themselves up in it, close and closer, and suddenly breaks out; an audible step, is there. Already an arm around my neck hard chest on my shoulder mouth pressed to my right ear said what she said to say; unfortunately: asked —
nicht — schon ist deine Nacht
jetzt, jetzt sage ich dir —
And now you have time and now think; I'll come on the third day of Spring, if you know when that is, to get my answer. And by the time I came back, she was already somewhere —
No, of course she will keep her word. It wasn't an early Spring day yet, it's not January yet, not even December, and I'll observe all the days, soak up all their scents and put them in order, will count them. The first day will come, then another, and then — And until then I'll concentrate, stay calm, still free, through these days.
And when the gravel doesn't gleam behind the house, when the walls of my veins push together in the cold, I will help myself out. Will be restless.
Kurt Beals is a PhD student in German at the University of California, Berkeley, focusing on modern German literature, translation, and critical theory. His translations of authors including Anja Utler, Ernst Jandl, and Alexander Kluge have appeared in publications including Two Lines, n+1, and Dimension2. His translation of Utler’s engulf – enkindle was published by Burning Deck in 2010, and was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award and the Best Translated Book Award. His translation of Regina Ullmann’s The Country Road will be published by New Directions in 2013. Website: http://kurtbeals.com/
Anja Utler was born in Schwandorf, Germany, in 1973, studied Slavic and English literature as well as elocution and speech therapy, and now lives in Vienna and Regensburg. Her book münden – entzüngeln (2004) received the coveted Leonce-und-Lena Prize for poetry. More recent books include brinnen (2006), jana, vermacht (2009), and ausgeübt (2011), from which this excerpt is taken, all published by Edition Korrespondenzen in Vienna. The recording of Anja Utler's German reading first appeared on litradio.net, and is used here with permission.