Poetry‎ > ‎

Linie Eins

Warschauer Straße

Schlesisches Tor

Görlitzer Bahnhof

Kottbusser Tor

Prinzenstraße

Hallesches Tor

Möckernbrücke

Gleisdreieck

Kurfürstenstraße

Nollendorfplatz
Wittenbergplatz

Kurfürstendamm

Uhlandstraße

After Uhland


Warschauer Straße

I'd never been to sunny Friedrichshain. Maybe before the wall came down

when it was dour and damp. Now the brick-red Calatrava bridge

repels the wake of slag waste barges skimming up the Spree.

Blackbirds in a gangly locust tree croak melodies

on a rubble hill. A Bessemer ogre stands mid-river,

hammering out tin-type fairies, shouting at shadows

of a thousand-year regime. Passing by revolving doors,

I dream of Maldives under water. I leave the station

with beefy news in hand, where a gypsy's puffing

in a doodlesack. Several 747s queue for a descent

to Tegel Airport, passengers kissing their seats

at another safe return. I'm eating pretzels, Gouda,

as ambulances come, as handsome Polizei

strap a foaming lady to a gurney. Today is D-Day,

beaches at Cherbourg are strewn with squid

and urchin jelly of a leaf-rot earth. Once passage

for Turkish Kurds, we now schlep whistling choir boys

who plod bedraggled, sot-gray margins of Berlin.

I board a tram, headed for the West, a soothing,

nice-guy voice beckoning stragglers to stand within.

Above, hot air balloon letters spell out Die Welt.

 

Schlesisches Tor

On Ascension Day (in German Himmelfahrt, or 'trip to heaven'),

stands of asparagus and strawberries are everywhere.

We work mornings at a print shop, layering India inks

on balsa, in Ukiyo-e Hiroshige featured in his walks.

For me, fourteen stations will suffice, in sketching a town

of Prussian blue. We turn a blind eye to Malaysian Air 370,

lost in Calms of Capricorn, in warm braw winds of Borneo.

I do pushups in a park, ditch my dirt bike under elevated

tracks, exploring a cove of Northern industry and politics.

A poem fest is out of bounds: far too strange for travelers

like the Polish carpenter I sit beside, as her child gawks

at my one bloodshot eye. We walk to Museum Island,

past city concrete strafed by bullet holes. In Koenig's

bookstore, staff can't stand my notes for Linie Eins.

Too many books on hip-hop, Basquiat, they say, but 

do your post office coffee table book before they're

all gone, like passenger pigeons in the Cincinnati Zoo.

Radios blare football: the Lions of Cameroon facing

string-bean Thomas Moeller. We eat hake at Oase, 

worn out by family meltdowns, take up again

our search for the magic wood toads found in Grimm.


Görlitzer Bahnhof

Beetles roll dung balls over sod of the Great Dying

of Silesia, where life has left us, some here today,

gone tomorrow. Every day species, mostly bugs,

are discovered. In a pit roundhouse itch mites

teem, beat after a wind-borne flight from Conakry.

Coal-smoke skies are gone, as solar, wind, make

air a pleasant thing to breathe. I've got 20 Euros

for red kale, artichokes. Trans-Chaos Express

still runs from Kassel to Neuköln, stopping at

ivory towers. We hike the Hasenheide, while Lotti

finishes up a film with J.J. Johnson blues.

Franz Josef's troops sleep in jacaranda, railroad

spurs echo cricket spit. Mandarin tourists

won't eat curry wurst, but slurp bad Ma Po tofu.

Mallards nestle in a tunnel nicknamed Urethra,

by scrapyards, tar pits, auto shops, past Mutoid 

Waste Company's Peace Bird, flying on like Odin.

We taste Malaysian stir fry, hear tell of scandals

in Singapore, where engineers from Xi'an fare well.

My brother Reinhard calls: everything about Berlin

I thought I knew? Untrue. The town needs glue.

 

Kottbusser Tor

The U-Bahn's full of rose hips, diodes, baby's breath,

bone combs, lost shoes, burnt ash, milky sea glass,

tales of woe at Corcovado. Remember Frisian floods,

driving a BMW in Brandenburg to Karl Marx Cafe,

a tottering stork atop a 12th century Gothic tower?

Linie Eins screeches to a halt at Kottbusser Tor.

You love the sound of it. Not so German

as a whole. But songs seep out of grape leaves.

I love all children who clutch at rag bears,

Max und Moritz, cat's eye marbles, jumping

jacks! At Oranienplatz, ROOF is written on a roof.

A tin-drum, one-man protest rally on a bike,

a dachshund tip-toeing a slack-line tightrope.

We sit on a stoop in Sudstern, as sky fiends

fall, as in lullabies by William Blake.

Hawks, tree frogs, quiet sleep, your hands 

grow beautiful each day. An organ grinder

trills, we promise to stay limber for a day.

Clover, yew, honeysuckle trickle drops of dew,

my sense of longing grows, older than Earth.

By a sand bar, the Blue Nile bar is burning bright.

 

Prinzenstraße

William the Great, on a Barbary horse, strode this grand Allee,

marshaling his troops to rout the French. The district's

overrun by marmosets who've escaped a deer park.

By a public pool, hipster Cypriots smoke Gauloise.

A nymph has lost her golden ball in a sewer, she's

furious, throws her frog-prince at a wall. All that's

left? His porcelain-white mug above the gantry.

Starlings nest in walls of a water treatment plant

where you can smell chalk in a shut-down subway,

deserted from 1961 till 1990: three platform kiosks,

signal lights, name plates black, white lettering,

wooden poster frames, and wrought iron gates.

Kids seesaw on a wingless dragon in a Kinderpark,

while a grizzled old Weimaraner growls at my feet,

as if I was Mercury returning to the Merkur Motel,

where Symbolists swapped notebooks with lovers,

folding their exquisite corpses into magic squares.

We plant tomato seeds in the Princess Garden.

We drink at Kumpelnest, sleep in each others' arms.

In the morning, we brew dark coffee, find friends

and stroll towards Heinrich Heine Straße in the rain.

 

Hallesches Tor

Outside the American Thinking Library, a nightingale,

a screwy notion that beer made the modern world.

The housing project where your mom lived is alive

with lounging archeologists from the Dead Sea,

plastic pinwheels spinning atop chilly courtyards.

She's left now her flat in Zehlendorf, red oaks

and shade squirrels quarreling. Do you smell döner

up on fire escapes, balconies, at the Jewish Museum,

by cast-off paving stones? In Kreuzberg, Reinhard 

owns a lorry shed for drummers aping Ginger Baker.

There's schnitzel for all who trumpet a world that's

not the best of all possible worlds. Three pears

dangle from a limb over thirsty roots that delve

beneath the renovated rails at Hallisches Tor.

We lie in the grass and smile, looking to find

a different ending for Candide, a garden that's

cultivated jointly, a smell of pepper in the air.

City of waffles, queers, walks to Viktoria Park

to watch a football game, to see a Viking sun

go down under creeks of the Großer Müggelsee,

a journey of weeds to reach the hippodrome.

 

Möckernbrücke

Moonlight, bickering mosquitoes threading glass

channels in the dark. Parisians, Palestinians, shift

in their seats, off to visit grandma in a hospice.

What does Möckernbrücke mean? Manors on

the Amazon, where rubber workers chastised

Henry Ford, magic mountains of Thomas Mann,

where mania maps the left side of my brain;

marijuana, Goya's mocking, flat-faced serfs

who seek a turn of phrase at insult after injury.

I keep thinking: moccasins, mauve blue, magenta

on a canvas Turner turned to mud. Maybe marbled

terracotta at Pompeii. In any case, toddlers swarm

the car just as a conductor shouts, Möckernbrücke.

I'm no closer to knowing who lived here in 1945,

sleeping on steel cots. Beer gardens, Finnish

nurses, old-growth forest chestnut trees,

Lisbon caravels traveling baroque canals.

Music in the air goes slack at noon; catboats

listing home. The oak lung of the city beats

in three-quarter time, a hundred ears of Babel

are free to hear the momentary call to prayer.

 

Gleisdreieck

Lotti and I meet in Moabit to catalog marsupials, 

just a stone's throw from this triangle of track. 

Our pet project--orange groves across barrens

of Ramallah and Jericho, willows everywhere.

Pond coots in the Berlin Zoo, a big-eared baby

elephant, seething mad at her mother.

Bees in clover, a sun-glint cobalt kingfisher,

men who work with coal. Johnny Greenwood 

strums chords from Tokelau. School kids 

trim dwarf bonsai in an Okinawa garden.

We sit under olives, talk of mega cities,

fading light where Roosevelt met Churchill.

Cigars, black Odessa tea. Land of Pilsner, 

land of Nod: I meet my brother Reinhard 

for schnitzel and red cabbage. He doodles

as we watch kayaks try to push upriver.

We go to the graves of his father, brother,

pine cones covering the grassy plot where

we hear great breaths as thunderheads

release a downpour that sends us galloping

to a giant elm that Hans once wrote about.

 

Kurfürstenstraße

I've exited the Story of Berlin, dead sure

I've been on this street before, maybe when

I visited Isherwood, when he stared

straight through me, a novice from the other 

side of the island? And now my love

and I celebrate thirty years together,

two East Village punks who day-dreamed 

in shadows of the Clash, and then as now,

as listeners to Moby, Kraftwerk, Jimmy Cliff.

You stand by the waves at Fire Island

in a diving wet suit, skinny as a rail.

Suddenly in midtown, in the back of a truck, 

it's Scooby Doo! And now I see Scooby-Doo-

headed pumpkins for Halloween! So I know 

that's what I'll call my painting show, as it's full 

of names of dogs, craters on moons of planets,

silly American town names from the prairie, 

from Canada and Mexico. Our blessed North. 

And here, umbrellas everywhere, at UN Plaza, 

in honor of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan.

In a dream I'm bushwhacking Shakespeare's island.

 

Nollendorfplatz

Yellow River crocodiles! I see Nollendorfplatz in

riotous colors of Kokoschka, a pug sleeping in a doorway.

On Else Lasker-Schuler Strasse, Milky Way shimmering:

T the Green Door Lounge, I share a glass of wine

with Rosa von Praunheim, we watch Miracle of Milan,

where a woman finds a baby in a cabbage patch.

A shanty town is burned, a rainbow breaks the sky

into trillion of yellows: gold royal, canary, mustard,

lemon, khaki, olive, cream, chiffon, banana, solar,

lunar, corn, flavescent, ivory, icterine, titanium,

daffodil, sandstorm, lemon, butter cinquefoil,

cadmium, bismuth, Naples, under-ripe apple,

doe eyes, terracotta, sapling. buff, lion, hellion,

saffron, papaya, jonquil, Stil de grain, Mikado,

chartreuse, apricot, begonia, Alyssa, blaine,

forsythia, nurit, xanthe, sunflower, acacia,

flax, gamboge, hansa, poppy, yellow rose,

maize, tanager, all the yellows of Linie Eins!

One sunlit cornice gives way as the sun sets

over Uhland. Toto flies away on a broomstick,

burnt umber is the color of the Berlin sky.

 

Wittenbergplatz

We sit in Nelly Sachs Park, ready to return to work.

All around us, the sixth extinction, brought on

by litterers, frenzied like wild roosters, a pair

of tiny olive robins flitting in the dark. A Ceylon 

owl speaks Farsi. Bats gorge on poison dart frogs. 

And two million species, like the tiny Spinosaurus,

just discovered! She who roamed seas below 

the Atlas Mountains, in the red Magreb dust

of giant termites, when fish were big as houses.

Now we find Saki monkeys, see-through snails,

fairy wasps, a big-eared Sengi elephant mouse,

dragon trees, ice anemones, a far-out frog fish, 

deadly killer sponges, a Mogadishu flying fox,

red phalaropes, spiny cactus caterpillars, orange 

penicillium, a Tinkerbell fairy fly, a Lilliputian 

violet, and snub-nosed monkeys of Myanmar.

Bombadier worms, utterly weird yams, orb 

weavers, bubble snails from the Coral Triangle. 

Lyre sponge, lightning roach, green water glider,

all swooning in the light. Here, today, reminding me: 

taped terraria full of Lotti's shy little fire-belly newts.

 

Kurfürstendamm

I dream I wake in Bogota to mourning doves,

fog, emeralds from Boyocá are splayed across

the forest floor. It's Earth Day, the Pacific still

ruined by plastic, but green seeds rain down

on Monserrate, Museum of Gold, the asaderos

of Zipaquirá, to re-tree our devastated forests.

Cows grind burdock in their cuds, hacked 

from guerilla strongholds, just footsteps

from the Orinoco, where Muiscas giggle,

tipple chicha, tremble or bungle at turmeque.

I could be in Quembaya, lost in pink bananas,

cecropia trees of the lost frog's bamboo canopy.

The Altiplano stretches out before me

like the alligator of the Amazon that mega-cities

here become: Rio, New York, and Istanbul.

Nearby my favorite nurse is in a nursing home,

having given me a key to a room of the blessed.

We finish our list of street names, careful

to remember the power of the merging

of the jaguar and the bat, the limestone

ocean floor of trilobites we all descend from.


Uhlandstraße

I spy black robins under eaves, the cheery notes

of their love songs. Belted kingfishers,

smells of winter coal, besmirched noses

of chimney sweeps, an Arab taxi-driver

barreling his way through Tempelhof.

I find curiosities on the subway floor,

a Swiss pocket watch, an apple core,

dust left behind in Actaeon’s flight.

Wet socks and leftover pizza dough,

two euros and a diaper under my seat.

Red umbrellas, Copenhagen wheels

on bikes. A Mars Rover looks out to

interpret the silence of the void.

Kathe Kollwitz is home in hickories

and the rubble of three world wars.

Beyond Uhlandstrasse, there's a village

called Ziesar, where, at a bridge, a boy

drops stones into cattails. We sip tea

at Oslo Kaffebar, remember the stork

in the town tower where Karl May

dreamed up Winetou and Old Shatterhand.

 

After Uhland

On my bike, in a fugue state, surrounded by trees

of our childhood. I'm dreaming up another poem 

nobody needs. My work is about waking, even if 

I don't know where I am, who my friends are, or 

where Nigerian schoolgirls sleep, lost in forests 

of Jos. We nap in a rose-thorn hut by beeches,

quartz quarries full of crabs. We play Colombo

under gun-grey helicopters, hopes swept up

by Berliners, scaling their crumbling walls.  

In my mind I'm back at the Dhaka parliament,

where reeds hide a crouching tiger after cheetahs:

teary eyesore for crows, a labyrinth of scaffolding,

flooded beyond repair. Indu, a child of the ghetto

of Korail, holds my hand, as in my other I press

a pencil, as we emerge to Byzantine fountains,

where lots of filmy things flit here and there

in the atmosphere, terrifying our thoughts,

coming at us waking or asleep, bodies striking

eyes, wakening images as cold as gushing rivers

in the heat o' the sun, spray from ocean waves

as we gather beach rose by sands of an inland sea.