For National Poetry Day: The Ritual Of Total Immersion.

The Ritual of Total Immersion.

Do not Take Me To The River, but take me down
By an excursion boat that will shudder and stop
And whose anchor chain rattles out
To deliver pink bodies on a flat sea
Suspended over the blanked out deep

Where I can climb up to the rail, with tense toes
Taking temporary prehensile grip on the
Slippery wooden curve as we dip and tilt to
Topple headlong through air too long and too short
For fear but too little to catch breath

And Be gulped in: fingers, wrists, elbows, crown, neck
Shoulder, back and thighs, knees, ankles, toe-tips
And under. And down.

Down as far as life can take us
Down further where lungs burn and fight
Down where pressure and fear can break us
Down where the bottom is hidden from sight

Turn. And exhale.
Up with gases streaming out of breath
Up through the watery stratum of eternal blue
Up to broken light, stealing back life from death
Up like a torpedo or a missile true

Surface shatters and I bob with a sneeze and snot
The pink bodies in bright costumes shout
Giggle, chatter to themselves in mundane sun and shade
I am back from the blue, full disciple of Poseidon
Rocking the boat from below with his trident

Soaked with grace gained from him in my
Ritual of Total Immersion.


Who’s That Knocking At The Door

This is dedicated to all of the wonderful talented people I have met at the equally wonderful British Centre for Literary Translation Summer School, which has just ended.

In my wee bit of spare time, I did this wee bit of translation.

Who’s That Knocking At The Door?
Theodor Kramer (1897–1958)

Who’s that knocking at the door
Too early for most souls?
It’s just the baker’s boy my pet
Dropping off some rolls

Who’s that knocking at the door?
I’ll go, my child, don’t stir
Just a man at the neighbours’
Asking who we were

Who’s that knocking at the door?
Run your bath, you needn’t care
That letter we’re expecting
Here’s the postman on the stair

Who’s that knocking at the door?
Now there, just make the bed
It’s the landlord: we’re to be out
On the first of the month, he said.

Who’s that knocking at the door?
The fuchsia blossom is so near –
My sweetheart, pack my toilet bag
And don’t weep – they are here.

Monologue Of An Emigrant – Mascha Kaleko

Inspired by our recent visit to Berlin: my translation of a work by a poet who grew up and lived there as a young woman before fleeing to the USA in 1938. After World War 2 she lived in Israel, and died in 1975 in Zurich, on the return journey from her last visit to Berlin.

Monologue of an Emigrant.
Mascha Kaleko

Once I had a lovely homeland
So sang the refugee Heine
His stood on the banks of the Rhine
Mine on The Mark’s home sand

To have a (see above!) was once the norm
It was eaten by plague, pulverised in the storm.
O, rose of the moor and of the heath,
Strength Through Joy put you to death

The nightingales were struck dumb
Looked around for a safer home
And only the cry of vultures was heard
High over the ranks of those interred

It will never again be as it was
Even if the outcome was changed
Even if the sweet fairy bell chimed
Even if the sword no longer clanged

To me it sometimes seems as if
My heart will break and more.
Now and then I suffer homesickness:
But I do not know what for…

Stay Shockable – And Fight Back!

This is my translation from the German of a poem by Peter Rühmkorf (1929-2008) The title and refrain were a bit tricky: the word I have translated as “shockable” is “erschütterbar” and is literally correct, but also has undertones of ‘shakeable’ and therefore ‘vulnerable,’ as well as ‘capable of being outraged’.

In any event, the warning is not to let our acquaintance with brutality and duplicity make us so jaded that we no longer react, and no longer bother to resist.

So I have also taken a liberty in adding a third “Stay shockable” at the end of the final stanza. This came about when I recently read the poem aloud to politically committed friends: it seemed right to redouble the exhortation (in these times…)

Stay Shockable – and Fight Back.

Peter Rühmkopf

So today: first, second and last shout
To all that’s been chased round and wrung out
Which I, though lowly, saw sway and crack
What’s empty tomorrow but yesterday was full:
Before your head is frozen to death, a bare skull:
Stay shockable – but fight back.
Those who fuck up our earth, water and air
(Forward march! Trust in god and the motor car)
Before they talk you round the houses and into a sack
To be stitched up, bought and sold
While you wait for the transmutation of puke into gold
Stay shockable – and fight back.
So sweet, how mortals stir themselves and start
Targeting coshes to the kidneys and the heart
So soon failed courage betrays love behind its back…
If you stand head bowed, others bowed will follow
(And then you won’t need to seek your sorrows
Everything you fear, now it all comes true -)
Stay shockable
Stay shockable – and fight back.
Fight back, all of you! Unpractised in victory;
Between Scylla here and there Charybdis
Is the swinging exchange rate of the Odyssey…
Darkness flows out after the rich and sweet
But when you and your comrades – go out and find them! –
Share the gloom, the danger will easily
And soon crack…
Stay shockable …
Stay shockable…
Stay shockable – but fight back.

On non-Independence Day, for Camp Stupid in Court, an anthem.

To be sung:

Camp Stupid.

We are the vanguard of the Yes campaign,
Never beaten come snow wind and rain,
We’ve got no brains we’ve got no sense
We live in trailers and in tents
We are all booted and shell-suited
We are the Scot Nats at Camp Stupid

The bleak midwinter’s getting bleaker
No-one sees us attention seekers
We’re the heroism that we hanker
As Rick doesn’t say to Ilsa in Casablanca
Here’s looking at me – not at you, kid
We all love ourselves at Camp Stupid

We are a clan of a friendly sort
Using Holyrood Park for outdoor sport
We can get close up and toasty
In a sleeping bag nice and cosy
Tommy says it’s even better than Cupid’s
Let’s get it on at Camp Stupid

Get used to us, we’re going  to stay
Ignored here till independence day
And our job is not going  to  be done
Till damned Eck’s rocks melt in the sun
We’ll get what we want just by getting drookit
We‘re a monument to idiocy – we’re Camp Stupid

© Peter Russell 2016

By Order (based on 34 years experience as local government officer.)

(with apologies to Leon Rosselson)

Keep off the grass,

No litter, No bottles
No cycling, no scooters
No dogs, No horses or ponies
No alcohol, No picnics, No smoking, No spitting
No motor vehicles, No motor cycles or mopeds
No burger vans, No ice cream vendors
Only food from authorised vendors may be consumed.

No skating, No skateboards
No organised games, No ball games, No running
No professional trainers or fitness classes
No sunbathing, No nudity

No loitering, no soliciting, no importuning

No swimming or fishing in the boating lake
No unauthorised boats in the boating lake
No portable stereos or beatboxes
No musical instruments, No transistor radios
No fires, No fireworks, No camping
No model aircraft, No Frisbees or Boomerangs
No unaccompanied children
No prams, no pushchairs, no buggies

Remember at all times this is public property.

© Peter Russell 2016