In 1954 the Austrian poet Friederike Mayröcker met her partner Ernst Jandl, with whom she would live and work for almost half a century. After Jandl’s death in 2000, she wrote a series of books that documented the vortex of her grief. Two of these memoirs were translated by Alexander Booth and compiled as The communicating shipspublished earlier this month by A Public Space Books. A selection from one of the books from 2005 And I shook myself as a loverappears below.
In the end, people are unconscious: when they are alone they want to be with others, and when they are with others they want to be alone, Gertrude Stein and my maternal grandmother had the habit of not being able to spend a lot of time in one place: in a tavern with her family she wanted to be at home, at home she complained about having to be at home and that no one came to visit, when someone came to visit, she longed to be in her room retiring or going for a walk, I inherited that restless body from her, that character who also stands, leans against a window or door, balances a bowl that I ate and drank while standing, and I can’t spend much Time in one place and when I visit someone who walks in I say I can’t stay long.
I never knew what to say, I couldn’t start a discussion or take part in a discussion because I’m not used to being with others. Is not that so? I prefer to talk to myself or read a book, whatever is outside of writing and walking is my favorite thing to do, etc.
Because my throat, I mean, my throat is bound and makes me cry, which is always a sign that I have a lot to do, it isn’t, here in these legendary surroundings I know heaven and whether it is has something to say or reveal about the coming weather, which means I’m so familiar with the little sheep When they come and the contrails beneath them disappear and I’ve learned that a swirling evening wind means rain the next day, and when I’m in an unfamiliar environment and unfamiliar with the signs of heaven, all I have to do is allow myself to be surprised by the Weather the next morning, isn’t that so?
But my eyes were more important than my ears, says Gertrude Stein, and it was always polite to be present at every reading and to go into the room. Ulla said we are always at war and I was surprised and it was a flurry of thought and in my lap the scraps of paper tumbled as I wrote as I moved and it bloomed all around me and I shuddered as a lover, well now i have a light. Dog, and in the morning and in the afternoon I went to Drasche Park, and I enjoyed it, although my light. Dog didn’t pay the slightest attention to me as we walked, amazing and up a street with my light. Then put another dog down, and that made me happy, and then set another on fire. Dog walked up to me: EJ called me from Berlin and said I found a large apartment in a beautiful villa and there is a well-lit apartment. Dog too, and you’ll like everything, and so we moved to Berlin for a year and met a lot of people and had a great time.
I sleep most of the day because of all the medicine, at night I wait for EJ to speak to me in my dreams, I often dream of him, he behaves like he did when he was alive, I don’t have any fixed ideas about it beyond, sometimes I’m afraid to imagine it, sometimes I play with the thought of how it could be, sometimes with the feeling that there is no beyond, I read a lot, writing is only possible when i have these wings, this is my secret, how much longer do I have to live? My wrinkled forehead, no serious illnesses found so far, which means I could be happy, sometimes even am. I don’t know if I believe in God, I pray to him, I believe, I believe in him, I cross myself in front of every church, but I don’t go to Sunday mass, why not, I ask for his blessing, I ask for his blessing For writing, for my health, for the well-being of my dead parents, for the well-being of EJ, I wrote down the following: The gout register, no idea. I hope I have to live a lot longer, there are so many things I still want to do that sm. Ischl in the Imperial Park of Bad Ischl, I feel the summer wind on my arms and legs, cheeks and forehead, but from time to time it’s cool, rainy, past the same shop windows a hundred times and everything repeats itself year after year. But how long will it all be multiply, I believe very strongly in the Holy Spirit, the wings too, but that’s my secret, etc. I hear the end of Arthur Honeggers Le roi David Oratorio, a powerful composition, I am in the spheres, not a flood of thoughts, but a vision of light while listening, gorgeous music, etc.
In Berlin I could hardly write anything because I would go for a walk with the light. Dog whose name was Fifi, we lived for hours every day in the area of Krumme Lanke with its lake and its beautiful scenery and I went for a walk with Fifi and I see myself, I still see myself the way I do everything and I see myself in moments long ago, that is, as if I kept taking snapshots of myself. I see myself z. B. at night after I visited Barbara Frischmuth, stepped out of her house and thought I was afraid to live in a house all alone, and as if she had read my thoughts from my forehead, she said, I am not afraid to be here alone to live.
On the front of the shortened tram in large letters I dream: MISSING CAT, we went into that garage To get the car, she said again that she was not afraid, even though her closest neighbor was quite far away. We were in this village world and I dreamed of “Ovidian cadences” and whenever we, EJ and I, talked about our trip to America, we always thought of the East Coast and Washington first, and when it came to Washington nothing but ours Trip to a laundromat where an old, white-haired African American was helping us, he had big yellowish eyes and we were talking about New York. We talked about how we stayed at the Algonquin and at breakfast we met Siegfried Lenz, who was waiting for his translator but was so lost that he could hardly see us, and how we first stayed in a dirty hotel that we left immediately How we were walking down Broadway and someone told us we always had a few coins in our pockets etc, they would come in handy if we were robbed but we were never robbed and the coins rang in our coat pockets on the way back home , and how Boston was the only city in America that seemed c Completely European, and how our journey west only took us as far as Bloomington, where EJ had an acquaintance, and south to Miami, which impressed me, what if he Atlantic sloshed against the hotel window, or at least I imagined it was. and the vegetation seemed heavenly, the only thing we didn’t like, I said, was the air conditioners as soon as you walked into a building or a movie theater, so we didn’t have to take off everything we were wearing upstairs as usual. We had to wear everything we had, I froze in all the buildings and wondered why it was so over the top, whether it was just fashion or custom, and the second thing we didn’t like was that in some hotels we didn’t get one Breakfast which meant the first thing in the morning we had to wander the long streets to find a place with coffee and muffins and sit on a bar stool, swinging back and forth, what an awkward way to close the Algonquin breakfast was the only exception: we got breakfast there, and then I paused, I chased.
And then we started calling each other on the phone with just our first names, my editor and me, and when we talked about mutual friends, we only talked about José and Sara and Ulla and Jacqueline and Lutz and Katja and Wolfgang and EDITH, oddly enough, talks you talk to yourself about chestnuts and walnuts and hazelnuts and beechnuts, you talk to yourself about how many you find and whether they have worms, you talk to yourself about apples and pears and grapes and the kinds you like the most , in wartime, you talk to yourself about caterpillars, but never about spiders or lizards, you talk to yourself about dogs and cats and rabbits, but not about bats or mice or moths, so Gertrude Stein, yes, but I’m exposed to a step backwards, a regression, a Mountain station, just like lit. old ladies have their cheeks set on fire again. Children, babies on the breast, that’s not the case, and so on this late summer afternoon I was walking up the forest road, which is not too steep and paved, and saw ants walking over each other in droves at my feet. and all the trees seemed to be bent, some of them stretching their main branches in the same direction, in other words, to the slope of the meadow, it was the end of August and the trees had already started to lose their leaves, the evening wind was blowing from the northwest and cooled our cheeks cozy tears, and there was this bag with the swans.
And the huge stones with hieroglyphs and hearts from the coast of Crete that EDITH had brought me were at my feet in my writing room, and my feet were bare and I thought of the sea and the waves and went under and swam back, what I wasn’t.It’s not so good, and while I was howling and howling in the morning and in the evening, I couldn’t stop scribbling and howling, in other words, a regression, a regression into puberty, EJ kept looking Lili in the eyes In the pub, yes. She literally drowned in Lili’s eyes, first left and then right, and as if to excuse him, she said, because I have a rather strange iris and he couldn’t get enough of her, then suddenly he had to tear he moved away from her iris and she knew how often a clock would strike.
And I said to EJ, I can learn a lot from my old doctor, I could learn a lot about life, I say especially when it comes to discretion, she is the most discreet person and couldn’t stand one of her chauffeurs because, as she said , he had no discretion, she always said he is not discreet, everything that he should keep to himself comes out immediately, etc. My old doctor particularly reminds me of the figure of Gertrude Stein and I admire her immensely, she is very much cultivated, she likes to laugh, but she can also take command or be jealous, this arm of the flowers.
And over and over again we kept telling each other how much we liked Boston, yes, that it was basically our favorite because it looked so European, and whenever EJ and I talked about our trip to America, we mutually confirmed how much we liked Boston was indeed our favorite, and we kept repeating ourselves until the only laugh we could get when either of us started talking about Boston, and because I said to my friends everywhere, and especially to my friends, I would I love to write another great book before I have to go. Now I’m scared, I mean, even more scared that it might all turn out to be true. I mean, now I’m more scared of dying than ever before. My old doctor, to whom I also said I want to write another book before I die, just smiled and said, I’m not scared of dying, I am ready to die at any moment, namely prepared.
And Elisabeth von Samsonow wrote me a guardian angel for the neck and a dress that the soul can climb into, and that certain South American doctors can lure the soul back to its ancestral home by waving clothes In the very place where a patient is afraid … You are undoubtedly traveling a lot and incubating a new book, a bit like Paracelsus writes: “The creation of things with sensation in the soul”, it was beautiful and the whole day glowed with the nice feeling of friendship etc. then stay healthy while you work, my old doctor said to me on the phone and I write everything on the back of the fax paper I received from Mario and my blood pressure increased, because I was constantly writing and writing in my head while Elisabeth von Samsonow had written me a double-sided letter that I really loved and always had with me. I ate a fig and said to EJ, I have to buy Bach’s complete works, I need the complete works because on the radio only the smallest taste, etc., always only Mozart … (“Today, like Ely, take a walk along the beach… ”). Back then, I tell EJ, when the RADIOPLAYDAYS started, I didn’t trust myself to ask Paul to put Ely and me in the same hostel together so I could be around him day and night, and instead I fought I don’t have any Missed only opportunity to escape to meet him, talk to him, make contact, and so it was the story with Ely, being with Ely all the time, but it’s been a long time, I tell EJ , and it bloomed all around me and I shook myself as a lover –
I’m on fireI say to EDITH, but I mustn’t talk about it at all, I mustn’t accept it at all or it won’t go on, I say to EDITH, I haven’t heard anything, says EDITH, just explore the fire again like the fire eater, says EDITH, the light flickered in the other room and it’s like a bat that twitches over our heads in the evening breaks, it’s like lightning, and I’m in another world, I say to EDITH. and I do not understand that it will not always be like this, and in the morning I met a man with a white turban who looked at me, I was in another world, namely one day I am different from the day before, so when I can write on Tuesday on Wednesday, I can’t and have no idea how I could do that on Wednesday the day before, etc. B. I was so far away that I had the feeling that I had never written one, that’s not the case, and I was amazed that I could write anything at all, because on Wednesday the thought of ever having written was completely gone , utterly inconceivable, as if everyone who had never written before heard something about being able to write – it was completely UNREAL / UNEARTHLY.
And whenever the fax bell rings, I think and hope that it is you, I say to EJ and that you tell me about your world, how exciting it would be if your voice tells me how you are doing, what you are up to, whether you’re listening to music or the type of fires you’ve been through, in other words, from one fire to the next, and are you still thinking of me?
– Translated from the German by Alexander Booth
Friederike Mayröcker was born in Vienna in 1924. As one of the leading figures in German literature, she received numerous awards, including the Georg Büchner Prize. Her books that have been translated into English include brütt or the sighing gardens and Scardanelli.
Alexander Booth is a writer and translator who, after many years in Rome, currently lives in Berlin. His work has been published in numerous print and online journals and he received an award in 2012 PEN/ Heim Translation Fund Grant for his translations of Lutz Seiler’s poetry.
Excerpt from The communicating ships, by Friederike Mayröcker, published by A Public Space Books. Copyright © 2005 Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main. English translation copyright © 2021 by Alexander Booth. Reprinted with permission from A Public Space Books.