The Trakl Diaries — Stephanie Dickinson

Trakl Diaries / 45

Most likely Langen met the musical prodigy Grete Trakl in the Autumn of 1910. The couple only married on 17 July 1912, after an unsavory court procedure, in which Langen finally acquired legal permission to marry his fiancée. By marrying Grete he withdrew his protégé from the influence of the Trakl family, who lived in debt and refused to invest in Grete’s talent any further.”
Arthur Langen, retrieved from Revolvy

The Unsavory

*

Peel of a church bell, hyacinth, seraphim drinking from the bleeding throats of goats.

Heat seeps through the roof of my mouth into the bones of my face. Arthur takes off my shirt, folds it over the cane chair. It’s so much nicer here away from the sun. On the wall there’s a painting, a print of a girl lying in an Elizabethan gown in water weeds and long strands of hair, her mouth open. Her chin is raised grisly arching above the angel’s face. He tells me I am his, my teeth bared—hissing as though a wing of milk set to warm in a fire. He is the boiling water and I’m the scalded one.

Scales, harmonies, and finger exercises in practice. I insist on them.

When he hurts me I don’t understand it as really happening, it keeps going on before my eyes. I am fascinated, thinking I am being preened, how I look, tongue rolling, then lolling from my mouth, it’s how I play Chopin, teasing, my hands, his hands, his thumbs, my windpipe, pushing until my eyes bleed rain.

I alone direct your musical studies. Nothing trumps tempo and exactness.

I could see my heart beating music, the cordy muscle through which all the sweet red runs. He feeds himself the white of chicken. The breast meat.

Do you understand?

I pretend he is an out-of-tune piano whose slivers prick and dig. B flat. F sharp. He eats the first apple, and then all the quarter apples. His head wobbles bending to the trough. He wants to sup on my fingers that taste of the fruits and I let him.

Discipline, young woman, is required.

 

Trakl Diaries / 46

“Trakl volunteered for the military and waited for his deployment until August 1914. He advanced with a medical unit to the Eastern Front in Galicia. West of Lemburg.”
Margitt Lehbert, Introduction to The Poems of Georg Trakl

First Position 1 Stellung.

The gypsy girl bathing in the slough, her tangled black hair, red lips (without blemish). Her belly is sunken above her stick thighs. A thin arm raised over her neck as she washes the moss under her arms, her knees green from kneeling in slime. My comrades drag her from her bath, her long brown legs kicking, sprawled in front of her. The arms crossed over her just-beginning breasts have limber fingers that clench into fists. Brothers, leave the girl in peace. She is only a child. A dog licks her toes but the girl shoos it away. She speaks to it in romani. Fetch my people. She must not have eaten for days. Her tongue lying long and pink is still innocent in the gorge of her mouth. An animal, the men agree. Wildcat, felis silvestris. No sin. Someday, the animals will rise out of their hunger and feed on us, leaving the brute smell of their flesh. They fall upon her as if glutted beasts. Brothers, shall we play childhood again? Let’s toast the oily green of leaves. Fermented tree. We’ll drink leaf milk and return to our true selves.

First Position 2 Stellung.

We sling our rifles over our shoulders and wiggle on our bellies. We no longer bayonet sawdust men, but forage in the cellar of a ruined peasant hovel. Around a cupboard we huddle and rest our cheeks on the stone floor. We divide bread and curdled milk and cut the bread into thick slices. Straining at crumbs, I stuff the red jam into my mouth. Eat, little god. Eat. A comrade finds butter. The bastard hid it from us, he curses. Just as we’ve hidden the gypsy girl in the fruit trees, where the wind caresses her raped cheeks. The milk makes us drunk. I sway. Holding the butter back. The old bastard deserved what we gave him. I glimpse the grey-bearded peasant. Any meat? Seen any enemy? The peasant’s pink-rimmed sheep eyes startled when we slapped him. Cider? Bread? The old woman rushed out to find her man crumpled on the ground. Wiping her hands on her apron, her eyes blazed. Now lying in the river’s green the peasant couple float, their faces swollen, tongues black. Our soldiers have killed them, their bodies. We’ve caught the sickness of our enemy–the Russian cult of the charred. It has traveled from Moscow to Vienna.

 

Trakl Diaries / 47

“After a breakdown at the front Trakl was transferred to a base hospital in Krakow, from which he attempted to flee and return to the front. Quickly caught, he was imprisoned for four weeks so his mental state could be observed. The fear that he would be court-martialed and executed for cowardice before the enemy gave him no peace.”
Margitt Lehbert, Introduction to The Poems of Georg Trakl

The Deserter

*

1/

I tell them I’ve lost my unit and am trying to return to the front. My comrade soldiers take fish from the river, a female fat with eggs, one that has sacrificed herself to the Austrian army. They’ve lost their units, too. With rocks they cut and open her and scoop out the salty eggs.

I am turning into a fish the size of a boy lying on the bank of a river fishing, my legs are gone and fins grow triangular from my trunk and large silvery-white scales cover my buttocks.

They are wrapping their fish in leaves and hiding them in their soiled uniforms. We will be punished if anyone sees us taking food, one of the men says. His eyes are damp like straw. The trees throw their branches at the sky in the wind. The bright blue berries, half frozen in the bushes I pluck and clean with my tongue. Forget the twilight dusks, the jasmine-scented sister. Forget the clouding hour, the turning of deep green into milk liquor, the lovers who watch a stone basin fill with the liquor of stale rain.

2/

We curse the reeking streets in the city of the dead. None are going back to be shot. I see comrades whose eyes shine like red knives feed from the wolf’s blood-spattered altar. Rats stir in their ancient burrows and seep the mealy vapor of crumbling stucco. This comrade’s mind isn’t right. Oh, he loved animals and fish and insects too much, he had night terrors for a year. Snakes wiggle their greasy trails from the corpses. A demented crow scratches through flesh trying to scuff seeds from a boy’s chest.

I walk through the mud as rain keeps falling and the eyes of the last blades of grass blink. I drag my boots through the slough and by the time I reach the edge of the clearing the stretcher-bearers have begun stealing the exquisite bodies. I glimpse the sour officer on horseback, the General, grey-bearded with a monocle. Seven or more soldiers saluting. They’re digging, chasing dirt with their shovel, when water seeps gurgling in.

They’re leading a blindfolded soldier to the clearing, shuffling, not marching. The condemned man, a deserter, thrusts his shoulders back, his chest out. Last words: Today me. Tomorrow You. I’ve Done Nothing. Carbines raised (half heartedly) not looking to the left or to the right or even straight ahead. They fire.

I stay hidden behind a tree, watching. The stand of hardwoods where a gigantic spider web encases them, as if snow covered the beech tree in a shimmer of blood.

 

Trakl Diaries / 48

The mystery about the mental and erotic decline that evolved between the two of them will never be fully understood because the letters have not been found.”
Richard Detsch, The Poetry of Georg Trakl: Toward a Union of Opposites

Tibet

*

Stringed music shivers out of my seaweed silk dress, the fluffed-up clouds we’ve been having herd like elephants, long blue tusks nudging us. Wind brews in their eye sockets making them huge. The flaps of their ears shimmer with the pink blood of the sun. On the patio trays of Tibetan red drinks are placed on the sound of the bow being drawn. He introduces me to this world. Stirring his cigarette in opium, he dips and blows on it to dry it. Striking a match, my brother passes the burning stick, watches me inhale. His hand trembles, it hears the tinkling of porcelain from behind the drapes. Welcome, dear one, he says, to shadow life and the blue night.

2/

Guests gather on sofas like pigeons roasting in the frying pan. It is eerie. The lights blow out. Cigarettes glow in the glassy eyes of the mounted antelope and javelina. Musky beasts are flowing from the wall. They ask me to play piano. Women in jeweled slippers stink of wine kisses. I feel the trigger’s impulsiveness in my music. The scone fixture above me swings on. Madeira. Milk bowls hang on thick chains, filling with insects. A moth flutters by and I want to caress its movement.  White.  Pale green.  I follow it up marble steps scarred by heels. Outside it clings to a street lamp. I take it in my mouth. With my lips I feel the patter of its wings. I crush it with my tongue. Birds swirl like shawls. I look for my lost brother, but only the black street stares back.  My family destroyed our letters. Husks of dead wasps.

 

Trakl Diaries / 49

Of the five Trakl siblings, not one produced offspring and the family died out when the poet’s sister Maria passed away in 1973.”
Margitt Lehbert, Introduction to The Poems of Georg Trakl

The Offspring

*

Their portraits pasted into albums, each corner tucked into a tiny frame and on black paper a white ink pen has labeled and dated each. “Lilac bush in bloom, 1903.” “Pear tree, 1889” “Our little park garden, 1891.” “Winter wash line, 1900 ” Lace tablecloths, sheets whitening on a clothesline. “Georg leaving for Vienna, 1912” Maria, six years old in a dress of silvery moonlight. “Mother and Father in the carriage.” “Grete and her dog, Kurt, 1899.” Sun sparks snow drifts and Salzburg is no longer but a glaze of jagged mountains. Beautiful and cold inside the winter of 1910. How I wish we could go there. Here was the gnawing spring of 1913 and the spading of the garden with sleepy workhorses. Sparrows fill the air with still damp yesterday’s rain. “Grete and Georg at the piano, playing a duet.”  Sun seeps into the sky above the black walnut and honey locust. “Summer 1914. Georg in uniform.” Trees that give shade. “Georg leaving for the front.” The stench of old yard. Inside rusted shadows fruit flies blacken.

 


Stephanie Dickinson, an Iowa native, lives in New York City. Her novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her noir novel Love Highway. Her other books include Port Authority Orchids, and Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg. Her work has been reprinted in Best American Nonrequired Reading, New Stories from the South, and 2016 New Stories from the Midwest. She is the editor of Rain Mountain Press.

Image: Woman in the Storm by Janelle Cordero, courtesy of the artist.