Dove

Bomb

They dug up another bomb in Frankfurt today.
The flowing clouds never blinked nor paused
and neither do we.
We pack our bags like we’re heading off on an adventure,
not scared in the slightest,
but I back up my work just in case
and carry it with me in my pocket.
I wake up in a strange bed and listen for a bang.

I sit in the exam room with the Integrationskurs Teilnehmerinnen,
a private fly on a public wall.
It feels offensive to recognise the achievements of someone
who couldn’t read or write her native language this time last year,
but who nevertheless fills in her Geburtsort in a laborious foreign script.
Damascus. Kabul. Samarra.
Not caricatures or ciphers but women
in headscarves and jeans and heavy black dresses.
Who fill this room and
wait until the exam is over so they can pick up their children,
knowing they’ve jumped over one more hurdle
to their Niederlassungserlaubnis in a city
where all the bombs are already safely in the ground.

“Is this the last one?” we ask.
I make fun, but one day it will be
and we’ll never know.
There’ll be no parade, no public holiday,
no Peter Feldmann posed gamely by
the last ever one: Good work, everyone.
Will the earth become kinder?
Will the flowers bloom lighter-headed?
Will we have replaced them by then with something else?

The Egret

On the day she died
an egret flew low over our heads,
each feather sharply shadowed
on its snow-carved wings.

There are pieces of her in me.
The one-sided heat of a gas fire
and the patina on her teaspoons.

The particular cold of a greenhouse in winter.

A small fortune of copper coins
slyly pointed out on the ground,
a hundred lucky days.

The secret places in a church,
and the weight of altar cloths.

Jagged pieces, too, mine now to name
and keep. No longer borrowed, but given.
A sullen silence and words unmeant.
An unsustainable balance. A hedgehog wall.

But if, on the day I die,
someone can mistake my soul for an egret,
I will have lived a good life.

New Rites

My place is empty and my duties undone.
Other people must phone the florist,
scour for photos and pick out the nicest blouses
from the wardrobe, the ones she liked best.
Where am I?

Don’t accuse me of running.
I am not running, I am
walking, walking, walking.
I am pounding the ground in my search for answers.
I have read the flights of woodpigeon flocks
and interpreted the chatter of siskins.
I have followed a buzzard to its secret roost to ask
what does all of this mean?
I have watched a bank vole escape with its life
and still have no answer.

I have read the bones of every story
to understand the sameness
of triumph and loss,
rummaged frantic through all of history,
plucking at its strings and unravelling its threads
to recognise an echo of its vibration, a tinge of its hue.
I have seen how the least of things
can form one constant point in the world even as
the weeks begin again and
begin again.

I haven’t forgotten my duties,
I have only had to invent my own
from this lonely place.

Language Evolves

I am waiting for news at the end of the world
in a high place surrounded by clouds
where the snow falls upwards.

My ears are radar dishes
straining into space
to catch the quiver of dead sounds.
As if there’s a sacred resonance where everything
that has happened is still happening
and if I listen hard enough I can get there.

My tongue is a tree
that grows with the insistence of shark teeth
and green things towards the sun.
The end of the world isn’t far enough away.
There are always new heights to taste
and beyond every cloud is more sky.

So moulded to my own ends,
is it any wonder these changed ears and tongue
can no longer understand or be understood?

The signal comes and is misinterpreted.
The answer is given and all the letters are wrong.

City Music II

The purest note pierces the grubbiest corner
of the Hauptbahnhof shopping concourse.

Something in the heart of the escalator
has caught,
a moving shudder, a feeling gasp,

and a piccolo burst of postmodern birdsong
slides breathy-rosined through the air
at sensitive intervals.

A masterful dissonance
falls like water from icicles
and we stand quietly, carried at measured speed

through this art installation,
our ears barely able to take it all in.

Beneath our feet the metal
ascends in darkness,
relives its birth over and over.

City Music I

One of those buildings
that you’re never quite sure what it’s for.
Offices, probably,
but then there are those art projects
filling the ground floor rooms,
the paintings pinned to the windows.
A college? Night classes?
You’ll never know now,
because the insides have been sucked dry,
those windows shattered in a frozen wave
of sea-coloured shards around the perimeter,
as though the builders have picked up the building,
taken it and shaken it, tapped it
like a sheaf of news against the ground.
The outside layer has been stripped off,
leaving strange hollows
and a dangling dancer’s jewellery of metal
that rings like bells in the wind.
What it was is lost,
but just for now it is a performance,
a musical improvisation of metal and air.

Lessons

I have decided that today I will smile.
It’s raining and yesterday I made soup
and stayed away from the news,
so today I step neatly out of ways
and wait my turn,
and when I avoid collision with a small child
trailing like a kite
I smile,
in case he looks back,
to show him no harm done
and nothing to worry about.
We’re all going in the same direction.

From this angle the clock which is five minutes fast
is only one side of a three-quarters right clock.

The child stands with his family
in a triangle on the escalator
and I wait with all the time in the world
behind them, beneath the red shadow of my train.
There’ll be another along.

They see theirs a tick too late,
hurry up as the doors close,
but the father has a trick.
He shows his son how to use the world to his advantage,
like any animal teaching its child to hunt, use tools, tell good from bad.

He slips his hand fearlessly between the train’s jaws
and waits–
don’t fight or it will bark at you or run, spooked–
and the doors open obediently as a shell.

Thoughts: Wer Fürchtet den Tod, by Nnedi Okorafor, translated by Claudia Kern

Right, let’s skip the apology for taking so long and just assume it at the beginning of every post, OK? OK.

Another German book, but this time with a twist – it was translated FROM English INTO German! The English title is Who Fears Death. To everyone who read it in English, I apologise in advance for anything I misunderstood because of my imperfect German! I haven’t read the English version.

Also there are spoilers coming!

I was really nervous about this one – it’s a brick, and not just a brick but a sci fi brick, and not just a sci fi brick but a post-apocalyptic African sci fi brick, and my knowledge of the African continent is embarrassingly embryonic, and combined with my child-German I was legitimately worried that it would impair my understanding.

But happy news! Wer Fürchtet den Tod is really clearly written, and the language didn’t impair my understanding. I have skimmed a few Goodreads reviews just to make sure I didn’t miss anything major, and there are a few complaints about the simplicity of the language, but you know what? It really helped me out, so I’m grateful for it.

It occupies this really weird space, half post-nuclear war and half pure fairytale. The scenery and world are very detailed and the images strong, but there are pure fairytale, almost magical details. The main character, Onyesonwu, is a shapeshifter, and her mother can’t speak any higher than a whisper since she was raped (and Onyesonwu conceived), which I couldn’t help seeing symbolism in. The way a lot of the tech is described means it basically functions in the narrative as magic, even when it’s based on real technology. For instance, the device they use to get water from the ambient air is described in the same way as a fantasy novel would describe something magical, and yet something about it recalls (to this white Brit) inventions you’d see shared in Facebook video adverts, designed to make life easier in the developing world. You know the type of thing? Some of the tech had that type of feel – real and rooted to the setting. The book straddled a really interesting line.

It deals with weaponised rape, child soldiers, light-skin/dark-skin discrimination, structural misogyny and FGM, so it’s not an easy or lighthearted read (I learned a lot of words, LET ME TELL YOU), but it’s a powerful one. The way Okorafor deals with FGM in particular is really complex and nuanced. I don’t think any one book should bear the responsibility of being the be-all and end-all of debate about an issue, but I’ve never seen FGM dealt with ever at all in spec fic, and Okorafor has made an incredible contribution to that conversation which needs to be had.

Firstly, FGM is a coming-of-age ritual in the place Onyesonwu and her mother have ended up after her (beautifully drawn) childhood in the desert, and as an outsider both in terms of being new to the village and being mixed race and therefore automatically despised, Onyesonwu wants to belong as much as she can and she sneaks out of her house against her mother’s wishes to participate in the ritual. The other girls who have come of age in the same year as her are all bound together with her by this ritual in a strong friendship. It’s almost a community-building or reinforcing thing, and the village elder women make it look really attractive too, offering a safe space to discuss sex and also taking on themselves the protection of Binta, one of the girls, who has been repeatedly raped by her father.

But it doesn’t last – their intervention with Binta’s father is ineffectual, and the ritual has magically (literally by magic, I mean) destroyed all pleasure in sex for the girls until they marry, which they only realise later. In the end, the injustice of placing the burden of community morals on the unconsenting girls is unignorable, as is the violation of the way in which it’s done.

I do agree with some of the other reviews’ complaints about the middle – the journey does wander a bit, and petty squabbling between the characters overshadows the bigger picture a few times. The end gets a bit mad, but that’s something I enjoy in an ending, to be honest, so your mileage may vary.

Definitely recommend this one, both for the story and for any German learners looking for some practice!

Bookthoughts: Die Entdeckung der Currywurst – Uwe Timm

Okay, it’s been A WHILE, and I’ve read SEVERAL BOOKS, but now it’s time to try to catch up. I was focused on writing at the end of last year, and this year I’ve been trying to submit things because I’m a glutton for rejection and disappointment, and that’s all been compounded by a rough January.

And now I come back to find that WordPress is totally different.

Whatever. On to the book. This is the first book I finished in 2019 – I’m going to catch up here and then go back to 2018, I think. It was given to us when we came to Germany, and until now has been a reminder of my less-than-great German. But I’ve been working on my German, and I finally decided it was time.

Warning, this won’t be a particularly long or insightful post, because the book is short and not in my native language, but let’s get stuck in.

The title of the novella translates to “The Discovery of Currywurst”, referring to the popular German street food of sausage in spicy ketchup-based sauce. There are tons of apocryphal origin stories for currywurst, and this one is decidedly fictional. The narrator is visiting the elderly Lena Brücker, self-styled creator of currywurst, in her nursing home to find out the story. She says quite early on that it was an accident, and if you’re wondering if one day curry powder accidentally falls into ketchup in a happy disaster, then, you know, congratulations, but that’s also not really the story.

Die Entdeckung der Currywurst spends a lot of time flashing back to the last days of World War 2, when the rusted out flasks and old bullet casings the narrator went hunting for as a child were still shiny and in use. During an air raid, young (or not that young) Lena meets a soldier briefly stationed in Hamburg, they end up at her flat, and she inadvertently finds herself hiding him as he inadvertently deserts.

It’s not a story filled with drama and action. It’s quiet and tense, evoking a small community under the immense pressure of a losing war, the shortages from that war, and the psychological control of the Nazis policing everyone’s behaviour so well that people police themselves effectively instead. It drifts from past to present, narration to dialogue with little fanfare. It’s slow and strangely immersive, all these mundane daily details beautifully invoked – and of course living in a world where you have to make coffee from acorns and trade potatoes off the back of a wagon for a flask of petrol isn’t mundane to me.

The love story at its heart is doomed, we know that. But for a while it’s in perfect balance. Right up until the war ends, and Lena doesn’t tell Bremer. Right up until Lena asks if Bremer’s married, and he says he isn’t. But for that short time…

My German is still not perfect – I had to look up a lot of the military words during the war – but even I could appreciate the way Lena’s voice was written, the way it shone through the text. It slowed my reading into her rhythms and made it feel like I was really being told a story. And not just a story about the creation of currywurst, but about luck and connection and what people need, about finding the means of survival and realising that they were inside you all along.

Thoughts: Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, by Shiri Eisner

This was recommended to me by a friend, possibly on CSD (though I could easily be remembering wrong). I was a little bit intimidated and a little bit excited, as I hadn’t given myself over to reading much LGBT theory for a long time, since I slunk out of the Shakesville blog, with the exception of some of Julia Serano‘s excellent work. And besides  these great blog posts, I’d never read anything really exploring bisexuality. (It turns out that Serano’s post links a post by Shiri Eisner, actually, which is an excerpt from the book I’m talking about here.) If you too haven’t read much dedicated to bisexuality, then this is a pretty good place to start.

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