The official illustrator (he was the best in his year at art college)
Wide open. Eyes wide open.
He drew. A hand. It was still holding the ring of a grenade. A head, still in its helmet. Mud. A bloated
horse. Swords. He walked over corpses. Sat on the bloated horse. The stench of death. The stench
of decay. The stench of last thoughts. He drew. But no one drew them, the eyes of the war reporter.
I heard a ticking and turned around. There was a large, white clock on the wall with two black
hands, the thin second hand moving little by little. “What’s that?” my eyes asked. “Oh, that just turns
for decoration” said the devil.
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An Unsentimental Question in the Night   
The storm came suddenly. Sure, it had looked like rain. For half an hour, the wind had stopped
blowing, it had become quiet. Quiet apart from the cries of the birds. But what came next defied all
memory. Suddenly, everything went dark. I’ve never seen anything like this, thought the old man. He
hurried through the night, which had just been day. Through currents of water, which had just been
beach. The water came from the sea and from the sky. It came from all directions. The water plummeted
and rushed, pounded and buffeted. As if Poseidon were emptying the sea, thought the old man of a
sudden. Emptying as if upturning a bath. He wasn’t hurrying anymore. He was running. Diving. First he
wanted to get home. That was too far away. Then he wanted to get to the next yard. Even that was too
far. He tried to make out his hand at the end of his outstretched arm. He winced at the harsh sting of the
rain on his skin. His hand, he couldn’t see it anymore.  Forget about getting home, swirled around inside
his head. Forget the yard. Just get to the dunes. I want to get out of here. Water washed around his feet.
It’s the rain, he whispered. Just the rain. But it was already up to his ankles. The ground was too soft to
be sand. The water was too deep to be rain.  It was coming from the sea. It was a flood. No, groaned the
old man. Where were the dunes? He had been walking straight ahead. Where was the damned sun?
Everything around him was water. Water from above and water from below. The old man forced himself
to stand still. The water was rising. In front, it wasn’t the dunes; in front, was the sea. He ran into the
flood. The old man shivered. He took a deep breath, then turned around. He had to get back. He took
one more breath and started to run. Run without stopping. The rain was coming from the right. If I run
fast, I’ll run straight, he thought. So he ran fast. He made good progress. I’ll only know if I’m running to
the dunes when I get to the end, he thought. And when I get there, I’ll either be right or wrong. I’ll know
soon. Soon. He started to shiver again. No time to think now, he told himself. Just time to run, without
thinking. So he ran, without thinking. The rain was falling diagonally now. The wind has changed
direction, he thought. It’s the wind. And he ran on, without thinking. In front, the dunes. He hurried on
through the night. The rain came from right in front now. The wind has changed direction again, the old
man thought. It’s the wind. The water flowed around his ankles again. The old man took a deep breath.
Without stopping, he gave himself one last instruction: to the left. It’s my last chance, he thought. Either
I’m right, or I’m wrong. If the wind has changed direction, I’m lost. And he hurried on, faster and faster.
Gasped, ran. And, like a flash, he felt the pain in his foot. He flailed his arms, grasped at thin air. Fell. Felt
the sand. Held his foot without thinking. Then he fumbled around in the night. A beam - wood! His heart
almost burst. Wood! Solid wood! He followed the beam, and felt a wall in front of him. A wall! He
stumbled on, it must be an overturned boat. Laid out. A boat, which was laid out! I’m on sand, he
thought, tired. I’ve made it. Still he stumbled on. About nine feet, he guessed. The boat was high enough,
the old man crouched under the edge. It was dry.
He curled up inside and caught his breath. I can wait here, he thought. Until morning.
“Hello?” he heard, startling him. The voice came from next to him. “Hello!” he heard again, this
time firmer, more menacing. “Hello,” the old man replied, uneasy. His voice stronger now: “I
was running from the flood and bumped into the boat, sorry.” “I’m here because of the rain,”
said the other. A figure came out of the dark, a shadow knelt in front of him. “I’m Pete,” said the
shadow. Pete smelled of alcohol. The old man breathed out, the tension draining from his
muscles. He almost laughed. “Hello, Pete,” he said. “I think there’s room for you here,” said
Pete. The old man could have sworn that Pete was smiling. Pete was OK. The old man leant
against the wood, as the rain pounded on it. “Do you want something to drink?” asked Pete. He
held something to his chest, a bottle. It was still half full. The old man felt the rum pouring down
his throat. He handed the bottle back to Pete. “Thanks,” he said. “No problem.” So they both sat
there. The rain beat down on the boat. Like a melody. And they listened, endlessly. Maybe an
hour had passed. Until Pete handed over the bottle again. The old man sat up. He wanted to say
something, searched for the words. “I too have a boat like this,” he said finally, against the
drumming. “With a motor and nets. You can be out there for days.” “Really?” said Pete. He
moved closer. “Yes,” said the old man and wiped his mouth. The drumming was unbearable. He
had to keep talking: “my boat is better than this one,” he heard himself say, “I’ve had it for a
long time. 25 years. I had one before it, too, which was just as big”. He drew breath. The rain
drummed down. The old man felt the rum. He lowered his voice: “When I was 20, they told me
that I would never have a large boat. They were right, but I don’t care. It’s OK”. He took another
gulp. “I don’t even have a boat,” said Pete and took the bottle back. The rain beat down its
melody. So they sat there. Sat and listened to the rain. Until Pete handed over the bottle. “But I
was outside, too,” said Pete. He straightened up. “On a ship!” The old man flinched, then turned
his head. He almost whispered: “do you know Venice?” “I was there,” said Pete. He nodded. The
old man leant his head on the wood and took a deep breath. He searched for words. “I think of
Venice when I’m out on the water,” he said quietly. He took another sip. “I know everything
about Venice.” He spoke more hurriedly. “I must have read ten books about it. In the evenings
at home, I read the books. I know them all off by heart. And when I’m out on the water, I dream
about it.” The rum felt good. He looked at Pete, his voice sounded hoarse: “Venice, I think it’s
the most beautiful city in the world”. “Why am I telling him this?” thought the old man. “I don’t
even know him.” Pete nodded slowly, then he turned his head: “why have you never been?”
Go to a graveyard if you can
stone is longer than a man
stone won’t remember beneath‘ man
only man remembers man
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(copyright by Markus Witte)
It had only been three days. The old man was standing at the port; everything was still wet, and smelled
like a wider world. The ships were as big as houses. The people on deck looked tiny. He blinked. So many
ships. There would surely be an Italian one. He had taken the pets to the neighbour’s and stuck a piece of
paper in the window. In three months, he would be back at home, presumably. The bench was sheltered
from the wind. It was still wet. The old man sat down and fumbled for his rucksack. There wouldn’t be a
ship today.
The Pianist (a large apartment in Budapest)
The day the great Ramin broke his hand… he had wanted to get on his bike once again and had fallen
off just short of the waterfront… he sat with his plaster cast on the brown leather sofa… looked at the
old photos on the walnut cabinet… and in his thoughts … he played...played...
14 circumnavigations (a tribute to the sonnets of William S.)
And night has gone and moonlight still remains
to light the sun to light the way of mine
through all the dark trough all the heat it gains
through all future eternities it shines
oh wind and tides and ghosts before I die
regard the miles I passed my limpid wings
regard my humble aim I’m just a fly
and out of darkness I passed fallen kings
passed whispering and murmur love and hate
passed bulbs and suns followed the distant light
tell me did I already pass the gate
it’s dangerous to death I can‘t decide
the final goal the deadly aim I found
when do I reach the flame that I surround
Noon
There is no tree, there is no shield,
there is no shadow on the field.
There is no movement in the air,
yellow horizons everywhere.
The sun is high and stings your arm.
Another summer has begun.
That thought it cut me like a knife
I will be much longer dead then
I’ll be alive
(translated)
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