Five Poems

Günter Eich

translated by Michael Hofmann

Examine Your Fingertips

Examine your fingertips for signs of discolouration!

One day it will be back, the supposedly eradicated contagion.
The postman will drop it in the rattling letterbox along with the
                                                                                                                   circulars,

it will fetch up on your plate with a portion of herring,
the breastfeeding mother will give it to her babe.

What shall we do, as none of those who would habitually confront it
are still alive?
Whoever is on a reasonable footing with horror
can expect its coming with equanimity.
We are forever making space for happiness
but how often does it agree to sit on our chairs.

Examine your fingertips! If they are black,
it is already too late.

End of August

The white bellies of dead fish
loom among duckweed and rushes.
Crows have wings to enable them to escape death.
There are times I know that God
is most concerned with the fate of snails.
He builds them houses. We are not His favourites.

At night, the bus taking the football team home
leaves a white trail of dust.
The moon shines in the willowherb,
in concert with the evening star.
How near you are, immortality – in the wings of bats,
in pairs of headlights
nosing down the hill

Lvov

1.

City on however many hills.
A grizzled yellow.
It gives you a memory of bells to take with you,
audible in the jingle
of your dog-tag.

2.

Slopes, like fears, too many to count.
The tramline ends
in front of peeling doors
in a prairie of weeds.

Memorial

The moors we wanted to hike have been drained.
Their turf has warmed our evenings.
The wind is full of black dust.
It scours the names off the gravestones
and etches this day
into us.

Where I Live

When I opened the window
fishes swam into the room,
herrings. A school of them
must just have been passing.
I saw some playing among the pear trees as well.
There were more of them
in the woods,
over the conifer plantations and gravel-pits.

They are a nuisance. But even more annoying
are the sailors
(some high-ranking ones among them too, helmsmen, captains),
who keep coming up to the open window
and asking for a light for their beastly tobacco.

I don’t think I can stay here