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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.