31 May 2014

He Gets Up In the Mornings

He gets up in the mornings
And he tries to find a way
To make the day get going--the
Day get going within the day.

He puts on yesterday's shirt and
Yesterday's socks, yesterday's
Trousers and yesterday's shoes
He puts them on so he does something,
Then he puts on yesterday's news.

The day, it happens anyway,
Even when he stays in bed,
Using cigarettes and coffee and liquor and pills
To make something happen in his head.

He rides the subway to work
In other people's houses
Feeling lucky for each dime;
He works for food and survival and feels
Grateful for the expanse of time.

Because he finds that time is large,
So much smaller than he thought,
And it moves in kinds of increments
What are different than he was taught.

He lives with time, inside time, for
Time, and through time, though time is
Not a place, a space, a kind of thing,
Or thing, it seems to him that it is a something
And a something with a sting.

Yet time has no feelings, is not
Impatient, and doesn't want;
Time is a sort of nothing
Like a kind of overflowing font

Of nothing, without fear or anger,
Both too much and far too little,
is what time seems to be,
Time is time is time is time
Is what time seems to me.

L. Steve Schmersal, He Gets Up in the Mornings, May 2014.

28 May 2014

Two by Celan

Paul Celan is probably the most important poet of the post-war generation working in German. He takes on Rilke and Brecht on a regular basis, and Goethe, and turns them inside out. Paul Antschel was born a Jew in Romania in 1920, his parents were murdered in the Shoah (aka The Holocaust), and he spent the rest of his life, mostly in Paris, writing some of the most significant poems ever produced in German. His Mother-Tongue was the language of the murderer, yet he continued to explore the rich history and possibilities of this wonderful language, pushing the boundaries of language and meaning as far as he could, to a place that many cannot follow. His desire to write in German is both a contradiction, as such, and a resistance to that force of death that the Nazis brought so powerfully to what we call Germany and the German language. This is the place of poetry. He drowned himself in the Seine in 1970. I do not blame him.

I have waited at least twenty years to even attempt any translation of his work. It is a very difficult work and among the most worthwhile in the world of poetry--that least understood and disappearing genre of letters. There never was and there never will be again an artist of the kind, calibre, depth of feeling, and depth of thoughtfulness that we find in Paul Celan nee Antschel.

I humbly present these well-intentioned attempts to bring Celan out in any kind of English. Please forgive me. Please, forgive me.

by Paul Celan (b. 23 November 1920)

Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.
We shell time from the nuts and teach it to walk:
the time goes back into its shell.

In the mirror is Sunday,
in dream will be sleeping,
the mouth speaks true.

My eye descends to the sex of the beloved:
we look at each other,
we speak darkness,
we love each other like poppy and recollection,
we sleep like wine in seashells,
like the sea in the bloodshine of the moon.

We stand by the window embracing, and people look up from the street:
it is time they knew!
It is time that the stone tried to bloom,
that unrest had a heartbeat.
It is time that it is time.

It is time.

Translation attributed to L. Steve Schmersal, May 2014


Aus der Hand frißt der Herbst mir sein Blatt: wir sind Freunde.
Wir schälen die Zeit aus den Nüssen und lehren sie gehn:
die Zeit kehrt zurück in die Schale.

Im Spiegel ist Sonntag,
im Traum wird geschlafen,
der Mund redet wahr.

Mein Aug steigt hinab zum Geschlecht der Geliebten:
wir sehen uns an,
wir sagen uns Dunkles,
wir lieben einander wie Mohn und Gedächtnis,
wir schlafen wie Wein in den Muscheln,
wie das Meer im Blutstrahl des Mondes.

Wir stehen umschlungen im Fenster, sie sehen uns zu von der Straße:
es ist Zeit, daß man weiß!
Es ist Zeit, daß der Stein sich zu blühen bequemt,
daß der Unrast ein Herz schlägt.
Es ist Zeit, daß es Zeit wird.

Es ist Zeit.

*** *** *** *** ***

by Paul Celan (b. 23 November 1920)

Nobody kneads us again from earth and loam,
nobody summons our dust.

Blessed are you, Nobody.
For your sake would
we bloom.
Against your

A nothing
we were, we are, shall
we ever remain, blooming:
the nothing--, the
nobody's rose.

pistil bright as soul,
stamen waste of heaven,
corona red
from the purple word, which we sang
over, oh, over
the thorn.

Translation attributed to L. Steve Schmersal, May 2014.


Niemand knetet uns wieder aus Erde und Lehm,
niemand bespricht unsern Staub.

Gelobt seist du, Niemand.
Dir zulieb wollen
wir blühn.

Ein Nichts
waren wir, sind wir, werden
wir bleiben, blühend:
die Nichts-, die

dem Griffel seelenhell,
dem Staubfaden himmelswüst,
der Krone rot
vom Purpurwort, das wir sangen
über, o über
dem Dorn.

23 May 2014

Even the trace of the presence of the global economy affecting a passably local one usually indicates a rise in real estate prices and/or a leveling or drop in wage earnings

A signal piece regarding the Vancouver housing market by James Surowiecki, "Real Estate Goes Global," from The New Yorker's "Financial Page" this week.

Even the trace of the presence of the global economy affecting a passably local one usually indicates a rise in real estate prices and/or a leveling or drop in wage earnings. Alas, I do not invent these ideas, because then they would have the passing fancy of merely unpleasant fictions--or perhaps pleasant ones, if you, gentle reader, number yourself among the extraordinarily wealthy. I, myself, do not. And so, I do not share your enthusiasm for this or that turn of events that benefits you so greatly but continues to make life even more of a challenge for those less privileged than you may be--people such as myself.

I cannot fault myself entirely for my failure to achieve your great fortune. There is only so much to go around, after all, and your teensy percentage of the population seems to be intent on keeping as much of it for yourself as possible. The less you put into any economy, the less that economy grows. This is basic and not of my invention.

No. Rather than invent "statistics" or theorize in some broader, unsupported, sense of the "economic," I prefer to speak of incidences--let us not even raise them to the dignity, the certainty, of causality, of the causal--incidences that seem to keep showing up near each other, either temporally or locally.

And what is this "nearness" of which I speak? Can you see it? Does it happen recently enough for you to notice it, or does its temporal proximity seem to occur repeatedly in relation to a trend you may have noticed in your world--no matter how tiny, personal, local, or global this may be?

I find that most people--and by "most" I mean the larger percentage of the population--tend, most often, to recognize, not even the trends that favor them. Instead, they either recognize the trends that they would like to favor them--some day--or the trends that they believe should favor no one, no matter whether these trends may ever actually apply to them, themselves or their families, or not.

And so, you have people who celebrate the kind of wealth they will never actually ever be able to achieve--not them, not their children. And then you have people who disparage any public support or safety net for the individual, any labor union, wage regulation, fair and even tax code, public healthcare, corporate or environmental standards or regulations, sometimes public education, or anything else that seems to smack of governmental incursion into private property; not privacy--which, of course, has no value--but money, property, children, land and things (because, in case you haven't heard, children are things we invest in) and ownership, as such, and, now, even speech. But in this last place, the government has, through the inverse of freedom, marked its greatest colonization, its greatest mobilization of speech for the few and the greatest silencing of the many.

For you must remember, according to a 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision--clearly a mandate with strong precedent under the law--only the most expensive speech is worth valuing, reproducing, hearing, or discussing. Because, apparently, money IS speech. Money is speech. Think about that, while I say it again: Money is speech. So, the more money you have the more speech you have, and therefore, in a very fucked-up way, the more money you have the more "free" your speech is--more free because free speech is unhampered speech, and the less hampered the speech the freer it is. So, in a very queer sense indeed, the more that any kind of speech circulates, or, at least, finds its audience, the freer that speech is. And so, the freedom of your speech, its ability to reach any audience--much less its intended audience--actually carries a price tag.

So, am I the only one reading this who thinks that access to discourse and an audience; access to a polity for an election; access to speech as a monetary value actually destroys the notion of speech as something "free"? In social media forums, such as Facebook, where we sometimes produce our speech--which we are "free" to do--our speech derives its value from a different kind of payment: that of attention. It's not the number of people who read any post that determines its value and its placement in the, so called, "Newsfeed"; no, it is the popularity contest of liking and commentary that determines its value. And so your free speech, is something no one may never see or ever see, because it is not in fact free to circulate at all in such places. If it is too long, it is not free. If it is too interesting or complicated or critical, it is not free. If it is produced by someone without the organ of a different medium, such as a newspaper, or a lobbyist, or a representative, it is not free. This is a kind of market competition. But as the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money; or rather, to put precisely too fine a point on it: you have to have money to make money. And money is speech. Money is speech.

Late Capitalism has a genius for attaching a price tag to everything. And if it doesn't carry a price tag and a price that can be driven up to increase its value either in the global market of property or the market of ideas, speech, law, and government, it has no value. As your labor has no value. Because your speech has no value.

17 May 2014

No one can

No one can
Know what happens
Between us. Not
Because we don't
Tell them, but

Because they
Are not us.
Even we do
Not know. So,
I treasure this

This thing between
Us, like a secret
Pain, Inside me.
A pain both
Beautiful and un

Bearable, the
Duration of
Which is all in
All ways always
Certain and un

Certain. And thus
Is always a
Glimmer of a thing
Burning in the night.

Far from knowing
Far from knowledge
Far, far away
From me or you.

L. Steve Schmersal, No one can, May 2014.