James Reidel is a poet and translator who lives in America. His last book of poems is My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg and Other Poems (Black Lawrence Press, 2006). His translations include In Hora Mortis/Under the Iron of the Moon (Princeton University Press, 2006) by Thomas Bernhard. His translation of Franz Werfel’s novel Eine blaßblaue Frauenschrift will appear as Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand (Godine, forthcoming) in the summer of 2011 as well as a revised and expanded translation of Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (Godine, forthcoming). He appears in The Adirondack Review for National Poetry Month 2011.
“Pukow nach Peking”
—handwritten on the back of a photograph of Dr. Julius Tandler, the health minister of “Red Vienna,” and an unidentified young woman in China, ca. 1933 in the papers of Alma Mahler-Werfel,
Sun enters the Pullman with the politeness of a
Who seats himself across from the obvious
There is a third whose finger smarts from the resile
of the shutter’s release.
There is certainly no Chinese duenna.
A half-drawn blind traces its fan wood vanes across
the Onkel’s shoulder. He might have flown
To his young companion’s side on just the starboard
wing of an enormous bull dragonfly
And with just his sleeve draped over her shoulder.
The morning northbound—
This explains the ideal light, the only thing that
The eyes, the buttons of the high-backed seat,
The faux pearls that button the girl’s dress.
He and she have this bright look like travelers when
they are still fresh,
Like people on Ferris wheel looking at you and not
Her smile because she has the window seat and can
choose to ignore it—
The mixed daughter of a missionary, perhaps (I
understand you perfectly, Herr Doktor),
An actress, a spy for the soviet in Jiangxi,
A small opening to a land of vast orphanages to inspect,
Hospitals, nursing colleges, legs like oysters—
“How birdnest soup got in my mustache” a better
Columba livia pontica
Too much of this spooked the Moses of their race—
Athena’s owls mortared up on pediments,
Iron-spiked sills baring their fangs,
Lintels arching their backs like cats,
The jettatore of rondel with broken panes,
Flight holes wrapped in chicken wire,
Those courtships pursued into the street,
Crushed to a flatbread of slate blue pinions.
Thus that first flock spun a last time over the city
and homed to it no more,
To roost above the railway,
To perch beneath the viaduct,
To beard the bridge with nests,
Its girders and piers weeping chalk droppings for
Here, between the ties, the rails,
The trains might spill corn in the city park again,
In children’s handfuls.
© James Reidel