Mohn des Gedächtnis
Picture it: a girl in a strange city
Unpacking her suitcase, setting things on shelves
In the middle of the folds rises the berry
Of her determination, a black pearl on white cloth
As fine-wrapped as a baby Jesus
Or new star—she the one who will set it in the sky
Tomorrow, it’s only the night before still. Picture it,
This stranger: doer of an incomprehensible,
Resonant past thing, which echoes in the oyster miles beneath.
Who was she? Some figment, miniature self,
A toy soldier set in motion by
An accidental kick of the dreaming real girl,
Far away untouched and unblemished in sleep.
Yet I was she: I was the eunuch who, smiling, salaaming,
Lets in the ghostly sahib to the huge jewel room
While his hukkaed shah lies fallen. That night,
A little doll stuffed tight with my fell purpose,
How I wandered the city, outdated treasure map to hand
Searching my buried gold. Where my fear went
Skipping a few paces ahead, a paper butterfly, later
I hung my tears like earrings from the lampposts.
I could make a thousand poems from this
There came in one day enough pain for ten
Natural lives laid end to end,
I could make a whole galaxy of glowing suns
Heating their decades of planets and trash—
But how can I let this live through me any more? Or
I should be the girl of the music box
Open her red coffer, out
Pops the same old song,
Only magical for never changing,
Its own liquor of eternity
From the sole inexhaustible god-grape—directing,
Suspending me as the magnet-chip in the old jade statue.
Now I may lie tossed up by this ocean, like an old
Jellyfish losing its clarity, hexed
By a curse ancient as a blue faïence
Scarab carved with hieratic marks,
But even if it means a change as came
To Anthony, after the god abandoned him—
Human, no longer tragically, singularly destinied—
I will live through it: burn it up
With my breath. For after all I am alive
While what is past has lost that art.
Note: “Mohn des Gedächtnis” —“The Poppy of Memory” —after the Paul Celan title “Mohn und Gedächtnis.”
This poem first appeared in PN Review (UK), 30.1.