Winner of 2017 Giller Prize

Winner of 2017 Giller Prize
Michael Redhill for his novel Bellevue Square

Friday, December 10, 2010

Two Poems by Ulrich Wendt. .

Poet Ulrich Wendt writes about his mother:

These two poems, Opening Passage and Gleaning were inspired by the life of my mother Ursula Wendt, a poet and artist from East Prussia.

 Toward the end of the Second World War in Europe, Ursula brought ten people to safety in the west in advance of the invading Russian troops. She came to Canada as a refugee in 1951, together with her husband and her four children. Two more were later born in Canada. Opening Passage was written after I went with Ursula to visit her homeland as the cold war was ending. The closing lines are her own words.

Gleaning deals with the hungry years between 1945 to 1948, when one in four refugee children in that area died of the consequences of malnutrition and exposure.

Ursula Wendt died in Nova Scotia, November 30, 2010 at the age of 93.

Opening Passage

On a day this clear, you can see everything.
Beyond the silver-blue line on the horizon is the homeland.
From there, a grim ragged rest of field-grey soldiers held open the passage
for those few who still had luck on their side.

Children listen! We were with the lucky ones.
For in the black waters beyond Cap Arcona, lie bones.

In the soft, amber-laden sand, lie bones.

In ruined Koenigsberg, where Emanuel Kant
once balanced reason with the cold, precise necessity of experience –
balanced reason with a kind of patient, careful passion, lie bones.

Where ice once broke to swallow up a living line –
horses, wagons, people -
losing at last their race with the coming, awful day, lie bones.

Where my first-born son came howling into the world –
hungry to live, hungry for milk and blood, lie bones.

And where the first, the finest house once stood, where soft rich earth
threw up the most fantastical fruit and flowers,
lie bones and bones and bones.

Children, listen! Fortune also wants its price.
We, the lucky, exiled dispossessed must balance passion with reason -
must hold a soft, unbitter, gracious heart.
For is it not also a kind of evil, to only weep on your own stones
and not on the stones of others?

Gleaning
It has long been said that the cranes
will not fly west of the Oder River,
yet here they are, three of them,
circling unmistakably – black, white, red –
on rising currents high above the wheat
and the blue corn-flowers.

Oh, how I have longed for just such a gladdening sign
as the message the angel brought that Mary held in her heart!
But now it is unwelcome, dreadful even.

For I am far from home gleaning in the shimmering heat
tired already beyond enduring
and oppressed by an unshakable foreboding
that this child in my womb
with hair of such fine-spun gold
so light that my gentlest sigh will ruffle it
will not live to an old age.

He will leave his vocation unfinished,
whether the working of wood, or words, or quiet contemplation,
will not feel life’s end’s glow of ambition assuaged
nor reflect, on an evening over wine
how friends, gentle or quarrelsome, have become dear.

And if some day, east or west,
I should see these birds again,
close up or faintly against the blue,
say nothing to me for I will not be comforted.

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