This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features two poems by Elisabeth Borchers, translated from the German by Caroline Wilcox Reul.


Report on Horst K., or The Rehabilitation of the Individual


Raised without a mother,
the father a drinker.
Once at fourteen, again at sixteen
then off to a facility.
At twenty a third time.
Fifteen years in total,
petty crimes: the possessions of others.
Not a Picasso
or a run through the bank.
Bicycle, briefcase,
a coat, ill-fitting
but warm.
Backsliding: slipping out on the check.

Enough of that, my friend,
now things are looking up,
with gentleness and hope
into a happy life.
a spot on the sunny side
has opened up.



Forced entry into an empty house,
consumption of canned food, use of a bed.
That wasn’t long ago.
The winter is hard.
Then once again
doing time in the warmth.
They remember it.
A story appeared in the paper.
It’s too much to bear
and we become hardened.



After release
a rehabilitated man at last.
In the final night of the year
he took refuge,
laid himself down in the woods and froze.
A story appeared in the paper.
The angel who carried him out of the woods
is not mentioned.


Of Time


You come and go
and I can’t tell
do you belong to me
or are you pointless
and false.



Is it you
when the slate roofs
grow sharper and strong,
when the barking threatens to begin.



Where are you hiding
afraid of the strikes
at first just a little,
then half to death.



Time so beautiful,
table set with gold and silver,
we might sit
and forget to eat.



Two days
I wish I could own.
One for the unavoidable.
The second
for you.
But what is that.



The days of the Commune
are past,
and Rimbaud was once a poet.
For four years.
Come, let’s cross over.



And yet you are there
when the train leaves the city
for Milan.
When everything is motion,
you stand still
and call me
your favorite child.



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