Summer 2009

Table of Contents - Vol. V, No. 2


Poetry    Essays    Translations    Fiction   

Bertolt Brecht


Of Poor B. B.

I, Bertolt Brecht, came out of the black forests.
My mother carried me into the cities while I lay
Inside her body. And the chill of the forests
Will remain inside me until my dying day.

In the asphalt city I’m at home. From the beginning
Provided with every last sacrament:
With newspapers. And tobacco. And brandy.
To the end distrustful, lazy, and content.

I am friendly to people. I put on
A stiff hat according to their custom.
I say: They’re animals with quite a peculiar smell.
And I say: What does it matter, I am too.

Occasionally in the morning I sit
A woman or two on my empty rocking chairs
And gaze at them thoughtlessly and say:
In me you have someone who can’t be trusted.

Toward evening, I gather men around me,
We address one another as “gentlemen.”
They rest their feet on my tabletops
And say: Things will get better for us, and I don’t ask when.

Toward morning in the grey light the fir trees piss
And their vermin, the birds, begin to chirp.
At that hour I drain my glass in town and chuck
The cigar butt and worriedly fall asleep.

We have sat, an easy generation,
In houses thought to be indestructible
(So we have built those tall boxes on the island of Manhattan
And those thin antennae that amuse the Atlantic swell).

Of these cities all that will remain is what passed through them, the wind!
The house makes the consumer happy: he empties it out.
We know that we are only tenants, provisional ones,
And after us there’ll be nothing much worth talking about.

In the earthquakes to come, I very much hope
I don’t let my cigar go out, embittered or not,
I, Bertolt Brecht, carried into the asphalt cities
From the black forests inside my mother long ago.



Hometown, how will it look then?
Following swarms of bombers
I have come home.
But where is it? Where the towering
Mountains of smoke rise.
There in the flames,
It's there.

Hometown, how will it receive me then?
Before me the bombers come. Deadly swarms
Announce my return. Raging fires
Precede the homecoming son.


Thoughts on the Length of Exile


Don't hammer any nails into the wall.
Throw your coat across the chair.
Why plan for four days?
Tomorrow you'll be heading home.

Leave the little tree unwatered.
Why ever plant a tree?
Before it grows high as a doorstep
you'll pack your bags and be gone from here.

Pull your cap down over your eyes when people pass!
What's the use of thumbing through a foreign grammar.
The message that will call you home
is written in a language you already know.

Just as the plaster peels from the ceiling
(Don't worry about the repairs!),
The block of force will crumble
That has been set up at the border
To keep out justice.


See that nail you hammered into the wall.
When do you think you'll return?
Do you want to know what you believe in your heart?

Day after day
You work for liberation.
You sit in your room writing.
Do you want to know how you really feel about your work?
See that little chestnut tree in the corner of the yard,
You just carried it a canfull of water!


To Those Who Come After


Truly I live in a bleak age.
The innocent word is foolish. A smooth brow
Is a sign of insensitivity. The laughing man
Has to receive
The dreadful news.

What times are these when
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
Because it contains a silence about so many atrocities.
That man there calmly crossing the streets,
Hasn't he stopped being reachable
For his friends in need?

True, I still earn my living
But, believe me, it's only through luck. Nothing
I do gives me the right to eat my fill.
Only by chance have I been spared. (If my luck gives out I'll be lost).

They tell me: eat and drink. Be happy that you can.
But how can I eat and drink when
I snatch what I eat from the hungry man, and
My glass of water deprives the man dying of thirst.
And yet I eat and drink

I wish I were also wise.
In the old books it says what it means to be wise:
Stay away from the strife of the world and spend
Your short time without fear,
Refrain from violence,
Return good for evil,
Don't fulfill your desires, but forget them instead,
and you'll be wise.
Everything that I can not do:
Truly I live in a bleak age.


I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger ran rampant.
I joined with the people in a time of rebellion
And revolted as they did.
So passed the time
Granted me on earth.

I ate my meals between battles.
I slept beside murderers.
Heedlessly I pursued love
And looked on nature without patience.
So passed the time
Granted me on earth.

In my time the streets led into quagmires.
Speech betrayed me to the butcher.
There was little I could do. But I hoped
The rulers sat less secure because of me.
So passed the time
Granted me on earth.

My strength was small. The goal
Lay far ahead.
It was clearly visible, even
If for me hard to reach.
So passed the time
Granted me on earth.


You who will emerge out of this deluge
We drown in,
When you speak of our weaknesses
About the bleak age
You escaped.

We went forth, changing countries more often than shoes
Through the wars of the classes, despairing
When there was only injustice and no rebellion.

Yet because of this we know:
Even hatred of meanness
Distorts a man's features.
Even anger over injustice
Makes his voice hoarse. Ah, we
Who wanted to prepare the ground for kindness
Couldn't be kind to ourselves.

But you, if it ever happens
That men become the helpers of men,
Remember us
With a little indulgence.


© Jim Doss



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