Jan Wagner, Three Poems

[My translations of three poems by Jan Wagner: b. 1971; also translations of English poetry, essays; first poetry collection 2001. The photo was taken in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, five years ago.]

haute coiffure

the golden clamp of the mirror held the gaze:
she with red nails, me covered
with a white towel like a museum piece.

close over my ears twittered
the scissors. oh sweet-smelling servants
of creams and phials! the water splashed,

but below on the smooth tiles
clumps of hair were ganging up on us,
a silent mob with an ancient knowledge.

outside dogs howled, freshly cut
the hair on the back of my neck stood up
and within me the wolf tugged at his chain.

autumn villanelle

the light is going out of the days
and an hour lasts ten minutes.
the trees played their last colours.

in the sky the stage sets are being shifted
too quickly for the little drama within each:
the light is going out of the days.

your grey coat separates you from the air,
a mounting frame for a sentence like this:
the trees played their last colours.

ice-blue windows – on the weather maps
of the TVs the fingerprints of the lows.
the light is going out of the days,

of the empty park, the pond: the ducks
are being rolled up on invisible threads.
the trees played their last colours.

and a man tapping into the dark with
three sunflowers, three black dots on yellow:
the light is going out of the days.
the trees played their last colours.

december 1914

‘One of the nuts belonging to the regiment got out of the trenches and started to walk towards the German lines.’

of course we thought they’d gone
barmy when they left their cover
unprotected, just with plum
pudding and mistletoe – but no fire

set in. we met up in no man’s land,
undecided about what to do, between
trenches and borders, mud and wire, and every
hand at its trouser crease. till we handed out

the gifts: someone had cigarettes
and someone bitter chocolate,
another knew what to use against rats
and lice. those that still had jammed rifles

at this point pulled out the rum,
family photos, played chequers
and stood there making noise, exchanged
addresses, uniforms, helmets,

till there was hardly anything left
to exchange in the glare of the flares
on this sodden, naked field
except for the trenches
at their backs, their nameless hunger.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on August 14, 2012.

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