Nicolas Born, Four Poems

Edward Hopper, People in the sun (1960)

[My translations of four poems by German poet Nicolas Born: 1937-1979; also short stories, radio plays, essays and a prize winning novelist; attempt to move away from an ‘old poetics’ of symbol, metaphor, all signifiers, towards ‘raw, non-artificial formulations’; everyday life as a political and social force field]

Nature Poem

What pain to flow
what coldness to be alone with the enemy
what a task blowing nitrogen into forests!
The quiet effects of green leaf in the green salad
the noisy effects of the green salad in us.
Has the dandelion disappeared from our lives
the coltsfoot, the grass harp?
What does the retracted horse’s ear promise?
What do the pains in the arms of the cleaning lady mean
whose world has been dumped in a bucket for twenty years?
Why is the carnation such a stupid flower
so sharply crocheted
and why do I start dripping when I see tulips?
What does the low-flying swallow tell me?
Who bites when the neighbour’s dog growls,
he or I or the neighbour?
What does it mean when a stranger
tips me off and I quickly leave the house?
When my father’s eyebrows grow together overnight
and the subscription seller’s facial scar blushes
when the taxis driver stares into the mirror for so long
the customer becomes a suspect
and the roofer wants to kick his apprentice
but notices too late he’s kicking air
when the teenagers in the teenager club roll up their eyes
after the fifth coca cola
when the pilot of the Starfighter starts
a long novel in the flight break
when the big stockholder finds
a horse’s foot in his wild game soup
and the teller at the Commerzbank
disappears with his wife’s petty cash
after he’s seen ‘Viva Zapata’?
The quiet before the storm
the mote in the eye
the beam in the carpenter
the hot love at seventeen
the oath-swearing hand of the trust accountant
ebb tide and high tide
mini and maxi
and the official in the welfare office
who leaves his office with soap and towel
when thirty people are waiting?
The Monday car, the eutrophied lake
the unusual way in which wealth accrues
in the hand of the employee
those up there
those down there
the trough
the tightrope walk?

When I love you it snows on earth
and when you dump me for my best friend
it’s spring
and when you come back without a cent
it’s autumn.
If no one gives me anything for free
do I then have money?
And what’s the point of being dead and having an archaeology book
under your pillow?
If it’s true that you have to have wars
is it still important to participate in them?
Is it realistic when a man and a woman
decide to live together after the wedding?
When a year later she throws her dowry
at his head and he his vocab at hers
and when the window cleaner on the top of the IBM skyscraper
is captivated by the spell of the punched cards
but then follows his survival instincts
and jumps off at the last moment?
What meaning is there in my writing poems
and your many stories?

Horror, Tuesday

The resting
hastily tarred tram lines –
again a waiting for the old days
like returning to handwriting

Sudden rain, it’s afternoon
only a little light collected in faces
drizzling greyness, the fields close
dark water ditches, trees standing crooked

Wet collar, wet lips
child with wet braids leading old man

Cement silos next to the siding
bird swarms, banners sinking
shop assistant waving away through the glass wall

New city edge flickers up at six
I think of distant marooned ‘Islands of the Brain’

Construction cranes, concrete-light wasteland
view into the rising world
that hasn’t survived after all

In the Athens-Patras Train

Bare stone skulls, bright eyes
bright the mouth.
Old word ground, wild rhododendron
on the heights
fertile fertile the sea
sharp electric coasts.
The geometry of plantations, and
the single olive tree
silver lightness, great meaning
of little life, how hard to understand.
Green lemon on the seat next to me
has how much to do with my life.
Shadow of the train, shadow of the donkey,
many bare bright trees, small shadows
set into the world,
small songs, humming.


So the terror without end slowly becomes
normal life
the audience blinks into the yard
in the noon light
small town, hard scar brick red
pub, billowing curtains
and at the desk now of little import
personal death
I cannot say how the panic of matter
works, how I in my panic
that is not personal, only arrive
at the wrong words.
I miss the care and beauty in Krypton and
Iodine 129. I miss the future of the future
I miss it.
I already miss my children’s children’s
memories of the worlds
I miss sequences, long summers by the water
hard winters, wool and work

Here arise consequences of strong words
that are lifeless, the damned mob
feels nothing, they close the cartels
no idea what they’re putting in the soil
no idea, only knowledge
of what they’re putting in the soil in air and water
no feeling for ‘ever’. Death
they give special treatment like a pest
good death poisoned like dear trouble.
How dare you desecrate the graves of my children’s children
plunder matter’s dream,
the dream of images, webs, books

Grief is now inconsolable
rage without syllable, all the masked liveliness
all the choking confidence
grass collapses, the gardens are collapsing, no one
under the money armour feels the wound
of being disposed of oneself.
No poem, the end of poems at the most.
Human deposits
imprisoned in heinous reason that
doesn’t even know itself in all its science.
No step still free, no breath
no water unregistered, summer imprints for sale
the earth’s skin – photo prints
concreted soul, prepared whinge
that then no longer happens
due to the voice breaking.
Minute calculations in the hollow hand
enliven the earth, all-knowing mutants
instead total protection from experience.
Supernumeraries of life, leavers. On the drip
of systems.

Tilted meadow embankment, angels, uncertain ones,
warm bodies and understanding
gardens spread out, under branches benches…
…shadows…leaves…spoken in the wind


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on November 22, 2011.

4 Responses to “Nicolas Born, Four Poems”

  1. Strong, concrete poetry. You certainly manage to bring out the flavor as well as the meaning of the translated poems.

  2. Beautiful work. I’m looking for an collection of Born’s poems translated into English. Is there one?

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