Laura J. Braverman

 

 

(USA)

 

 

 

Mother Tongue

 

eins:

I construct

the first three years

with Austrian bricks:

a book is Buch; light, Licht;

a foot, Fuß.

I am without

language when I start

school. My two teachers coax

English from

me. Mami will

come and Don’t cry grow

into a second way

of naming.

 

zwei:

In learning

our first language

we learn the world, make

ourselves in relation

to the world.

Do not yet know,

in that boundless state:

the name of a thing does

not equal

the thing itself.

 

drei:

Sacred words

and their hallowed

stories are entwined:

Sanskrit’s Upanishads,

Arabic’s

Qur’an, Hebrew’s

Tanakh. So, too, do

our first utterances

vibrate—hold

the numinous.

As Eden recedes,

we come to understand

words are signs.

 

vier:

But I think

some bewitchment

must remain. We long

for union—a return

to our dawn.

History Lessons

Geschichtsunterricht

 

 

 

I.

My mother is born in the fourth year                                     Sie ist im vierten Jahr des Zweiten Weltkriegs

of the second world war. Food is scarce                                            geboren. Nahrung in Salzburg ist knapp.

in Salzburg. The residents of Enigl                                                    Die Bewohner der Eniglstraße kümmern sich

Strasse tend to a vegetable garden—                                                  um einen Gemüsegarten—ein kleines

a small plot of soil for each family.                                                  stück Erde für jede Familie.

 

Tante Hannerl brings a backpack                                                      Tante Hannerl nimmt einen Rucksack

to the countryside on food-foraging trips.                              in die ländliche Gegend, um Nahrung zu finden.

She takes the train to get there.                                                                      Sie fährt mit dem Zug.

My mother hates backpacks now.                                                     Jetzt hasst meine Mutter Rucksäcke.

 

II.

When my mother is a toddler                                                            Als meine Mutter ein Kleinkind ist

the siren builds to a shrill whine,                                                                   schrillt die Sirene zu einem lauten Heulen,

alerts citizens: Bomb alert!                                                                            warnt die Bürger: Bombenalarm!

They carry all they can to the Mönchsberg                            Sie nehmen alles was sie können

bomb shelter, wear stacks of hats—                                                  in den Luftschutzbunker Mönchsberg, tragen

as Oma told it—                                                                                                        Hütestapel—wie die Oma gesagt hat—

not knowing if their houses                                                                           und wissen nicht ob ihre Häuser stehen

would stand when they returned.                                                                   werden bei ihrer Rückkehr.

 

My mother and her family wait                                                                     Meine Mutter und ihre Familie warten

in the mountain’s bunker caves                                                                     in den Bunkerhöhlen des Berges, während

while Allied planes drop bombs.                                                                   alliierte Flugzeuge Bomben fallen lassen.

She remembers: wooden benches                                                      Sie erinnert sich: hölzerne Bänke,

cave walls—damp, darkness.                                                            Höhlenwände—Feuchtigkeit, Dunkelheit.

 

On summer Saturdays at noon the siren                                            Um die Mittagszeit samstags im Sommer

sounds even now: a plaintive wail,                                                    hört man immer noch die Sirene: ein klagendes

it assaults the farm’s silence,                                                             Heulen zerstört die Stille des Bauernhofs,

jolts my two young sons into confused                                              zwingt meine zwei Söhne in verwirrtes

silence and anxious glances.                                                              Schweigen und ängstliche Blicke.

 

III.

When my mother is a schoolgirl,                                                       Als meine Mutter ein Schulmädchen ist,

history class ends with World War I.                                                 endet der Geschichtsunterricht mit dem Ersten

Of the second war, she asks Oma:                                                     Weltkrieg. Über den Zweiten Weltkrieg fragt

Did you know what was happening?                                                 sie Oma: Wusstest du, was da geschah?

Oma answers her daughter: No.                                                                     Oma antwortet ihrer Tochter: Nein.

Anyone caught protesting the government                             Wer gegen die Regierung protestierte oder BBC

or listening to BBC radio was sent to                                     Radio hörte, wurde in ein Konzentrationslager

a concentration camp.                                                                                   geschickt.

 

IV.

At twenty-five my mother sails                                                                     Mit fünfundzwanzig überquert meine Mutter

an unquiet       ocean to America. There,                                           einen unruhigen Ozean nach Amerika.

she works in a clinic founded                                                                       Dort arbeitet sie in einer Klinik,

by a Viennese psychiatrist.                                                                            von einem Wiener Psychiater gegründet.

 

She remembers: Dr. H. records accounts                                           Sie erinnert sich: Dr. H. schreibt Ansuchen

of concentration camp survivors—                                                   um Wiedergutmachung für Überlebende

petitions to the German government                                                  vom Konzentrationslager—Ansuchen

for restitution. My mother transcribes                                                an die deutsche Regierung. Meine Mutter

the recordings. She tells me:                                                              transkribiert die Aufnahmen. Sie erzählt mir:

Sometimes I cried while I typed.                                                                   Manchmal weinte ich, während ich schrieb.

 

 

 
Aphasia

 

A year before my father was done

with breath, we walk, we two,

in slow circles round the park where

I spent my Salzburg summers

growing up, my belly

five months swollen with his first grandson.

 

Humidity and heat hang thick that day

and sounds—like the shuffle

scuffs of his shoe soles on the gravel—

hold a moment midair

before their fading out.

 

He wears one of those shirts he loved—check

in gingham cobalt blue

and white; worn jeans, a canvas belt, wide-

brimmed denim bucket hat.

 

His breath soon grows quick and tight. We find

a bench by a maple

tree—there, we talk of the Ownership

of Thoughts, a new theory

he’s been reading of:

 

Interesting for me, he explains,

because of these lapses

I’ve been having. He called them lapses—

fragments of language, self

and memory stolen

by Transient Ischemic Attacks.

 

I watch a mother stop mid-path, bend

to adjust a stroller

sunshade, hear children’s shrieks from jungle

bars mixed with yelping dogs,

and then my father’s voice:

You have to want it very badly.

 

Want what? I ask. To find the missing

pieces, he says, surmount

the darkness. Two days later, as I

stack newspapers at home, I notice

something marked, top corner

of a page—block letters

in the black wax of grease pencils my

father often used:  P  A  R  K.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 

BIO

 

Laura J. Braverman is a writer and artist. She received her BFA from Rhode Island School of Design, and studied poetry and essay with Stanford University, Bennington College and the New School. Her poetry has appeared in Levure Littéraire, Live Encounters, The BeZINE, California Quarterly and Mediterranean Poetry. She lives in Lebanon and Austria with her family.

 

 

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