On the Death of Siegfried Lenz ? ?You have to justify your life?

Siegfried Lenz, one of the great writers of German post-war literature is dead. He died on 7 October 2014, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.... more more

GoetheInstitute

22/09/2010

Thomas Lehr's novel "September: Fata Morgana" - an excerpt

Excerpt:
Muna

Our story
dangles in the air in the night
sister for you do not end it its silken thread holds our life invisibly in the dark he who cuts it
needs not to have known it
I've always wondered why it didn't disturb the king that Dunyazad lay beneath his bed every night and I asked myself too what kind of a bed it was that she could lie beneath it I think of it above like a miniature palace of silken pillows flamingo feathers swelling crimson rose petals and tongues and below the dust the bones the cobwebs I have no inkling how they built the beds of kings
in the island empire of India and China
in the Far East where it's said there are even more exotic tales than here in Baghdad nowhere can one fantasize better than beneath the mighty bed of my grandfather (I didn't know him he died a year before my birth and was a kind of radio and television king) in his house in al-Waziriya where I played hide and seek with Sami only to find him too so often beneath that bed in which my grandmother had slept alone for more than a thousand nights
on that day three weeks ago when I
aged seventeen
repeated that game of hiding once again (alone) just for fun that burying of myself in broad daylight scorpion in the desert sand while outside in the courtyard the wedding party has been dining drinking dancing for hours I lie once more beneath the bed its scent of rosewater lavender bouquets decay and dried orange peel the fun that I sought though was only escape
before that escape I could no longer bear the cold trickling eyes (spit on ice cubes) of the major could no longer bear the eyes of this alleged friend of my sister's bridegroom her new husband smiling at everything
perfectly still I lay beneath the wooden slats in the widowed women's grave I wished for Sami by my side once again aged ten or twelve full of joy no fear ready for anything then we'd have secretly sprinkled salt in the major's arak or even spat in the fog that he drinks the glass sparkled in the courtyard for a second glowing as white as my sister's dress set with beads my dove he said to me as if to a child and stroked my breast with his elbow as if by mistake my dove and I saw before me the Kurdish boy on the edge of al-Saadun Park ripping the feathers out of a dove run over by a car out of me as if the blood were running
out of my nipples
which I now protect with my hands held flat while the slats beneath the broad mattress give way sister he almost thrusts into my face he calls you his dove too Yasmin that voice just as I wanted to creep out from under the bed I have to have you now today right here as my bride it might be the last time believe me oh no Kasim won't notice a thing I'll drink with him until he can't get his pants down lie down my dove lie down
and like you I have to open my legs turn out my knees turn my head aside as if the lurching slats (grey dusty hard) wanted to kiss me break my nose and teeth
you two
the beast
belted by springing ribs
the king death within you his stake I saw it only as a stone a god's onyx in a glass cabinet and as my brother's flapping pendant before he went to school he rocks you (from inside) what does he know of your treasures sister what a moaning camel you two have become in a desert night a camel with two opposing humps
doves
in the night white black black white
night nailed with groaning wood don't break the bones of my face my ribs beneath shivering skin beneath the assault of the slats of the dinosaur chest in which you're raging rib against rib I feel your shared heart the heart of a red ifrit it could be a ship's keel moving above me the whole rump of a ship the slats bent into shape newly pointed enlarged high up in the air sister
your shared bed is
the sailing ship of your treacherous love
in a dazzling sky behind my closed eyelids I see an infinite distance as if your dhow had set sail from a harbour in the midst of the desert straight up to the sky sand dry grains trickle onto my cheeks what are these shapes moving in the billowing sails beneath the sloping yards strong blows the wind us all up high or strong draws the king's greed you both upward the king who bathes in green oil what am I dreaming it is
nothing it is
just the major
burning
in my sister
how can she bear it (either marrying the wrong man or letting herself be used or living between two lies) don't shoot off inside she says suddenly as cool as if standing in her laboratory alongside an assistant with a distillation flask in his hand while the
dove-slaughterer
ploughs the seventh heaven
below me
as I float under your shared keel like the pale shadow of your anchor
are six heavens and seven earths on the back of the bull its hooves planted on the fish in the last waters of the black sea resting on the darkness forget
everything forget everything
I
ought to raise my voice now and say: tell me a story sister
but you
are in a different land


Sabrina

On a gleaming morning at breakfast in the house on Long Island
with a view of a strip of sand a strip of sea a slim line of sky the flag summer in the white varnished frame of a kitchen window it's a gorgeously stretched out summer a yes-it's-still-summer almost cloudless with the promise of bearable heat on this day the skin the bones still glowing with memory the scent of sun cream and grass grains of sand in one ear beneath fingernails between toes
but let's not wait with the first story of the day while you fly below us with your back to the earth under the keel of the heavenly ship
my mother Amanda
(two weeks ago now) she had leapt swiftly out of her sports car and had not pulled the handbrake or not hard enough so it rolled empty and soundless like a toy car backward down the drive between a boy on a bike and a yellow delivery truck over the absolutely quiet street precisely between the posts of the opposite drive and there too right into the garage as if parking perfectly yet far too fast toward the workbench full of bottles tins of varnish canisters of acids and solvents and the memory of that day transforms with an ear-splitting bang (the back wall of the garage perhaps the side row of windows too the corrugated roof surface like a bursting pond) into a glowing clenched fist
I visit you through
a tower of fire sister
as light as only a
thought
just like a pale white light the laser-
fairy of evenly dancing atoms can race
right through the middle
of an explosion an inferno a seething planet
our flying ship transforms
into white ash high up in the air sailing quietly more carefully than anything else in the world it disintegrates as swiftly as an idea a story a
life
sister we imagine many things wrongly just because we listened to too few stories beneath the bed through the mattress perhaps you see just yourself on the other side in
my white skin
as your own dream of that deadly king we have to know all the stories the great chain of dancers all round the earth then you'll see too the dark blond boy running out of the house as its garage went up in flames as if through the veil
of a dream he's had the shock
of his life he thinks perhaps a war has broken out
burning oil an angel of fire who with another explosion bursts the glass front of the conservatory a herald who always finds the target but can be driven away once more for everyone helps all the neighbours my mother's lover come rushing by the boy's parents the fire brigade at last who have an easy job of it here once again
no one has
been harmed we all sit side by side next to the yellow-striped knights of the F. D. N. Y. Eric's mother next to my mother two absolutely opposite women with almost identical hairstyles (they both go to the best hairdresser in the next town and keep tossing one another embarrassed mirrored glances in all the upset) the neat chubby housewife out of an afternoon soap shocked and pink struggling for composure contrasted with Amanda out of those evening TV shows where they show cold beautiful executives but she is a little more distraught than usual and strangely mirthful
mirth is the mail of anguish
says Emily
in my head in my chest
so light and simple and she turns around calmly and disappears to her bedroom not quite closing the door
(lest anybody spy the blood)
downright exuberant Amanda seems to me perhaps because something's really gone wrong for her at last and if only it were for me for I think suddenly that I'd like to learn that from her to simply admit a mistake so elegantly so humanly in those white summer pants and mauve T-shirt in which it's glaringly obvious that her upper arms spotted with freckles and moles are not as tight as they once were so relaxed so disarming as if she might at any moment introduce the friendly stocky man with the thinning hair and exaggerated sporting-casual clothing the typical Long Island scriptwriter as if he'd invented himself as
have you met my lover Lesley
disarming apologizing because he resembles her second husband but actually doesn't look as good as him
but her affairs and manoeuvring don't bother me too much today the burnt and ash smell of the accident makes everything seem both wrong and right you simply don't know any more what is true and lean tired and yet strangely aroused into the blue smoky air so that you might easily find yourself on a stranger's shoulder
just imagine
Eric will say to me in a few still entirely unimaginable days that she just needs a friend someone to talk to when your stepfather's not there perhaps it's all just a
projection
and he'll raise one finger grinning so why not free yourself instead and come with me to L. A.
close the door from outside don't leave it half open as a repulsion as an attraction as an imposition for your irritated surroundings but now
we're talking to each other for the first time having previously only exchanged furtive looks and embarrassed greetings
the nightingale
flies to the rose sister
he has such friendly roughly cut hair his ears stick out too far so he doesn't look pretty not too smooth his fingernails are different lengths (longer on the right the man plays the guitar Watson) no hair growing in the opening of his pale blue short sleeved shirt
the fire brigade parked calmly outside our house the insurance company will sort it all out they say he can buy himself a new one already says my mother and Eric's left shoulder really does touch me as in the end we look once again at the skeleton of his bike bent out of sense shining under the soot you might imagine
being a creature of ash and burnt remains an almost severed body that dies at the instant when a living being steps on it that exists for three seconds or perhaps three thousand years
what's your name anyway
asks Eric gently


Greeting



My veil, my dearest, is my hair.

So lift its voile and see.
My closed lips are whispering you.

Touch them now and flee!


Martin

The fortunate ought to be wise enough to feel five times a day (like a good Muslim prays) how their life falls into place like
a child's game
that way they'd still have a good few good hours
before their expulsion I breathe calmly I go to the kitchen and make coffee in a German machine that I recently bought as a reflex in the Ipswich Mall assuming good quality like most Americans would have done too I admit to myself (against the reluctance of an unimaginably close future) that I'm glad to have the house to myself again although I still know too little about Mohammed und Marianne I have long since found
Suleika
and succumbed to her and am astounded and grateful for the storm that she (still slightly even after three years) raises in me for the sudden bouts of calm hospitality composedly pushing aside a few books or a chair lifting her clothing her skirt a suntanned soft leg in the kitchen or on the narrow staircase (an accident there and then stumbling like half-fettered escapees from the captivity of our serious college professorialism into the bewildered bachelor arrogance of my library bedroom)
now I'm still
and already
all alone annoyed (for one terrible last time) at Sabrina at a missing book I stand (already reconciled) in her room her former girl's bedroom since she's been at MIT she's rarely been here everything seems unchanged as if preserved in the strange transitional stage between a chaotic fairytale girl's world (early poetry albums and old Disney comics loyal cuddly toys a poster of a female rock star) and a young woman's secret order only logical at second glance (chronologically arranged National Geographics textbooks songbooks novels poetry anthologies PC manuals piles of CDs) but there's still the now almost empty space on the bookshelf beneath which she followed my ironic suggestion a few years ago and stuck a handwritten label
Stolen from Papa
and here I find my Hafez edition the only one that makes an even halfway successful attempt to transfer the Arabic metres into German and then I am
gently
as if by a girl's hand (it is that of a young adult) pushed out of the already sealed already untouchable space and turn away amused a daughter who pilfers your books is a character from a fairytale that you could not even dream of before now I'll put off my breakfast it's the almost cloudless morning
of the last day
it's eight o'clock I tie the laces of my running shoes I fumble the sides of my sports glasses between ears and short-cropped hair at my temples (silvery stripes like a badger papa's fur she said) and step onto the wooden veranda with the view over a large lawn onto North Pleasant Street the first taste of fall on my lips I think looking forward with a certain reverent helplessness or awe to the carnival season that will coat the hills around the town with fiery covers of leaves (the blood of the great bear as the native legends say) with whirls of honey-coloured bright orange fleshy red violet pale brown chestnut brown umber
leaves
drifting on the blue mirrored tracks of the streets enclosing the white wooden houses in a rustling ocean of flames lending them an almost sublime sheen as if their varnished boards were marble as if the pinkish bricks and the wedding-cake plaster of the municipal buildings were thousands of years old often I get in the car then and drive out of town to the Metacomet Trail or all the way to Holyoke Park I run a lot and my longest and loneliest runs are in this dreamlessly beautiful season which for me is tantamount to happiness interspersed with incredible quiet despair always has been perhaps necessarily simply something like a congenital defect of this no actually of every idyll
like the fine faultlines the hairline fractures now traced in the deep Murano glass of the sky impossible to wipe away to remove
except by
forgetting or they are
fractures in the glass body of my eye fractures from the future because you can't bear how unfractured the past once appeared to you as I was looking for the Hafez edition in Sabrina's room my eyes fell for the first time on a shoe box with two postcards she'd attached to the lid one in black and white of an Egyptian singer wearing a kind of fez on her head probably taken in the fifties while the other was in colour and recent an advertising gag by a Californian vineyard below the header Really Dry Red Wines was a desert landscape and in the foreground at a stone table an oriental in a burnous with short-cropped white hair and a black moustache gazing at a glowing red glass of wine an expressive earnest man about my age and it seemed no coincidence for months ago I had told Sabrina that I needed someone to gain access to the orient thinking of a colleague from the Middle Eastern Studies Department whom I had to get around to talking to for cultural support I thought I'd only need a glance (not the content of the box) a piece of advice a booklist but now I need far more than a colleague namely
Hafez
(a brother)
on a wooden chair before the stone table the glass filled with the ancient ruby lifeblood of the angel who will one day open our eyes at the end of sleep life I need someone to help me understand all this a


Reflection (1)

In my glass the mirror tale
Does not explain its hidden land.
An ornament of time, of light,
The vaguest pulse beats in my hand.

In my house a scorpion,
That plunged the whitest barb of NOW
Deep into its weakened back
Until the plane brought end to end.

Upon a filament of wine
Floats still from East to West the dream Of flight, of steel, of oil, of death.
Across the wall the writing hand:
From blood to glass, from glass to sand.


Tariq

A flick at the glass is enough to

get to the other side the subtle mirrored surface dissolves and comes back together
in reverse
as if made of dancing shards on the inside of the
opposite gaze that finds itself slowly precisely in that white-haired black-moustached guy (really dry) whose eyelids raise with effort who gazes at the peaceful resolved landscape encompassed by rosewood-black waves in which he'll always be at home no matter where he is
Farida's face
disappears once more behind a (damned subjective) veil
I fall back at five in the morning back into murkier quieter hidden life look at the mirrored surface as if looking at water as if at veiled coolly feverish air in which faces turn to flounders to other flat fish
Hafez
believed he was a bird
of paradise and his body was dust that robbed him of the sight of the Garden of al-Ridhwan of the golden tree the jewelled bough on which he sat
then the body of my body is a fish in the underground of the undergrounds namely the water all this determined ten thousand years ago and still today let me go my friend and I splash flailing into one of this land's two great arteries its borders invented by the Englishmen (my wife's grandfather lived in Basra and was asked what the capture by the Englishmen was like but he had not seen one Englishman only English flags and ships and uniforms usurped by Indians) who come from a land where it's always raining and washed all around by silver sea which is why they don't quite understand how delightful it is when the smiling neighbours in the north play with their knives at the throat of the water and in the south the udder to the Gulf is squashed between Persia and Kuwait they simply thought too much of the oil and soon gave us the gift of Mosul along with its raging Kurds and 1001 civil servants from England and finally a new king from Hejaz for whom we voted with utmost insight after 10,001 insurgents had left this life paradise is as close in our land as in a fairytale and as obvious as the thought that violence can solve any problem in the blink of an eye or at least
banish it from this world
in paradise at any rate the streams flow and if we are to meet there then take the other river my brother as a fish as a combat swimmer as a tracker carp stuffed full of high-technology extending its telescopic eyes and trailing its fine electronic feelers through the mud in search of explosives and cans of chemical weapons take the Euphrates through the limestone and marble gorges in the north (frothing ice-cold seething between cliffs with the carved figures of old Hittite warriors and kings and the showy hieroglyphs only ever temporary conquests both strewn with historical shot wounds testifying to the mountain peoples' artistic inclination and anger)
the Euphrates is the great wild mother river but she gets too pious for my taste in the middle when she flows past the resurrection-obsessed graveyards of Kerbela and Najaf whereas in the sluggishly winding Tigris I observe extraordinarily masculine phenomena like the flashes from the fighter bombers on the 36th parallel along the no-fly zone (gurgling vibration of the water on the destruction of nearby rocket launching systems) like the submarine-like outlines of a whale of the kind that transported Jonas to Nineveh (you can still find the beast's original tail or tooth there) it was probably just a giant carp like I am blown up to biblical Qur'anic dimensions in which for a long time now the
GREAT SON
and killer of Tikrit floats above us
above us on the water now trundle the huge shapeless kalaks made of inflated goatskins like a silhouette of HIS militant mother in her lifelong ill temper (she screamed she was giving birth to the devil when HE wanted out of her) one bad word about her and
you're bathing in acid
we were to clean her shining mausoleum with our fish lips
the lousy nest of mudbrick buildings out of which almost the entire lot of them came crawling who rule us Saladin was born here and a blink of history's eye later HE too following the example of his pro-Nazi uncle it always ends in rivers of blood give a crazy beaten child a gun forget that he's clever and unscrupulous scorn him from the superior perspective of much cleverer and better educated party comrades until he rams the barrel between your teeth see the naïve blue sky through the hole in the back of your skull
sink into the mud
slide silently over the shattered skeletons through the creepers tearing at your old iron shed into the despairing coils of the river until
light
flows into your dull eye and you plunge down through one of the opened floodgates at Samarra (once this land was wise enough to build a fifty metre tower around which a spiral ramp runs five times once it was wise enough to buy water with oil to dam it to divert it into huge reservoirs to provide for the no-thought zone)
I might see the flailing legs of the boy I once was were we to swim through the then almost clean pewter stream in the fifties through the winding meanders of the water imbibed with history near
Baghdad
as a young fish I'd see the green algaed bridge pillar diving into the summer heat above the water's surface like little frogs we cling to stone outcrops each one wanting to get higher than the other our dry warm boys' skins rub against each other with the pleasure that the other is alive has strength like you and climbs I see my two prophets clinging to the stone thin Ali with his elegant Egyptian face in contrast Hussein's broad good-natured laugh as if he were already sporting the artistic beard of his adult years we are twelve years old the English era just coming to an end for the people here did grow rather angry after all after forty years of exploitation and paternalism they shot the king and his family they dragged the dead regent through the streets and recognized the eternal prime minister the greatest friend of the Englishmen as he tried to flee in women's clothes lynched him buried him exhumed him and tore the corpse to pieces that was not the English way of doing things my friend it was the insane way that they encouraged here in a most un-English manner but we are used to it for
we're old carps now
scarred surly tough sly cowardly very possibly dead already
and I fan along as a six-foot shabbut and were they to pull me out now I'd insist on the venerably perverse recipe in which they'd stuff me with lemon leaves pomegranate seeds parsley and cumin to then (my head in a pot full of water my middle wrapped in oil-soaked linen my tail swathed in cotton) boil fry and bake me all in one piece
so artfully
do they deal with us here
swim further south in the Euphrates my competitive brother my learned daughter Muna ought to tell you about Babylon and Uruk and Ur the old sorrow the drowned dragonflies of Gilgamesh float toward you on the river but
paradise now lies between us
the alluvial land in which I'd tell you about Hafez even though he was not an Iraqi
if only my alarm clock were not to ring in two minutes and I did not turn it off before it tore Farida out of her sleep awake and rise Tariq and
walk into the kitchen in your pyjamas for this here is
pyjama-land
in the morning (shoot joyfully at the ceiling with a shotgun) take your doctor's bag from the chest
but quietly

*

Translation: Katy Derbyshire
Copyright 2010: Carl Hanser Verlag


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