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Celan Martin Burke

The Red Ceilings Press

MMXII [rcp 47]

Celan Martin Burke

These works are not, nor do they pretend to be, translations. The poems of Paul Celan provided a ‘starting-off-point’ in which I have attempted is to write poems using themes, attitudes, phrases and syntax of the great German speaking Jewish poet who may, as so many translators have attested, be ‘untranslatable’

Autumn (is it Autumn?) Exile (continuing) Autumn

1 Beyond – more than – outranking nostalgia Your hair its lusciousness its lusciousness (It is Autumn but your hair is not brown) The hours turning in on themselves As I turn again – as I always have Towards You custodian of your own beauty You say: a kiss, kiss me I do There is no nostalgia in this – not even for the present.

2 Salt-wave spumes attend the leaf-work of years. Does Autumn begin or end in this? Time is a nut in a shell which opens me as I open it. Sunday: in dreams lies my true sleep (nor ghosts attend nor charge me with infidelity) Sunday. A darkness. Poppies in memory. The moon. Its blood-beams. Where Were it not for the darkness of the sex of the loved one…. Let the window allow the world to witness this. Heartbeat. Unrest. Stone. Flower. Yet on, in that darkness… Time will forgive time (perhaps) As for I –

3 Those cruelties. Their endurance. A house its occupants Cannot escape from (sometimes they does not want to) Daybreak extending into evening but neither stars nor sunrise Attend. There is a grave. There are snakes. The old ones of the race Trouble the earth. Someone says my Germany of the soul. A believer dances with a heretic. With an infidel. Your hair is not brown Your hair is not brown. Black milk. Drinking at night. To occupy an abandoned House. Write there. Cover the grave. Avoid the snakes. Do not disturb the dust nor cobwebs on the stairs. Open the grave, close the grave, dig a deeper one. Big enough for all the occupants who are returning. The earth is not deep enough so dig in air. A moon of blood-beams watches. Snakes slither Towards the living. There are few living. Snakes sup At black milk and offer their tongues to the living – What is the homeland of my soul? That there should be a dance for this. In Autumn. Its brownness. Not unlike your hair but never your hair. Nor are those eyes equalled. I live in the golden house of your hair but play with snakes. (there is neither forgiveness nor condemnation enough for this) Dig a grave in the unconfined air place the unconfined there. Gold hair. Brown hair. Smoke over the city. A fine ash falling. History does not know what to do with this. There is a grave In the clouds. The house was not abandoned but desecrated. They return. They want to dance. Where is the orchestra? Enough. Is never enough. The homeland betrays us. Offers Black milk. Sends snakes as emissaries. A grave. Big enough But never enough. No dance. The dogs barking. No orchestra.

Your hair is not brown Your hair is not brown.

4 As if in some ghostly conversations with a ghost…. Bitter almonds. A tradition. A necessity. Almost sacred. As the poem wants to be (see me - almonds and language my companions) You above all others You as no other than you A cruel landscape yet the landscape indifferent To pain I remember – cannot forget – will not – never – never Death saw fit to walk with us. I remember. The three of us Almonds. History. As if a ghostly conversation with a ghost Was necessary to the life I live and will until the river…..

5 I: ritual, candle, ancient, custom of words Where the dead are more real than the living as Dante foresaw History’s wind battering the flame Other flames Remorse for words unsaid to the dead To speak a blessing The river calling in a manner I so far refuse

6 Spasm. Heart to hand. A poem of dark knowledge Anticipating itself. Mystery. I know nothing in advance - little thereafter Yet there were three –their ring gleams on my finger Their word goes before me Their Amen overpowers me (I pronounce you free of all this) An altar of white stones at which…mother-word Time through which the spasm passes Into the hand, this hand – if…..there, now, the heart!

7 Unrelenting. As if history condemned them To it. Digging. In air. In earth. Planting the seeds of themselves Before death panted its shadow On them. Which it did With all its intentions. Laughing at, undoing, what they did When all that they did Was to dig in the air, in the earth, A trench for their grief to bed down in.

8 There are rumours Of beauty existing before desolation smothered it But In the exile of Autumn (No one foretold this nor the elders who with singing flame and prophecy‌) What am I to believe? There are rumours –also other rumours – but also I do not Believe them I only believe as much as is necessary to survive.

9 (it is said they invented no song but I have heard it sing it in my fashion as if history were an innocent witness a lamentation carried by the river underground my vein pulses to in the now in the whatever of forever earth – yes, they dug – by day, by night with song without song some – none – no one - you – all and every nowhere-leading witness’s became indifferent – became the jury of our fate)

10 Into the world, out of the world With my thought my every thought my gentle, open one Receiving Received As if nothing had ever died As if everything was at the first moment of birth A sun (the one out of the old traditions) Came to bless the inhabitants – all the inhabitants Where the silence was as masterful as any lyric could have been (indeed, the silence was a lyric) And light again from the traditions but exceeding the traditions As if it existed before its name was uttered Yet thrilled vibrantly within your throat When I kissed it with the first of many kisses

11 Ice? Even Eden is unguarded Cold burning of moonlight Cold burning of the moon on reeds

(this can be seen – is seen)

Ice Earth under its nudity (do not ask more than this) It sees what I see It will return The hour will pass The moon already freezes

12 No-man (do not think this a Greek myth) Some hand shuffles us on a loom But no spirit enters our dust No-man Weaver of nothingness to this flowering substance In which we may outlast the deities Greece or any elsewhere – the where does not matter Nothingness – yet a rose – a movement - language and location Is it heaven which tears us from the earth we are rooted to? No-man singing of thorns Until –

13 For those burned hands could not hold the gold Yet is there not some incantation by which to bless the ash? Perhaps we ask impossible questions – of ourselves Of history Where only silence rewards us with words dying away‌. Where sometimes even the ash refused to leave traces of itself A sense of a motherland regained then lost A sister-shape to which so much remains to be said Yet these burned hands which could not hold gold Cannot hold ash Nor these words what history needs of them

14 Delicious And Pleasing Yet Can this fruit Satisfy Our expectations? They told me a king lived within an almond. I have yet to find the almond I have yet to find the king

Nothingness lords itself over us As for my race‌.. Even my homeland does not credence my use of its language Where so many who should have grown old‌.. The king of nothingness dwells in nothingness As if it were an unripe fruit Or a rotten one There are orchards I will never pluck from No matter how much I admire their seeming beauty

15 Fire. Burning in hoops. Tigers as Blake might have Spoke them. Then in the finite singing –You! The symbolism of a generation and a country Was made real in that moment. Even the sky was ready To celebrate the events of earth The lost were un-lost and the heart was at peace – Perhaps a fraction only But a fraction not forgot.

16 Shadows. As dark as my mind’s necessities. Yet even they cannot conceal the wound. A landscape drenched in its own nakedness Where nothing abides Not even silence can articulate it.

17 If I tell what must be told In the way that it must be told No one but no one will understand: Crane – Thought – Flag – Syllables – Snow Eyelash – Shadow – Hour – Mouth – Doors Yesterday – Tomorrow – Forever – Pulse Unpulse – Construct from them the words I cannot say.

18 Circling me More real than any life I might have lived The death-woman Tonight the stars can only mimic themselves There are night-birds, moon and stars But I can make no connection My name is already engraved on the urn of my heart.

19 (I write this poem for all the poems I will not hereafter write) Bless us, bed us, for I can still see you Echo that you are to all I say Lamp-brightness towards which (do I have to say it?) Against shadows of which I am tempted to use the word ‘Never’ Consistencies. Contradictions. Yet when the present fails us Can the past provide a refuge? Who now will believe the names I give to the stars? Who will absorb them into their own vocabulary? Perhaps my ghost will possess an authority I could never achieve? As for angels, as for the silence of stars…… As always (history repeats this) There is talk that Jerusalem actually exists Yet the spume of a small wave against the quay-wall Would be radiance enough to guarantee forgiveness To the needs we have of it….

That one voice – on behalf of the many – yet remain one voice Resetting the clock to that innocence of Adam With good bread for altar offerings…. Or is such bread as un-nameable a burden As sorrow is? My inheritance is snow beginning to thaw Tonight the river’s grammar is my grammar.

Martin Burke Though born in Ireland, Martin Burke lives in Flanders from where, as poet and playwright, he has published sixteen books of his work in the USA, UK, Ireland, & Belgium.

The Red Ceilings Press

MMXII [rcp 47]


by Martin Burke