KHUBLAI KHAN DEPARTS FROM XANADU
Yes every year the Khan leaves for home
from his country residence so well extolled by Coleridge,
the one in Xanadu, and more precisely
on 28 August the exodus takes place.
The Khan leaves Xanadu and milk
from white goats only
is hurled high into the air on his departure
to nourish the spirits of the air.
So says Marco Polo,
our Venetian witness.
So now it is 28 August anno 1270:
cranes in the sky and the Great Khan,
afflicted with arthritis, travels in a small house
borne on the backs of four elephants.
Clad on the outside with tiger skins
and on the inside with gilt-leather tapestries.
In this swaying room,
whose uterine movements
cannot be all that easy to imagine,
the Khan reclines stretched out on a divan.
But when cranes are within earshot,
Marco Polo relates,
the barons riding in
his retinue give a sudden warning.
The retractable roof is quickly rolled back
and the Khan’s gerfalcons
(of which he naturally always
has an abundance at the ready)
are thrown upwards and soar like arrows
into the already cooler autumn sky
out here on the northern steppes.
And the cranes do not escape them.
The Khan greatly appreciates
this kind of hunting.
Where the Khan is
it is still morning,
an autumnal morning
with cranes, but still early.
For several centuries
it is now afternoon.
the old trees
sprung into leaf much too early
the sound of a nightingale
and the breaking of waves.
(In some other day)
Gottlob Frege dreamed a dream
of an arithmetic
where one times one made two
(so that the prime numbers no longer
were impossible to lose hold of)
and where ‘four’ was not ‘four’
four was something else than ‘four’
it was the number of horses
in the Emperor’s Quadriga
up there on the Brandenburg Gate,
and Chaplin and Einstein moved
by sheer coincidence
into the Adlon on the Pariserstrasse
in the same week
from where there is an excellent view
of the Emperor’s Quadriga.
They talked about the strange fact
that the laws of the universe
(at least superficially)
do not have much to do with each other.
Einstein spoke in favour of the unity formula,
a monotheistic equation
that would reduce
all of nature’s relations to a single one.
Chaplin suggested something else:
That many gods,
each in his own way a genius,
but also something of a bungler,
had each one of them left behind
traces of his universe.
Gravitation, old-fashioned grey
and above all else uncompromising,
was the oldest.
And the electromagnetic waves
so obviously created
by a completely different temperament
the latest to be invented.
But, Charlie added,
perhaps not the last.
Gods have to stay on the move
so as not
to lose their topicality.
An unexpected shower of
arrows fell from the darkened sky.
I sometimes dream
a strange dream
that everything is not as it should be.
I am living in a house
that is not mine.
It is much too big
and has floors
that I have never dared visit.
Something holds me back from doing so.
From the top floors
whose elegant, cushioned furniture
I only seem to glimpse
come cold gusts of air;
and from below, the cellar’s strange orangerie
come gusts far too hot.
What orchids thrive there
in the rows,
and what quick snakes does the
green shadow conceal beneath the leaves?
So I stay here
in these few rooms of a palace far too large
that I manage to keep
a reasonable room temperature in.
During the time that was my life.
And then high summer.
which you simply call such
but something stronger:
A real old-fashioned high summer
with the droning of bumblebees, the
discreet argumentation of the corncrake that
is both far away
and right inside your ear.
(There is a corncrake in the ear!)
and slightly poisonous sting
from the pointed and red
dorsal fin of the perch.
And dead wasps
inside the window
mix their sourish scent
with that of dry
and now completely intractable
And this fact of existence
about which the dead have completely forgotten
that it ever happened to them.
In actual fact a very strange state!
we do not exist
much longer than we exist.)
The lakes finally turn silver in hue
and it is not only the summer
moves towards its end
also this life.
Horizon and cranes.
is not the same as marshland.
In some of the pictures
of my long-since deceased
father’s photo album,
a document from 1929,
you can see how the Kolbäck river
has gone far beyond the usual limits
of its banks
and is transforming recently fertile meadows
into shallow lakes.
Marshland is designed to be
what it is, with meadow-sweet, water-lilies, cranes
but flooded land is
something else, less prepared
for what might come,
more exposed, how pathetic
when slender birches stand in mid-stream!
And many a one was surely flooded:
Gaspara Stampa says Rilke...
And all the other great lovers.
Oh silver colour of clouds and water
Oh this is still the starting time
Late-summer morning under a grey sky
faint scent of coffee on the stove
and the big heavy perch
already taken from the net.
And around their
gills still panting
the quietly melodic song of a wasp.
is to hear a stubborn buzzing note
that rises and falls in volume.
But this note and no other one.
And recently in this second world:
A pair of cranes flew over lake Hörende.
The mature summer’s signal
across the great bright lakes:
The cranes’ trumpets.
And if there were a falcon
one that does not murder
but observes everything
with sharp eyes.
Then I would send this my falcon
a bird of autumn and maturing
as close as the hard will
of the world allowed it
in their tracks,
non-existent in the air.
With the cranes.
Ever farther off
in the great whiteness
which is their second country.
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