—Canton Ticino, Switzerland
for Georg Trakl
On the floor of the garden at the end of time
I will look for you among the birch trees.
What makes us human may have left by then,
but if this body is the closest we could come
to that garden, on earth, may your eyes be
drenched in early sunlight, and the angels
long have taken the shards from your clothes...
Here, black butterflies dart among the lilacs,
and if someone is coming, she does not arrive.
A dead one works his way through the earth,
and we are followed when we walk the mountain paths.
When I want to believe the Virgin has blessed him,
I fear his arrival most, at that moment, behind our door.
I pray that this has left you, a prophet, seeing the world burst
before it came to pass. May it cease breaking,
for you, for us, on the floor of the garden
among the birch trees, where the same blue delphiniums
may be pooling from their stalks, brilliant,
and tender as the faces of the young.
Pictures from Prague
In Verona, the two children I cared for
climbed over me during their nightly bath,
wetting my clothes unconcernedly;
their skin and voices floated beyond my reach,
like the wooden boards of a pier.
English occasionally leapt, fractured,
from newscasters or rare letters.
When I packed for Prague, the children’s mother
gave me pictures of the boy and girl, and a sweetbread
to carry through the Dolomites to Lenka,
a friend with whom she’d studied languages.
I rarely saw her: she was with her orchestras,
rehearsing in the enclave of cathedrals
or, lately, teaching her students in Germany.
It was diluting her Italian, she said—
finding German words when she wished to explain—
except when she sang, then the whole air
became heavier: she did not sing as though
she were beautiful; she sang as though beneath
a mountain of earth, and straining to move.
Her son crouches on the counter
with his hand jammed in a jar of Nutella.
His younger brother beats him with a toy soldier,
the third slaps my thigh and squeals.
I wash their faces and the plates for her.
They knock plants over, take their pants off,
and dive screaming into piles amassed
atop their beds. My camera disappears:
they smile and offer me their fingers;
(Lenka had warned me, emphatically, leaning close
and widening her eyes—they steal she whispered)
they run plastic wheels along the wall.
Their shaved heads and crooked teeth spout
from my doorframe; I rush to capture them,
and, with growing certainty and delight,
they stab me to death with their empty hands.
Lenka fixes me with her fair, blue eyes:
“my husband would be gone all day,
I don’t know where; come home to eat,
and then lock himself in his study,
where, afterwards, I found the magazines...”
She tells me in her kitchen, as she brings
eggs in an iron skillet, coffee, and bread.
“He brought a woman once, to my concert,
I could see them from where I sang,
but I had to not see them, so I found a small place
to keep my eyes, but the song became stronger
because of how I felt...the musicians knew
and they showered me with flowers, and many,
many roses. It was beautiful they said.”
Her long dense hair and her body
bend over details, folding napkins.
Weighing and weighing, her blue eyes
lift again; she has never ceased speaking.
Soft and quick, the Italian
words half-formed, skipped over:
a brook, burbling unseen, but rapid as that—
unfettered, running through a nest
of brambles, “my husband...”
The rains ball up and bleed on the panes.
Lenka sings; I can’t keep the walls clean.
A storm, the steam coating us,
the wood trembling. Tzo? the littlest asks
when I scold.
Sitting in the slender tub of her bath
it’s clear: if I let myself go under the water,
I will come up in another life. Mold-veins
web the wall panels with sea-foam greens.
I can hear, beyond this sea-map, stirrings
of her neighbors, sounds of sweeping, and doors.
And a buzzing, as though the webs
were also voices. If they refer to me at all
(and they seem to) it is from a great distance;
and their syntax turns my bathing figure
into parts of speech I am living through;
its letters making light of the failings…
as I am tossed off, casually, in mid-sentence…
yet revealing, to those on the other side
of the walls, an appearance I am blind to:
a whole animal, stepping from behind a tree.
JESSICA HARKINS's poems and translations have appeared, or are appearing, in journals such as Stand (U.K), Agenda, SALT Magazine, Ars Interpres, The Comstock Review, White Whale Review, Drunken Boat, Redactions, and Forum Italicum. An article on medieval practices of translation has recently appeared in The Chaucer Review. She holds an M.F.A. in poetry and a Ph.D. in medieval literature from Washington University, and currently teaches at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University in Minnesota.