...was brütet das alte Werden unter den sterbenden Flügeln vor?
(What does the old Becoming prepare/under the dying wings?)
—Gottfried Benn, “Astern”
How many deaths you have endured
to become yourself, charred, surviving
body of the past, is written
in your spiralling, columnar record,
historical campaigns of millennia—
rain and fire, earthquake and man.
In this out of the way place
the gods never forgot, you grew
mediated by centuries of neglect;
smaller than a grassblade, strongest first
in the other world, dark, demi-monde,
following paths, like streets
of a buried city. When Columbus
sailed, the winds feathered your
fledged leaves and you were thirsty
for the waters of the Flood,
as though you could drink time.
It’s enough that you exist,
but I’d like to ask—why
did you bury yourself solid as Troy,
below the seven layers of the heart,
why spread your trunk, broad
as a palisade, and not your crown?
Would you be vast as Being itself,
assumed, living and unfallen?
Teresa Iverson is a poet and translator. Her writing has been published extensively in the United States and England. Her version of “O ihr Tiere!” by Nelly Sachs won a translation award from the New England Poetry Club in 2006. (updated 10/2008)