"...map in hand he walks on long after he's barred from all the city's streets."

More Perihelion:

Bob Sward's Writer's Friendship Series

Book Reviews



Issue 8: The Lily

Issue 7: Passages

Issue 6: No More Tears

A quick list to poets featured in this issue:

Valarie Duff

Nick Flynn

Jim Behrle

Fred Marchant

Jacob Strautmann

Vera Kroms

Henry Israeli

Daniel Gutstein

Joyelle McSweeney

David Dodd Lee

Daniel Bosch

Michael Perrow

Luljeta Lleshanaku

Miklós Radnóti

Nikolai Baitov

Drago Stambuk

Zafer Senocak

Zafer Senocak
translated from the German by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright

In the New World


They call me Viktor
I was born in a graveyard
the first I saw of this world was a row of gravestones
maybe that's why I've made it a habit
to walk filthy cities in white trousers
to sit on oily seats in crowded buses for hours
and on city long rides
to break into strangers' bodies
who, abandoned by their occupants,
gnaw incessantly on their loneliness
they and the hours chase each other in circles
who has whom when and for how long
is soley decided by fate
the faithless coquette, the lewd rose-oiled consort of the city,
the yellowed map in grandmother's trunk
ancient men piss
on the family tree of this city
a row of ancient men
a company lined along the graves
rifle butts on their shoulders
one soldier is leaving a whorehouse
the red wasteland where he shot his load while watching
his face is shriveled and his mustache yellowed at the tips
his eyes are weak in the day
an eagle's in the dark
let's go man move it give someone else a turn
the newly operated on prostate urethra fat belly
all a boil all the work of fifty years
by the ramrodded body of a single solitary woman
whose mouth is all they've left young and open
her tongue awake and wicked cackling snake tongue cursing
the old men near and the old men far don't know each other
though they tinkle on the same tree
they found work in the same city
but not the same life
some still lived in the distance they'd left to come work here
outside the wall of this working class town that sucked on them all day long
so at night it could expel them deep into the sleep of distance
into the distance of memory
but the others are welded to this city and its fate
the knife that divided the city has become its back bone
at each tree an old man pisses
and on the facing park benches
the heroines of work sit out the evening of their lives
during my excursions through this city
I see dozens of defoliated family trees where grey bearded ornitholigists
research species of extinct birds
the city has no memory
its hollow body floats on the canals
gasping for breath
for the recently exhaled breath
for the voices of generations dead or missing
swallows its seventy-two languages
and bears its children on rainy days
in cemeteries, bewildered children
from the belly of Niemandsland,
cave children whose eyes melt in the sun
whoever rides through this city in white trousers
through this filthy city shuns the light
even if it's only the cigarette lighter of the passenger across the aisle


when I think of you
I read aloud
what I cannot keep in myself

I share my house with polar bears
who winter over the summer
maybe it's your warmth that frightens me

your lashes get longer
and overshadow your tired eyes

from the shadows of love
the dead wave to us

neighbors fleeing the postman
old men drinking at empty tables imagined
movie theaters with bolted doors letters gone out

I wrote you letters in care of them
without understanding your language
the secret language of memory
no longer the one we speak

I've confided in foreign cities
told of my neighborhood
like a lamp that won't go out
of the fashions made in Bogart
that came and went in the yellowed pages of old magazines
always around when I dreamed
about young women at bus stops
the wind fluttering their open books
how many buses did they let go by
until the right one came along
that would run through their secret wishes in public places

life denies the innocent
meanwhile the temperature drops
winter increases gravity
the dead carve their memories in the icy earth


map in hand he walks on
long after he's barred from all the city's streets
at night no one is allowed to be younger than he and no one older
imaginary poet doesn't even know his name

name: that password you take unseen through the world
you feed it to animals on the street whose instincts have run away
that unclean word that red rhythm in which the city spits and breathes
and in which stones tell their stories

when he unfolds it the map becomes a chart of the world
streets are meridians at the city line the cold and the dark
the voices of the strayed who can't remember the time

and youth perishes of its useless beauty
perishes because neither meat nor milk are needed
will be thrown in a deep grave
disappear forever in the labyrinth


on Monday the goods put their vendors up for sale
the customer is always right when buying back his own body
Sunday's epidemic has procured a thousand dead this time

the end of the world as well promises robust returns the day after
smoke stacks are growing under the green lawns
the moral justifies every means
every epidemic has a warrant
for the end times are near
any idiot could be a messiah
some fool who doesn't believe in the final redemption

every person is under longer than over
everything has a price one that can be paid and one that can't
the price of the prices is artificially high
the gravestones are artificially high
bottles would have done for the ashes
pots for the bones
a whole life long you're drenched in sweat but you never swim
by the sweat of his brow the cook cooks his own hand
a personal skeleton hangs for each at an unattainable height

the corpses are preserved and on the anniversary of the sacrificial victims laid

out again as fresh goods
the market determines the price
the price determines the number and the volume of sales
the rates vary
the figures transcribe each death abstractly and exactly alike
every man for himself


Translator's Bio Note Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright is a translator living in the Boston area.
Her translations of poetry have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine,
Agni, Seneca Review, Delos and elsewhere. She is co-winner of Agni's
2001 William J. Arrowsmith Award. She is Translation Editor for Perihelion.