The devil has no clothes

31 December 2006 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Idealrealisation (‘The ideal sale’, 1929)

Stockings

V

I thought:
it was a person,
but it was her clothes
and I didn't know
that it doesn't matter
and that clothes can be very
      beautiful

VI

The ideal sale
you say it has already started
but I say:

– we must lower the prices further.

VII

Now I know –
it's on stockings that it depends!
Everything, eroticism, aesthetics,
     religion
human dignity
(what would
Beelzebub
himself be
in a pair of home-knit, big-toe-
     exposing
stockings?)

VIII

The programme of baggy trousers:
we must be
more clothes,
less human beings,
and the soul sewn into the
     turn-ups.

IX

Legs,
what do you know of legs?
who think about skirts
as you walk past the Stocking
     Centre's display window.
What do you know
of the twentieth century's
legs?

X

Idiots!
who believe
that the devil has golden clothes
the devil has no clothes!
In all of hell
there are at most two or three
     pairs of
seedy cut-price trousers,
trembling
above hell's howling nakedness.

XI

On the Great Morning After
as the stars hiccup
and all the archangels drink Vichy
     water
we shall gather at the café
and listen
to melodies of female legs.

XIII

The faces of the posters
let them scream
their 'Me! Me!'
Only when they start to shriek
'Us! us! us!'
will we pull the whimper from the
     grimace,
let the sun
paint them into human countenances.

XIV

It is so cold today.
The breath of the cinema signs
stabs like icy needles.
The shadows of the electric wires
want to cut my throat.
The air has crept shivering
behind the nearest street-corner.

XV

They all
want something from me
even the cigarette smoke
coils question-marks
doors threaten to devour me,
the legs of the matches
are so long and hungry,
the coffee cups contemptuously curl
their pallid lips.

XVI

The train
hammers its hard rhythm
in the blood.

Not of human beings
is its song
not of God or love,
it is of iron,
and made of iron.

XVII

The piles of boards press closer
     together
each blade of grass flirts with the
     wind,
the galloping of fences
along the ditch-banks
makes the chlorotic sky
blush
in the evenings.

XVIII

The darkness whirls
streaks of light, shadows
against people's windows:
do you want to come too?
Don't you see?
the houses crouched to leap,
the roads ready to jump up
knock to the ground
the lamp-posts' police constables.
The telegraph wires hurry to and
     fro
prepared to catch stars!
Do you want to come too?

XIX

The rock at Fredriksberg:
a wound across the face
bleeding
under the knife-blows of train
     whistles.

XX

Out in Tölö
a poster advertising car tyres,
the year’s finest.
Each morning
as I wait for the tram
I stand devoutly silent
before its
proud, imperious:
buy!

Influenza

I

Influenza
somewhere in the back
approximately the same sensation
in the big toe.

A novel
that never ends
because the hero’s love
is hopeless
and the heroine’s
has no object.

II

I have drunk Vichy water at Hotel
     Kämp
and taken an eau de Cologne
     shower in the Old Passage
but called to say
I will be home on 1.10.

Sleepily
the thoughts stagger
under the nearest shadow,
curl themselves up
and whimper softly in their sleep.

III

In the next room
the billiard balls laugh
but the mouth
directly opposite
spits remnants of words
in my face.

They fall to the floor
and scurry between my feet
like cockroaches
with six rustling legs.

VII

I don’t know
what I have done wrong
but what I have seen
has become like a cobweb
over my eyes.
And people look into them
and say:
his eyes shine like blind ones!

VIII

It isn’t me.
It is a mouth that blows out smoke,
eyes that have seen too many people,
a brain that tiredly jazzes.

IX

I am afraid
very afraid
that when one day we crawl out
of ourselves,

with runny noses,
shrouded in the raincoats of our
     personalities
we shall stand on the shore
and see ice-floes drifting past.

X

In the daytime
the cinemas sleep
like crocodiles in the sun
on the shores of the streets.

In the evening
they open their hungry maws:
a dental row
of faces, moods, attitudes
like a grey mass
of bubbling eyes.

XI

It’s a lie
that film is art
(what isn’t art?)
Film is religion
that from reality
makes a pair of pretty legs
we are allowed to look at
but not touch

XII

If we were to crawl backwards
like the crabs
– wouldn't we have got as far as
     now?

And though the future
were to scrape away our backsides
and the past
pinch our noses
we’d be like crabs
unembarrassed.

XIII

Have you heard
the guffaw of the railway stations
when the train as it rushes past
winks at them:
come with me!

The railway stations never do.
They brood
on the frozen smiles of the timeta-
     bles
and guffaw
at the rails' furious attempts
to clamber down from the roadbed.

XIV

Laugh?
Good Lord,
don’t you know?

The only thing one can do
instead of:
curse, pray to God
repent, receive forgiveness,
live

XV

I saw a sea
of blood,
mud-suffocating puffs of wind
lash its surface
to heavy, red foam.

Corpses
ragged and mangled
round a shrill poster,
shriek out far and wide:
Here
paradise has lain!

XVI

Life's tail
which lashes the sun so it shines
night becomes day,
hurls the people to the ground
sweeps away all the flies from heav-
     en,
its blows of eternity
make the emptiness think thoughts of suicide.

XVII

Of all words
the greatest:
Anything.

To hate anything,
to embrace anything,
to sing anything.

To love anything.

XVIII

See,
the storm is chasing my words
like red autumn leaves
carrying them over the treetops
a whirlpool of sun.

XIX

The colours’ hell
where black is white,
the sunlight sticky blood,
and female laughter is green,
death blue.

XX

Gasoline

I am a great God
and my price is 3:40 a litre
and people kill one another
because of me.

Phe-ew!
when fire has kissed me
and the iron trembles: live!
Then
I know
why I dreamt so long
beneath the earth.

XXI

Youth:
hunger
or a tiredness that
dances?

….

Translated by David McDuff

Tags: ,