The Little Ache — a German Notebook, Ian Wedde, Victoria University Press, 2021
From The Little Ache—a German notebook
Im Hochsummer besuchen die Bienen viele unterschiedliche Blüten
‘In high summer the bees seek many different flowers’
caught my eye on the jar of honey
in the organic shop around the corner
but outside it was already getting dark
at 4.30 in the afternoon
and the warm bars were filling
with a buzz of patrons
dipping their lips
into fragrant brews
jostling each other in a kind of dance
I didn’t join
(I didn’t know how to
couldn’t ‘find my feet’)
but took home my jar of Buckweizenaroma
and sampled some on a slice
Von allem Leid, das diesen Bau erfüllt,
Ist unter Mauerwerk und Eisengittern
Ein hauchlebendig, ein geheimes Zittern.
‘From all the suffering that fills this building
there is under masonry and iron bars
a breath of life a secret tremor.’
In the Moabit Prison memorial
where Albrecht Haushofer’s words
incised in the back wall
already wear the weary patinas of time and weather
or more probably the perfunctory smears
of graffiti cleansing
I’m assailed by a nipping dog
whose owners apologise in terms I don’t quite understand
though the dog does
and retreats ahead of the half-hearted kick
I lack the words to say isn’t called for.
The horizon’s filled with gaunt cranes
resting from the work of tearing down or building up
the forgettable materiality of history
an exercise one might say
in removing that which was draughty
and replacing it with that which can be sealed.
Or as it may be
tearing down the sealed panopticon
but making space to train dogs in.
is one of those contrapuntal German nouns
that should be simple but isn’t
unless you think
‘upper-tree-bridge’ is simple.
The long trailing tresses of the willows
have turned pale green
and are thrashing in the wind
on the Kreutzberg side
of die Oberbaumbrücke
over the storm-churned Spree.
They are the uneasy ghosts of spring.
blow rubbish along the embankment.
In a crappy nook
a graffitied child clenches a raised fist.
Yesterday at the Leipzig Book Fair
I listened to a fierce debate
about the situation in Ukraine
and later visited the Nikolaikirche
where Johann Sebastian Bach had played the organ.
One situation was loud with discord
the other’s efflatus a ghostly counterpoint.
On the train back to Berlin
I received a text from Donna
who’d been rocking our granddaughter Cara to sleep.
My bag from the Book Fair
had a paradoxical misquote from Ezra Pound on it:
‘Literatur ist Neues,
das neu bleibt.’
The train was speeding at 200 kilometres an hour
towards the place I’m calling home
because it’s haunted by ancestors who left slowly
thereby established the first term
of my contrapuntal neologism:
The vanity of art
(Milan Kundera) –
I return to the Moabit Prison Memorial
Haushofer’s words are still there
writ large on the back wall
they seem a little faded
but that could be the effect
of lucid sunshine
which elongates the speeding shadows
of dogs chasing Frisbees
and picks out
the filigreed patterns of trees
beginning to be crowned
with pale baldachins of leaves.
The girl panhandling on the footpath
at Warschauer Strasse station
has scrawled an unambiguous request
on the cardboard placard
her dog’s sleeping head
seems to be dreaming:
‘cash for beer and weed
and food for the dog’.
What the ghosts of Moabit are saying
I find harder to understand.
The memorial park’s stark absences
and the minimal architectural features
seem respectful and not vaunting.
But the silence here
which the happy dogs
vociferous nesting birds
industriously rebuilding cranes
and agitated railway station
do not fill
crowds into a place in the mind
that scepticism can’t reach
where ghosts gather obliviously
without caring if I sense them
or if any of this exists.
Patriotismus, Nationalismus, Kosmopolitismus, Dekadenz
are the words repeated over and over
by the artist Hanne Darboven
whose great work in the Hamburger Bahnhof
museum of contemporary art
like the nearby Moabit Prison Memorial
reduces what she knew
to the minimal utterances
the obsessive reductions
that anticipate the ghosts of themselves
in the silence of the archive.
Ian Wedde was born in 1946. He has published sixteen collections of poetry, most recently Selected Poems (2017). He was New Zealand’s Poet Laureate in 2011 and shared the New Zealand Book Award for poetry in 1978. The Little Ache — a German Notebook was begun while he had the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency 2013/2014 and often notes research done during that time, especially into his German great-grandmother Maria Josephine Catharina née Reepen who became the ghost that haunts the story of the character Josephina in Wedde’s novel The Reed Warbler.
Victoria University page