Poetry The Ecstasy issue

From “Distant Transit”

By Maja Haderlap

Translated from the GERMAN by TESS LEWIS
Frederic Edwin Church, Rome, Rooftops at Sunset, 1868–69. Courtesy of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

we sit on the pier of this fish-city,
which swings on the hook of the tide,
and cannot escape it. we talk about ourselves
and what holds us captive here
on the shore between north and south.
the mosaics of aquileia, i say,
the swaying dolphins and spiny lobster,
that found refuge in trees from the great flood.
the snow-crowned alps that surge skyward
like an ossified, wildly agitated sea.
the timavo’s dark maw, you say,
out of which the river surges as if it were
flowing from one abyss into the next,
the houses in this city, like mussels
washed ashore, weather-beaten and rotting,
the algae spread like a carpet
at our feet. lines of words swim like lures
in the lagoons. we sit for the catch and laugh.
bubbles rise from our noses,
scales of stone fall from our eyes —
we are finally caught in this place’s net.

happy in sveti ivan
as long as i remain stretched out
in the shadow of the apse,
a ribbon of meadow ants will flow
through my veins. arterial walls
will echo with their most delicate steps.
bee beetles will take off their shaggy
furs and nest in the hair on my nape.
an ortolan will land on my forehead
and peck the biscuit crumbs from my lips.
or i could rise and stroke your
flanks, pull you to the dry fountain,
to the playgrounds where counting rhymes
can be heard and the sweet hum
of small children’s voices. i could also
drop off to sleep and fall upward
to the olive tree leaves, small wings could sprout
in my armpits, which you will glimpse
when i wave to you mid-flight. 

on the shore path in the evening light
on which i stood one day,
at the end of a summer
that broke me open like a small
fruit (i was bitter and very tough)
— a mote of light falls on me
a spark from abiding time. 

the impatiens still throws
its blossoms into the air like balls.
it tumbles down, sinks in the water
and disappears. a grain of light rises,
as it had back then and dies away. 

the shore path is now built up, shifted,
torn out of the meadow and discarded.
i, too, have emerged repeatedly
as a translation of myself,
transferred and rewritten
i appear in a new transcription
although in a similar form. 

the second of light takes flight,
the spark of a time that remains,
scatters, and returns.


Maja Haderlap is a Slovenian Austrian writer and translator. She was awarded the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis and the Rauriser Literaturpreis for her debut novel, Angel of Oblivion.
Tess Lewis is a writer and translator from French and German. Her essays and reviews have appeared in Bookforum, The Hudson Review, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. She won the PEN Translation Prize for her translation of Maja Haderlap’s novel Angel of Oblivion and is a 2021–22 Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.