Scobie, Stephen. Poems for Marburg. In: Ahornblätter. Marburger Beiträge zur Kanada-Forschung. 12. Marburg, 1999 (Schriften der Universitätsbibliothek Marburg; 90).
ISBN 3-8185-0274-9 ISSN 0931-7163

Stephen Scobie

Poems for Marburg

December 1998


for Hartmut

In graveyards there are always stories
those minimal narratives
of birth and death

Anna Lutz

She was a little crazy at the end, says Hartmut
crawled out her window in her nightgown
onto the neighbour's roof
(later he shows me the roof)
but happy, he says, happily crazy

In graveyards there are always stories
a woman walking onto ice
she thought she had an infectious disease
told her children not to come near her, and
no one believed her, till
the ice believed her
(I have my stories too
searching for my grandfather's
strangely neglected grave
the toppled headstone)

Hartmut on a winter's day in Rensburg
searching for a grave he'd promised to find
of a man he never knew
a man who drank herbicide
and died, a refugee
while the swing bridge over the Kiel Canal
stood open against the hospital
on the further shore

We get back into the Trabi
it coughs to life
All these stories, says Hartmut, all these sad stories
we should tell some happy ones
Tell me how you met Ruth, I suggest
and that story lasts us
all the way
to Bömitz

June 1996


Glencoe in a hammer of rain
sky shut down
the Shepherd of Etive
crammed into clouds
rain on the road
slants like barbed wire

as if at a border crossing
an East German Trabant

passes in the opposite direction
I barely make out the
familiar outline against
the rain I cannot hear
the stutter of its engine
a Trabi in Glencoe

how far has it come
from Halle from Anklam
nostalgic pilgrim of the Autobahn
to Britain with the driver on
the wrong (left) side

can't see around corners

it's heading south for Rannoch Moor
for the Black Mount
persisting through the rain
a smudge in my rear view mirror

on its way to the world

June 1996


Always in a foreign country travelling inside
my own mind "such a fine mind" iceman
turn up the sound! knowing not quite
ever, enough of the language, so try out a movie
follow the dubbed lines double deutsch
the great boat goes down

Always it's the songs you've got to
tell me you're coming back to me, back
over thirty years and I've asked for
noch ein Pils bitte in this new
hotel wasn't here even two far less thirty
years ago I listened to that song
and wanted it, desperately, to come true
Always it is true that finally the heart
will go on laughing, drowning, crying for the last
light in the west, iceman, turn up the sun!
under the final credits when the language
returns me to a foreign country, travelling,
the one song that the heart rehearses

Greifswald: May 1998


What time has taken
or given, years ago
I used to say
Time has robbed me again
seeing only what was
beyond any claim
of reparation. Now
I am content to see what time
returns to me: this afternoon
a street in Rostock
five years later repeats for me
those fountains running
down to the harbour, the same
high stepped gables and
no doubt the same
trockenes Weisswein: serial
the gestures of identification,
those friends whose names
I can't recall, I drink
a lost remembrance to our company
here where Schickmannstrasse spills
its graceful stepped descent
its Hanseatic measures
down to the river Warne
down to the sinking edge
of my
imperfect memory

Rostock: May 1998


In these old photographs the city
looks like a war zone not long after
the armies have mortared through.
Grey and random piles of rubble,
buildings sagging, open, falling,
walls at crazy angles, windows smashed, doors closed
by planks abruptly nailed. In the patience of snow
a bent old woman trudges down a street
where people still survive. For these
"old" photos are not old: ten years ago
this was the city. A war zone long,
long after the armies: forty years
after the armies.

Now other armies are at work: the city
is being pushed,
pulled, dragged, drilled, thrust, built and rebuilt
in parking garages, shopping malls, specialty
stores for computers, tattoos, CDs, leather jackets,
a dozen corner bakeries, a six-screen cinema, thud
and hammer of construction everywhere:

the price that someone pays to publish
a book of old photos, Greifswald in the disastrous
1980s, documents
of ruins too important to forget.

May 1998


Zum alten Fritz
in the quiet time
late afternoon, when the waitresses
outnumber the customers,
gossip together, or
straighten the ashtrays

slant light through the windows,
four o' clock silence

Tonight it will be difficult
to find a seat here, smoke
will circulate like acrobats
under the swirl of the fans,
the pale gold Zwickelfritz
will flow from gleaming brass,
and no one

will have the leisure to sit
at a table alone,
drink a slow beer
write a slow poem

Greifswald: June 1998


Standing on the high platform
exposed to beginnings of rain, wind
sweeping in across the Alster, Hamburg
on a morning grey as a Wehrmacht uniform,
standing on the native land --

Kunsthalle behind me, powerhouse
store of imaged energies, Robert Delaunay
exceeding the frame, or a deep
shadow in Munch, so deep that the world
gets lost inside it --

climbing the ramp or the three steep steps
onto this open space, clean as the wind,
where an inscription waits: la patrie
n'est pas le sol
: Saint-Just
in an exaltation of spirit, perhaps
in a moment of expediency, rationalising
another defeat --

Ian, you've carved it here, in four
languages the words repeat themselves:
die Heimat ist nicht das Land, words echoing
through all of Germany's history: not land,
not "blood and soil," not borders,
not Lebensraum, not ethnic cleansing --
it is the community of feelings, which
is to say: the homeland is real, all right,
and people like you or me will die
not in it but for it, c'est la communauté
des affections
, you can love it
but it is not the land, if it lives
it lives in our minds and affections, it
is what we feel when we say
Scotland, Ian, I can hear you
here on this high platform in Germany,
hear you say Scotland, as if you were
Saint-Just in the Chamber of Deputies
Saint-Just on his way to the scaffold
nothing more

than a wild, cold eye
gazing into the North Sea wind.

Hamburg: June 12, 1998

Prof. Dr. Stephen Scobie, Department of English, University of Victoria, PO Box 3070 STN CSC, Victoria, BC, V8W 3W1, Canada

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