KR OnlinePoetry

histories: onesilos; in the well

Translated from German by David Keplinger

histories: onesilos

The people of Amathus cut the head from Onesilos’ dead body, for he had besieged the city; they took the head with them to Amathus and hung it high above the gates. Later a swarm of bees settled in the hollow skull, filling it with honeycombs.
     —Herodotus, Histories

up there: the skull at the city gate
that with the first light starts to hum
still holds to that slightly agape
expression, where the face had been.

something labors behind it: the del-
icate swarm-mechanics in the cranium,
the bees a set of golden cog wheels
that intertwine. geraniums

and tulips, wild poppies, gladiolas—
piecemeal all things return in their ways
to the blind hive, until the bee-eyes
in their sockets commence to roll.

for the boys it makes no difference
what name they called him once,
beggar or king, when they scale the
sun-warmed bricks, and the honey,

his invention, sticks to their fingers.
the bee-dance is an epitaph.
he almost had a kingdom while alive.
now, inside his head: this empire.

in the well

six, seven meters free fall
and i was farther away
than ever before, a cosmonaut
in his space capsule of fieldstone,
observing from the distance
the precious, round blue.

i was the child
in the well. only the mosses
climbed on the braided
rope of themselves upwards,
and ivy clambered over ivy-shoulders
into the free, escaping.

now and then the white bolt
of a bird, now and then
the white bird bolt. i ate
what was slower than me. the moon
slid over the opening,
a researcher-eye above the microscope.

just as i began to grasp
the words bug, and stone
as bug, and stone,
there interceded noise, a hastening, shouts,
and in front of me appeared a rope.

i returned into the tolling of the bells,
back to bread-smell and bus-schedules,
the shadow under trees,
conversations about weather, returned
back to baptisms and tragedies,
the headlines, one of which
i was.

Jan Wagner has published numerous poetry collections, including The Owl-Haters in the Hall Houses, Three Concealed Poets (Hanser Berlin Verlag, Berlin, 2012), and Rain Barrel Variations (Hanser Berlin Verlag, Berlin, 2014). For his poetry he has received many literary awards, most recently the Ernst Meister Award for Poetry (2005), the Wilhelm Lehmann Award (2009), the Kranichsteiner Award for Literature (2011), and the Friedrich Hölderlin Award of the city of Tübingen (2011).    Translator David Keplinger is the author of five collections of poetry, including the forthcoming Another City (Milkweed, 2018). His translations in collaboration with Jan Wagner, The Art of Topiary, will appear in 2017 from Milkweed Editions.