Erika Burkart
translation by Marc Vincenz


The Shivers

Where two dots blink,
two suns bedazzle—
that’s already
the puzzle of the face;
you aren’t it.
I am not it.
It’s one of those demons
that flash out of cracks,
reside behind walls,
glare in the windows, they squat
to the right, skulk to the left—
I shudder
as if locked in a block of ice,
they call this freezing, which arises
between three and four in the night, the shivers.

There is a time
when one doesn’t wait anymore,
denigrated to an alien
in the body-shivers.

The loyalty of foolish rhymes remains.
Little is permitted to rhyme in life
except words, which germinate
in the darkness of a poem.


After Anesthesia, November 11, 2005

Last leaves in sight,
she goes astray in her own house,
believes she’s still in the hospital,
steps through the bedroom door
into M’s infirmary waiting room.

Outside, in the distance,
three cows in the mist,
the sparse autumn grass, the forest silhouette;
in front of the window, the empty tree.

In two houses diabolically wedged
into one dwelling,
she commits words and names to memory
behind which nothing comes to light.
Their meaning
has to be searched for like a needle
in the twilight: on the ground, a spark
that flashes, extinguishes
under grabbing hands, probing fingers.

Out of the house of cards,
my boundless bewilderment,
I stare at three cows.
Still I can count them;
still I can see the disrobed tree,
the skeleton, its beautiful winter form,
November bride shrouded in mist;
I see it in the soft dress and the crown of blooms
of a very distant bygone
spring arriving—
and, to my irritation,
in a no-longer-
not-yet-measurable time.


Getting Dark

Toward six-thirty p.m. the fields are extinguishing,
the forest is swallowed up in the twilight
of the lowlands—
when the sky revels, the world is unbounded,
the heights crystalline,
the silhouette of the mountain forest, pitch-black.

Cranes stretch their long necks,
struggle toward night;
since in the tree-crowns light fades,
its last ray
breaks on the threshold of the roots,
voices become loud, voices fall silent,
the eyes in the knot frighten, are frightened.

As darkness thickens, contours sharpen
and the bodies are rubbed out.
When shadow upon shadow nod to each other,
when the forest grows over the land,
grows over the creek, the bridge, and the child,
when the wind whispers with leafy tongues,
leaves the tree-gate
open for a long time, the birds sleep,
the bark-gullies crawl with vermin
searching the afterglow
of stars extinguished long ago—
more distant than a world.
Forest—primeval age. Its language,
a hush that defies translation.


From: Das spate Erkennen der Zeichen (© Ernst Halter: 2012) by Erika Burkart
Translation © Marc Vincenz


Erika Burkart was born in Aarau, Switzerland in 1922. Throughout her career she published over 24 collections of poetry, 8 prose works, and was awarded numerous literary prizes, including the Conrad-Ferdinand-Meyer-Preis (1961) and the Gottfried-Keller-Preis (1992). She was the only woman ever to have been awarded Switzerland’s highest literary prize, der Grosser Schillerpreis (2005). She passed away on April 14, 2010.

Marc Vincenz was born in Hong Kong to Swiss-British parents during the height of the Cultural Revolution. He divides his time between Iceland, Switzerland and NYC. His work has appeared in many journals, including Washington Square Review, The Bitter Oleander, Canary, Guernica, Fourteen Hills, Tears in the Fence, Exquisite Corpse, The Potomac, Spillway Review and Poetry Salzburg Review.

Recent books include: The Propaganda Factory, or Speaking of Trees (2011), Gods of a Ransacked Century (2013) and forthcoming with Neopoiesis Press, Mao's Mole (2013). His translations include Werner Lutz’ Kissing Nests (2012) and Ernst Halter’s Human Country (2013). An English-German bi-lingual collection of his poems Additional Breathing Exercises / Zusätzliche Atemübungen is soon to be released by Wolfbach, Zurich (2014).

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MadHat, Issue 14, Spring 2013