Two Poems

Durs Grünbein

translated by Michael Hofmann

In the Provinces 3 (Bohemia)

The silence round a dead mole
on the edge of a wheat field is deceptive.
Under it is a rendezvous for beetles, armed
and in black. Above it wheels a hawk
with ruffled wings, till he veers away.
Like sappers at the double, ants dig
a trench along the spine. On its inside
the wires are glowing, nervous maggots
on the ticker tape. From the stomach lining
traders in coloured jackets (or are they reporters)
carry the news to all parts: carrion, carrion!
Only a grasshopper, a hop and a skip away,
scans the clouds and suns itself in the silence
of a stoical philosopher.

To a Penguin in New York Aquarium

It generally begins with tricks. An animal show
With the serried ranks, eyes and medals front:
A trio of seals, juggling balls on their noses, slim
Flexi-statues, synchronised by their trainers
Like Broadway chorines, or men mooching on street corners,
Lissomely draped around fire hydrants. And then he came,
This young penguin with the name of a German philosopher,
Who just stood there, didn’t do anything, couldn’t do anything,
A hero of early vaudeville, of flickering black-and-white
Comedies, imperilled by flights of steps, by a windy world.
Secret favourite of a minority of the childish electorate,
He was the butler in tails, teetering on the brink of the pool,
Shivering on his flippers, swishing his wings. His performance
Faultlessly abject, down to the exit, sloping off, without a bow.