Hilde Domin

Four poems by Hilde Domin (1909-2006), in new translations by Emma Rault.

Stranger

1
I fall through every net
like a dead thing

I fall through the nets.
Seed without soil
weightless
the wind winnows me
from all nets.

Where I’m from – web of roads,
knotted tight.

In every city
what they need lies ready,
toys and wedding sheets
and a place
by mother’s coffin.

I need nothing, I come and go
with open hands.

“You speak our language,”
they say everywhere
with wonder.
I am the stranger
who speaks their language.

2
Ahead of me they build
and behind me they take down
the stage-set of sturdy
houses, streets, trees.
Just minutes before I come
a square, chairs, a table.
I am brought coffee,
I speak the waiter’s language.
Hours away
they’re assembling a bedroom
in a noisy hotel.
No one is waiting at the station.

I pull around me
the small cloth,
already worn thin,
of your love,
my only dress.
I walk in the light
of a distant
long-extinguished
smile.

 

Travelling Light

Don’t settle in.
You can’t settle in.
A rose is a rose.
But a home
is not a home.

Reject the lapdog
wagging his tail at you
from the shop window.
He’s wrong. You
don’t smell like staying.

One spoon is better than two.
Hang it round your neck,
you can have one,
it’s too hard to eat
the hot gruel with your hands.

The sugar would run through your fingers,
like comfort,
like a wish
the day
it becomes yours.

You can have a spoon,
a rose,
maybe a heart
and,
maybe,
a grave.

Tokaido Bullet Train

For my publisher Monika Schoeller

Like a bullet train
we coursed through history
barely to be seen anymore
I speak in past tense
as I breathe, I watch myself recede
I’m a tail light
As the tail light
I light your way
you who may be poets of a twofold
home
of the soil on which you’re allowed to stay
your country will keep growing
as the earth’s surface contracts
and the borders retreat
beneath the wings of the people
you can go and yet stay
and live in the word
maybe the word of many languages at once
but in the German word first
in the German word
to which we clung
I the last one
am fighting for all of you
for the stamp in this passport
for our domicile in the German
word

Ensconced

In the morning, ensconced
in the white safety of a bathtub
with no water
I think of the tree-trunk
I’d like to lie in,
smooth, bright-lit, round-edged,
as if I were at home inside it
like a dryad.
No one will want
to bury me
in a tree-trunk
or a bath
in the cemetery
which I will choose
because of how the evening sun strikes it,
but to whose parish
I – who have moved away,
who am not registered anywhere,
in no church, in no city,
whose letters are forwarded
from country to country –
do not
belong.

Hilde Domin, Sämtliche Gedichte. © S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2009

authors(s)

 

Hilde Domin (1909–2006) was born in Cologne as Hilde Löwenstein, the daughter of a German Jewish lawyer. As a student of political science, she anticipated Hitler’s rise to power and left Germany in 1932 with her future husband, art historian Erwin Walter Palm. They spent over twenty years in exile, largely in the Dominican Republic, before finally settling in Heidelberg. Sparse, delicate and light-footed, Domin's poems deal with displacement and return (Hans-Georg Gadamer famously described her as the “poet of homecoming”) and her staunch effort to hold onto her “domicile in the German word,” as she put it. She has also written incisive essays on the exile experience and the dangers of fascism. 

translator(s)

Emma Rault is a writer and translator from German and Dutch. Her translations have appeared in Asymptote Journal and Queen Mob’s Tea House, and she is the recipient of the 2016-17 Geisteswissenschaften International Non-Fiction Translators Prize. Her own writing has appeared in The Collapsar, Rivet Journal and Bitch, among others. She lives in Los Angeles.

Emma Rault