‘The poet is the priest of the invisible’.  Wallace Stevens

 

September 15th

And with this, I will end the poems about Berlin.

It has been an interesting exercise writing about my stay with family in Berlin.

I am still processing it all.

For much of the time, I felt both happy and sad; which makes for a confusing mixture.

I was happy because I was with family, but sad because I felt out of place. I hadn’t expected to feel out of place, so it came as a shock. Maybe it was a kind of culture shock.

Berlin

(33)

end of

I lost my place
in my own story.

September 5th

Berlin

(32)

a Berlin mingle

The playgrounds are sandpits, or
the sandpits are playgrounds.

On ground
between strasses or apartments,

under trees, by graffitti-ed walls,
they are meeting places

for families, the sun warmed sand
trammelled, thin and worn. A Berlin mingle

of Kinder and Mamas and Papas
Omas and Opas. Some speaking German,

others Spanish, French, Italian, Turkish,
Russian, Scandinavian. Some English.

Japanese. Mandarin. Who knows what they are saying?
I certainly don’t, but nevertheless am happy to be here

too, with my granddaughter, on my lap, on the swing,
swinging her and me through time,

through the softness of an afternoon and on through
to the end of this day.

playground 1.jpg

August 29th

Berlin

(31)

sitting down on the job

In the supermarkets the checkout operators sit on chairs
providing a whole new meaning to sitting down on the job.
And you have to do your own packing, with one hand
trying to stuff unobliging, sticky vegetables
and tender loaves of bread into a soft, cloth bag
that is far too limp to be counted on to aid any fumbling
efforts, while with the other hand, you attempt to sort
the correct money without holding up the people in the queue
behind you. I found that a certain panicky degree of rushed and ragged
efficiency was required. But the day a German-speaker
on Prenzlauer Alle asked me where the nearest Penny
was and I understood what he said (and what’s more knew enough
to point him in the right direction) well, that was when I knew
that maybe, finally, I was starting to get the hang of this.

August 18th

Berlin

(30)

around the heart

At an outside bench, in autumn light,
eating Turkish bought from a stall
in Mitte, Berlin, talking about my book
and the characters in it you liked and ones
you would like to have read more about.

Around us Berlin being Berlin,
every day different, you say. So many people
here from other countries. Across the Spree
the museums stand stalwart,
keeping their treasures close.

Your spoken German passes.
You can converse with your in-laws
no problem.Like a tree, you’ve grown
another circle around the heart of you,
that part of you that needs no words.

chris in mitte.jpg

 

Berlin

(29)

boat ride on the Spree

Facing the fear
of ticket machines, I travel alone to Mitte,
find the booth for a boat ride
down the river,

order a cold, white wine
and ring my son to tell him where I am,
trying not to cry
because of how safe and familiar

the sound of his voice is, even here
in Berlin, then spend the next thirty minutes
in a haze
of homesickness and wonder

at being here at all, expected to admire
the buildings both
modern and ancient on banks
to the west or east,

to take it all in – the interesting facts
about measures put in place
back in the day to stop escapees from the east
swimmng the river. And despite the wine,

and feeling cut adrift,
I can still make my eyes connect
with my brain
enough to remember how I got here

under my own steam,
how I am now floating
on the Spree, for real,
as triumphant and silent as a swan.

 

old building from spreee.jpg

blue building.JPG

er spree 3.JPG

Berlin

(28)

sky-blue bear

Berlin
a city of broken borders
and people

where history
has been plastered over
and mended

to the point where something old
and harmed
has become something new

and different and
where there used to be
two parts, is now one whole.

Today my son and I walk
down streets
that were once in the West.

Streets that are wider and cleaner,
more antiseptic,
less imperfect, less lively

as if something’s missing.
I look at a stall with handbags
that look too flat, sad

and empty. We stop for a coffee
at a Greek cafe
where the proprieter looks out

at the wide street
that I imagine he cannot really see
for dreams of sun

and the patterns
shadows makes on cliff-face
and ocean

far from this street with its fat, sky-blue bear,
its greeting wave
frozen solid.

blue bear.jpg

August 11th

Berlin

(27)

scones in old East Berlin

Today, Mum, in old East Berlin, I made scones
in memory of you
the scone-maker extraordinaire.
And then with your grandson, his partner
and daughter, walked to a cathedral

where we each lit a candle
for you. Because it’s your birthday.
And I think you’d be (to use one of your expressions)
‘tickled pink’ to know
that the church we went to serves as a talisman

of sorts – for me because when I see it
while out walking, I know I’m not lost, and for the city
because it helped
bring down the Wall.
But today it is your birthday, not that you’d know

anything about that now, being dead
and all, but maybe somewhow you can see
the candles that burn for you
in the dim light
inside this plain church

where as a mere visitor
I feel like I can only perch
like some introduced species of bird,
missing being able to wish you, Happy Birthday
and asking, “How are you?”

and hearing you say back,
“Well, I can still cut my toenails”. Missing you
here where I watch your great-granddaughter explore
this place, that is to her
so strangely quiet,

and smiling at how she revels
in its capacity to swallow up
her laughter and its echoes.
And how in her, in the candle-light, in us, you
are here too.

scones.JPG

 

spire

Gethsemane Church, Prenzlauerberg, Berlin

inside cathedral

August 7th

(Three poems this time).

Berlin

(26)

out of place

At times I feel as if as I am talking under water.
Trying to keep both feet
on the ground and cannot find the words
to say to make it better.
Homesick, I say. I’m homesick. But

it’s more than that. It’s as if
I am a stranger even to myself.
When I talk to Robert so far away, online,
my face crumples into tears. I cannot align
my thoughts, this far away and one step removed.

Despite my many trips to the supermarket,
I am still in the wrong hemisphere;
nothing works. Your smile though.
It seems the only thing in Berlin that is real.
I smile back. It is the least I can do.

Berlin

(25)

Berliners

The woman in the flower shop
who when I said in English,
Keep the change,
blew on the coin I’d given her.
For luck, she said. In German.

The man with the scowl
on the tourist river boat
who couldnt care if I was blue
or purple
or striped like a circus tent.

The woman in the bread shop
with her dismissive wave
dealing to the day
with brisk and worn
efficiency.

The two old men
in the railway station
waiting for a train,
discussing the state of things
in unhappy German.

Berlin 

(24)

in every city

The old ones
smoking
in shriven shadows

or walking heads down
toting plastic
bags and expressions

worn by people
daily life
has placed under seige.

The ones
on Prenzlauer Allee
or Danziger,

sitting in the grunge
under trees. Are they
the ones who stayed

put? Who know
they will soon be replaced
by others

who will also
remain at home,
here, surrounded

by the whim of time,
slapped by sun, wind,
rain

and the comings and goings
of history
and strangers.

July 24th

baltic

Baltic coast in autumn

Part One:

Wide and grey ocean, any wildness held
behind horizon’s lines,
contained by distance, sky,
an unattainable tideline. Closer in, on land,

crabby, yellow-billed gulls float
down to stand guard
The chime of rope
moorings, like lonely bells.

I have been here before, three years ago.
I remember how then too
I wasn’t on my own. I buy an umbrella
from a Russian woman’s stall.


Part Two:

Just me
walking in the rain with four men
all speaking a foreign language. Including my son.

The five of us walking along a harbour,
past a lighthouse, alongside stone walls
by postcard arrangements

of waterfront shops and cafes.
Even though I cannot understand
what they are saying, I know

that because they are men, they talk
of how things have been made
to stand.


Part Three:

Soon we will join the women
at the cake shop

where I will eat a slice of cake
with a spoon and take a photo

of my granddaughter also eating cake
with a spoon to help me press

this memory plucked like a flower
from the ocean.

***

gull.JPG

roasted chicken

Here we are out of the wind and rain
the baby too, and warm
at crowded tables; here for the chicken
roasted to nut-brown and to celebrate
an anniversary.

Too many people eating here
for us to all sit together.
Some of us share table space with strangers
keeping whatever secrets we all have
(that human predicament)
safe and unspoken. We are family

here in this cafe
famous for its roasted chicken. We
are not strangers. The baby boy
continues to sleep. We are sharing
(if not language) at least something
akin to tribe.

***

baltic coast.JPG

and more food by the sea / good hands

Another beach, another bay.
And what stories here of wars
and change and any cold aftermath? I try
to prise them out
from under the wooden legs
of this pier I walk along alone.

My son back on the beach
tends to his daughter after her fall
down steps. I look over at the family set
like a group photo
back against the sand hills
that are not my sand hills.

Later we eat warm fish between bread,
another memory
to take back with me when I leave here
and my son in good hands.

boats.JPG

July 19th

Two poems today …

Berlin

(23)

closing in

The woman with the sad eyes is not looking forward to winter.
“The winters here are hard,” she told me as we watched the children
play, late afternoon in one of the many playgrounds
like wide sandpits under chestnut trees
giving up their leaves
to fall on to the tops of tables

where on Fridays after work men gather to play table-tennis
and drink beer, their weekend triumph
sinking into the early autumn air
as winter closes in
and nothing can be done about it.

Berlin 

(22)

on a Berlin balcony, mid-evening

Red wine that looks like blood
and candles and the moon close
enough not to miss
the city’s sinking heart.

July 13th

Berlin

(21)

eating cake
(for my son, Christopher)

Here, at the top of the Reichstag.
You choosing chocolate, me

apple, content to be here
with each other eating cake

here, behind glass, away
from a misty, bitter autumn wind

where we looked out over all of Berlin;
at the river, the trees, the silence

of the buildings
with so much to say.

I remember how a few days back, we stood
where thousands had also

before Hitler as he spat and screamed.
Me trying to imagine

but failing. Neither of us
could ever have dreamt

you would go this far
away from home – a country

with no history to speak of
compared. And forever

in my memory now
hearing you as a tour guide telling it,

the history, taking people (tourists, your mother
included) out on the train

to the concentration camp.
Its brutality now reduced

to brown and grey
stone, wire, concrete and all around

an invisible heaviness weighing down
the day with a chill in the air

as if the day had nothing more
to give, nothing more to add.

July 2nd

Berlin
(20)

these two faces

These two faces
my daughter-in-law
and her daughter;

my granddaughter.
Behind them
storied buildings, trees

right here and now
on our way to the market
in this tram

riding through
old East Berlin
the present begins

turning
the future into the past
and no line

between
how dear
these two faces.

June 23rd 

Berlin

(19)

wide the streets, long the line

Watch out
for bikes approaching at speed
on the bike lane to your left,
not to your right as you might expect.
The next tram’s arrival
marked on the board.
I’ve forgotten. Was it M?
How many stops? Who am I?
Am I heading north or south?

June 14th

Berlin

(18)

ignorance

He strides the streets
like a local. This son of mine.
Or he bikes. Just another Berliner.

One day he hears a voice
from a small attic window of a brick apartment;
an old man calling out for help. No-one stops.

But he stops. Enters the building,
alerts the people there. Oh, you crazy foreigner,
we’re an old folk’s home and that old man is always doing that.

My son makes his own way back out
on to the strasses of Berlin where ignorance
is neither an excuse or bliss.

June 10th

green cafe.jpg

Berlin

(17)

outdoor cafe tables

Crows caw
from trees, the sound for me
a reminder
that I am not in my comfort zone.

Hooded crows crying out
like bells
without tongues.
Where are the seagulls?

crows.jpg

June 8th

Back into it!

For a while now I have been drawn to the idea of short poems. Thirty years ago when I started writing poetry seriously, haiku was my preferred form and the form which was most successful for me at that time.

The poems I want to write won’t be haiku, but some may be close.

***

kowhai.jpg

Berlin

(16)

light and green

This kowhai seedling so small,
light and green

growing on a windowsill in Berlin
knows only that the sun here
is the same sun as everywhere.

We are depending on it to grow
flowers as yellow as its name.

* in te reo (the language of Maori) kowhai is the word for yellow


A month has passed without me writing anything. But that’s okay. I will get back to it. May has been a busy month on the domestic front. Sometimes this happens.

It’s all good.

For now Weekly Poem, it’s adieu until June.

April 15th

Berlin

(15)

here and there

I ask Robert to send me a photo
from our garden at home
of the tulips

beginning
to bloom,
buds like frozen flames.

Meanwhile here the sunshine
fades to thinner
and more and more people

are wearing scarves.
I have given up
this year’s spring to be here

drinking coffee at an outdoor table
where the air is growing cooler
by the day

and puddles coiled on cobbled streets
lounge around for longer
before drying out, if ever,

in the weaker sun.
C. says the change
of seasons

is when he misses New Zealand
most. Oh, New Zealand,
with your empty streets

and seasons at odds with the rest
of the world, we miss you,
both of us

here behind your clock
in the middle of city life
drinking coffee in Berlin,

missing you, yes, yet not
really, happy to exchange
seasons and the time

of day for more people
riding past on bikes,
or catching trams

with no waiting time until
the next person passes by,
no gaps in the stream,

no weird and eerie emptiness;
happy to be here in the middle
of where it’s at, to be both

here and there
and nowhere
else.

April 6th

ferris wheel 1

Berlin 

(14)

all along; Spreepark, Berlin

Surreal, this frozen Ferris wheel
in the middle of a forest still dripping
from recent rain. Creepy,
its slow, abandoned creaks verging on moans;
its pointless existence.
On the other side of the high security fence
workmen in vans slowly drive down gravel roads
glancing over at us with a mixture of suspicion and apathy.
We take photos – a felled, headless dinosaur
strangled by ivy and drowning in weeds,
a whole themed-village struck dumb
in this silent, un-amused park asleep
beside the Spree grey and slow
where swans and barges tread water. One
swan glides up to the bank and I feed it
a biscuit that I’ve kept in my pocket for days now
as if I’ve been saving it for this very moment.

 

Note:
Spreepark: An abandoned amusement park in Berlin

Headless dinosaurs, rusty roller coasters and a time-frozen Ferris wheel. This is Spreepark, an abandoned amusement park in Berlin, Germany, in operation between 1969 and 2001. Kutlurpark Plänterwald as it was originally named was built in the north of Plänterwald area of East Berlin, next to the river Spree. It was the only theme park of its kind in the whole of Berlin as well as East Germany. During the communism era it thrived attracting up to a million and half visitors per year.

Worse times came after the fall of the Berlin Wall when the park was sold off to Austrian financier Norbert Witte who renamed it ‘Spreepark’. Until 1999, large debts had piled up while the number of the visitors kept dropping. In 2002, Witte decided to close down the park, move together with his family and closest colleagues to Lima, Peru and operate an amusement park there. In 2004 however he was sentenced to seven years in jail for attempting to smuggle 180 kg of cocaine  from Peru to Germany in the masts of the Fliegender Teppich (“flying carpet”) ride. In October 2006, a Peruvian court sentenced Wittes’ son, Marcel Witte, to 20 years for drug smuggling.

Meanwhile, Spreepark remained closed since 2002 as it had amassed more than 11 million euros (14.7 million US dollars) in debt. From then, the abandoned facilities are attracting tourists and urban explorers. In 2011, scenes for the film Hanna were filmed in the park.

This information is credited to: desertedplaces.blogspot.com

swan

April 1st

Berlin

(13)

head case

Maybe it’s more a case of me
needing my head read. But I’ll take it.
This gift of a head massage.
J. has booked me in.
Such kindness does much
to soften Berlin’s edge.

“You’ll know when we have arrived in the district
by the smell of marijuana”, J. tells me
as we walk from the train station
into the twilight
of pavements and trees, patched
and broken
concrete and puddles of colour. Noise. The smell
of hot cooking oil.

We are invited into an apartment
that is like an oasis
of normal. There is a cat. The place is warm,
almost familiar.
Soft, dim light, music, aroma-oils
… and my head floats
under fingers that move the skin of my scalp
like firm points of reference

with the ability
to shift the planets: thoughts,
memories, imagination,
puzzlement, grief and wonder
that swirl in this globe;
this head; of mine.
(“Kay, you think too much”)
“So you are from New Zealand?” she asks. She is from Spain.

Afterwards we eat pizza,
the three of us – J. her unborn baby
and me, the unborn baby’s grandmother.
It bears repeating. Grandmother.
I am a grandmother to two grandchildren
in Berlin. All this life,
all this clamouring future,
all the more reason
for me to keep my head.

We walk back to the train. Darker now.
J. buys my son a take-away weiner schnitzel.
Under an overpass with the usual smell of piss
and beer, young people who look
as if they could be dangerous,
call out to us in German.
J. tells me that probably what stops them
from accosting us is my grey hair. So.
My head coming to the party after all,
saving the day.

March 25th

Decided to post this poem today. It references Berlin and it saves me having to write another one when I have already written this one this week.

I wrote it for a Dylan and Cohen Tribute evening held last night at the cafe, Dog With Two Tails. It was an evening of music and poetry. But the poet / musician Michael O’Leary wasn’t there. There may be plans afoot to get him down for a reading; by hell or high water.

In fact, why not call it that? ‘Come Hell or High Water Michael O’Leary Fund’?

P.S. Speaking to my son today (April 1st) he said Michael O. will make it down eventually – in O’Leary time.

(This poem falls into the ‘After Berlin’ time slot).

Berlin

(12)

Kakariki Book Shop (with Dylan references)

The four of us walk along a wide, empty concrete platform
that lies like a desert in the middle
of two railway tracks (soutbound, northbound).
Dumpy hills and the motorway to the right, trees,
the town and somewhere the sea to the left.

We pass the signal box. Cream
with brick-red accents, as smart
as a middle-aged woman post make-over
afraid to risk any sudden movements.
Time and motion all dolled up.

Rusty rails the colour of dried blood
ride both sides of us. Rusty rails.
Blood on the tracks.
A train (a uniform American Civil War-grey and blue,
with bright lemon accents) slithers past.

Straight painted lines, yellow and white,
mark the edge of the platform.
One month ago, in Berlin, Germany,
my daughter in law warned me
not to go too close to the edge of the platform
at a U-Bahn station. A crazy druggie
could push me over on to the tracks. Blood on the tracks.
She said that Berlin’s just like a bigger South Dunedin.
People walking along and talking to themselves.

I turn, take a photo of the signal box.
There is no-one around. The place is empty
except for a sandwich board that says, Books Open.
We enter the Kakariki bookshop.
The one we have walked to, as if crossing a desert
in search of a seer, all this way
along a wide and empty platform.

Inside, our son Michael, introduces us
to the other Michael, Michael O’Leary.
The two Michaels have become buddies.
Our Michael admires Michael O’Leary’s
old man of the hills appearance
and black, Beatles T-shirt and meandering conversation.
And much else besides.

Over the years they’ve talked records
and poetry and art.
Our Michael thinks the world of Michael O’Leary.
He thinks the world should have more Michael O’Learys.
Whenever our Michael pops in to see him,
Michael O’Leary usually has to be reminded who our Michael is.
“He is starting to get to know who I am now”, he says.

Michael O’Leary talks to us
about how he wants to do a reading down south in Dunedin.
And now that Bob Dylan has been awarded a Nobel Prize,
he thinks, why not a poetry reading featuring Bob Dylan lyrics?
And Leonard Cohen too, now, seeing as he died.

He asks us to let him know when the reading’s on
so he can book Grab-A-Seat.
We look at the books and buy a couple.
Then we take a photo
and say good-bye and leave. Michael O’Leary
has forgotten to give us change, but that’s okay. He’s a legend.
You don’t mind it when legends forget to give you change.

We head away back down the platform.
A bit of a breeze has got up.
We head back
towards the smartly painted, two-storeyed signal box
that still hasn’t moved
for fear of spoiling its appearance.
Time and motion all dolled up.

Michael O’Leary’s calling out behind us.
He’s waving a ten dollar note.
“Your change, I forgot to give you your change”.
His long white beard is waving in the wind.
The ten dollar note is waving in the wind.
We are all waving in the wind.

March 16th

This poem was written on my son’s birthday – one he will celebrate in Berlin. I remember walks with him at the other end of the world, when he was the same age as his daughter is now. Both of us learning from each other. And so it goes. The circle of life.

Berlin

(11)

sounding out

At each leaf, as damp
as a drowned mitten, she stops. Each stone,
no matter how small.

“This way,” I say, “We go this way”.
My granddaughter smiles, “This way”, she says
and walks the other way.

The constant roll of thunder
from trains under the Dunckerstrasse overpass
is an underground breathing through leaves

of trees, a rush of blood to the brain,
a sound soon so familiar I stop hearing
this incessant supply and demand

so foreign to my one-track mind
more accustomed to the tick-tock
and stagger of slower railway timetables.

A voice from a loud speaker blares in German
from the U-bahn station behind the praying trees
that grow behind the granite wall,

behind the wire fence. A bird screams.
From the overbridge
we look down on to the reel and shuttle

of trains below. I am afraid
my granddaughter might suddenly
take it into her head

to throw her hand-woven hat
down on to a train; the special one, striped
like a bruised sunset.

I hold her hand a little tighter. The older you get
it seems the more afraid you are
of sudden movements.

Someone yells. A plane grumbles overhead.
A child cries.
“Weinen, weinen”, my granddaughter says,

her eyes pleading an answering concern.
“Yes, ” I say,
“Someone is crying”.

March 8th

A Life In Berlin

tickets to Berlin

As I write these poems, and even throughout my visit to Berlin, a friend in Dunedin; Jenny Powell; a poet, a writer, a conjurer of worlds within worlds – worlds made up of border insecurities, time differences and location issues – has been putting together, with support and artistic contributions from a musician, a film-maker and an actor / director – an event that will feature in Dunedin’s Fringe Festival next week. Her work is called – ‘Alive in Berlin’.

Jenny started this project long before I was ever in Berlin – even before my first visit to Berlin back in 2013.

Prenzlauer berg map

portion of a map of Prenzlauerberg, Berlin where I stayed this trip (2016)

March 3rd

Berlin

(9)

standing at the lights

Berlin, you are the sum of your many broken parts
only revealing yourself one frame at a time
to those who want to see
around the brick and concrete,
through the dark
-green shadows under the overhead railway bridge
at the Shonhauser Allee
Danziger Strasse intersection, the yellow slash
and rumble of trams.
Tree by tree, granite-stone
pavement by granite-stone pavement,
stolperstein by stolperstein, remainder
of the wall by remainder of the wall,
hooded crow by hooded crow, pole by pole
fat with posters, pigeon by pigeon on hatched lines,
the iron criss-cross of scaffolding,
crane by crane blanket-stitched
to the ragged skyline; you are the city
that my son wonders will ever be fixed
you see me just and no more
out of the corner of your eye
(just another woman wearing a scarf
standing at the lights) you see me
standing here as vigilant as a header dog;
an eye dog; looking out
for the signal to cross, the walking green man
in a hat, striding out
for the bliss of bare hills,
the ache of silent plains.

February 24th

Berlin

(8)

toughing it out

Since arriving here the mornings have grown
colder, the receding daylight shrinking
to no longer fit under trees
large with the noise of rain

and on pavements, curled leaves
shuffle and splay like dark stars underfoot
as I make my way to the Bäckerei on Dunkerstrasse,
J’s list: 2x Schrippen, 2x Dinkel, 2x Laugen-Croissant, 1x Bretzel

written small on the tip of a corner torn
from an envelope’s seal flap which I carry
pinched between my thumb and two first fingers
like an autumn trophy – a feather, an acorn,

a leaf – until I can hand it to one of the two Turkish brothers
sailing their shop full of bread
that glistens as round as an oath.
Once, feeling brave, I read out the list

in stumbling Deutsch,
but only the once
preferring to stick to the more familiar
‘dankeschön’ and ‘tschüss’ in that order

and with as much music as I can muster
as I head back out the door,
back into the tough light
of another Berlin morning.

February 16th

Berlin

(7)

too far

Travelling
seven floors

a few times
every day,

always gave me time
to check myself out

in the lift’s full-length mirror.
What I saw

was someone old and short
and lost

with eyes
I didn’t recognise

staring back at me like fish
out of water

unequipped to pit
myself at anything

let alone, Berlin.
I needed to channel my inner diva,

bitch, hag, crone;
to be unafraid

to say, “Fuck you”. But later
when I found myself

wanting to apologise
to a forgotten cup of tea I’d left to grow cold,

I knew that it was too late, I was already too far
gone.

February 10th

Berlin

(6)

next stop

J. hands me a jam jar
full of hot, milky tea
to take with me on the train,
“You can do that in Berlin”, my son tells me.
Yes, I have seen how the Berliners do it, boarding
trains with a bottle of beer
stuck in the back pocket of their jeans.

By swallowing gulps as we run
to the U Bahn station, over where the roots of trees
ripple the cobblestones, past
the shop with its ornaments nodding heads
and hips (a bulldog, Queen Elzabeth, a hula dancer)
– the shop my granddaughter loves
to stop in front of and dance –

past the fruit shop with all their fruit on display outside.
Do they take it, all that fruit, in and out
every day? I ask. A pointless question.
I keep asking them. A sign I’m feeling lost
displaced, unsure. So unsure. So much fruit.
My son and daughter in law don’t know,
or even care much. And why should they?

They have other things to think about.
Far more important things. Past the bright flowers
that look more heartless than they should.
Down stone steps; old, cold, grey. Just in time to board.
I now have an empty jar in my handbag.
One-liners come to me like the graffiti
I see crawling past on sad, grey-brown walls.

My son is tall so even when his head is bowed
over his phone, still easy to keep an eye on
above the heads and shoulders of strangers;
he’s the only thing familiar to me
in this broken city’s stark concrete and stone.
Familiar too, the lift of his eyebrows, his sign
to me that we’ve both got this. Next stop, ours.

February 7th, Poem Five

Berlin

(5)

gone to my head

Like a crow. A blue crow.
Like the crow I see perched
on an orange Berlin roof top
seven floors up

every morning, hunched
against the day.
Like that crow
(except blue) I float
on ragged wings

upended,
here on the other side
of the planet

without my usual equilibrium
and asking to be excused
for my inability to grasp

your meaning; underlying
or clear on draughty station platforms
which smell of grit and piss.

All the blood has gone
to my head.
My toes,
frozen,
tingle like stars.

January 30th Poem Four

Berlin

(4)

green cafe

I tell myself to ‘buck up’
I talk to trees
and to crows

I write, I think, I over-think, I cry, I sleep, I walk.
The wee ‘hello’ girl wasn’t there today.
Thoughts drop like stones.

A nun walking past smiles at me and a crow caws.
This pain I feel
is womb-deep.

I sit at a cafe on a green chair at a green table by motherly chestnut trees.
Shush, shush, shush, shush.
Drink your tea.

I drink my tea
served to me, black, in a tall glass.
It is the German way.

It is not wrong.
It is not right. It is simply
the German way.

I am learning much
about the German way.
The brunt of Berlin.

I do not feel that this
is where I belong, even for the time being,
here where no-one smiles.

And then on the tram
a Berliner
gives up his seat for a mother and her daughter

and Berlin becomes the sound of hissing streets,
yellow buses and trams,
sunflowers in the rain.

 January 21st Poem Three

Berlin

(3)

my left brain

What was I thinking? Of course
my ill-equipped left brain
with only a book of crosswords

as its sole training device,
was always going to lead me
smack bang

into the cross hairs
of anyone aiming to shoot
me down, gifting them

a direct hit. They couldn’t miss.
Yes. My pale imitation
of a left brain proving me wrong

to ever think I’d feel at home here
in this city of wounded buildings,
ancient church bells,

crows, the cold, left-over rage,
all that yelling at 2.00 a.m. ricocheting
from U-Bahn station walls

and concrete valleys. My left brain lies here
waiting, ready, listening, useless
as a withered limb.

January 14th Poem Two

Berlin

(2)

you’re such a home-body

I have Cilla’s, ‘Berlin Diary’,
David’s, ‘Conch Trumpet’,
Jenny’s heart-etched stone.

I have my mother’s hands.
I proceed
with much preamble

unlike my brother
who left for an overseas trip
and was back again

before anyone knew about it.
No-one any the wiser.
I may be flying solo but I’m no Jean Batten,

Amelia Earhart or Joni Mitchell.
I tell myself I must read every line
of every direction;

each instruction, no matter how tiny.
I must proceed with caution
and an engaged left brain.

Daydreaming is dangerous
I tell my right brain
and do the crosswords in Mum’s book,

following on from where she left off
the night before she died.
You are such a home-body, a friend said.

I don’t pack my hairdryer
because it might look like a gun.
I don’t wear socks. I wonder

when I get to Berlin, how far
I will have to crane my neck
in order to see the sky.

 January 7th Poem One

Berlin

(1)

on streets that shine

On streets like spokes
that shine
with history’s dull and heavy light

every corner is sharp,
an angle
I turn

in order
to un-lose myself, and
where again

there’s the young woman,
scarved,
outside the entrance

to the money machines
greeting every person
who walks past

with a small, “Hello”,
and again I walk on past
without eye contact,

thinking, ‘Forgive me my trespassing’
here where I am a stranger
growing even stranger.

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