The house was a house. It stood at the edge of the fields. Alone. Flat to the horizon.
In a way, it was where I was born, or half, though I don’t remember. The first time I saw it was not unlike today, that is: a sky the color of pigeons’ wings, and down below the thinnest rim of pink, an eye, limning the edge of unbroken vast.
But the town was different. Apart from the redone central square, a pale amber, walls still the dull beige of dark and plaster. And a river. Small, but a river.
Were there any trees? There were trees.
The house was a house. Or had been. It stood with another. Both crumpled inwards; weeds and vines through what had once been windows. Here and there the dusty red of a dislodged brick. It was just past the railway lines. A station that was no station. A handful of abandoned industrial silos.
That was a different day, or maybe just afternoon. Humid mid-September, hazy.
I have no idea where we were in relation to the river.
A simple, solid table of brown wood. A dish of trout. Beans. Pickled beets.
Four figures. The sound of water rushing beyond the windows. The light dim.
Four figures in uncertain relation.
The man was looking for the maestro, he said. Here? Here. But it’s nothing but a tiny industrial town. That could be, but he’s here. Or was.
But what comes. The days. How long they seemed. Voided of any seeming end, that is: reason. If full of unquiet love. A city rebuilt. Paused between summer and fall. I remember a cloister, or maybe a monastery. It was pink. The city was not.
I don’t know what to say, all the time, all the towns, most of them not grey now but sepia somehow, the colors of earth, that is: now, in the mind, what I remember, hilltop towns, or close enough, bristled stone blackened with centuries of soot rain and wind, the peal of bells, resurrection, day in, day out, the sculptor’s sonnets in my pocket, maps, lines, legends—
But what kind of schoolroom is this? What kind of faces? Roughhewn pews.
A crucifix of two-by-fours. A man, staring into the dark.
A simple, solid table of brown wood, notched and scabbed, a piece of scrap metal and the wisped silhouettes of ferns as if sunned therein.
On the sheaved fields the unadorned vast on into the invisible, while inside, on a windowsill, bulbs the skins’ brittle paper, branches, black bread, a candle here in the dark sitting here with a prayer the one who never thought, not really, to pray what’s left when all that’s left’s the brute fact the question sounds.
A simple, solid table of brown wood, pitted and scarred, set with an apple, a blue-and-white chipped pitcher, a plate. A sheaf of grain. The light is dim. The surrounding dark a dark brown.
Like the cool. Like mornings beneath the sky yet unstitched by roars—
This, the material, one’s got to make of it what one can.
Where a reserve police battalion crossed a different border. Ordinary men.
The humble language of welcome. Thin coffee. Cake. Homemade schnaps.
Around a plastic table, outside, hands around an oil cloth.
The house was a house. It stood at the edge of the fields.
The question sounds. To what have I attended?
A banded shirt, hanging, just there, just behind the counter.
The silence is thin; I can’t explain it.
A creased and greasy thumbed-out deck of playing cards in the reddish-gloom.
A hostel. It was grey. Tired brown and airy. And no one else inside. Ruddy November cold and rain. In the morning, awaking to read of a massacre. To the west. While the night before, in that city to the east, in a cultural center or former squat maybe, beer, noise, it’s blurring.
A voice like flowers, These are painful places. And lonely.
An unquiet love.
A settlement built for one purpose and one purpose only and it wasn’t there. The city lacks apartments and has for more than half a century. There are those who insist on a memorial. That is: History. There are those who, living there, know very well what was and why and don’t want to be reminded.
You will never feel at home here.
Alexander Booth is a poet and literary translator from German and Italian into English. He lives in Berlin. More information can be found at www.wordkunst.com or Twitter: @wordkunst.