Image credit: Maddison Colvin, "Untitled (red tulips)," mixed media

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close your eyes and listen to the symphony of the pontoon

keep your eyes closed until the squeaks and groans

prompted by the sea

harmonize with beethoven like siblings


in an alleyway in dorsoduro a refugee asks for bread


his dark blue t-shirt says:

I’m proud to be an ossi.— now go over to him,

ossi, and give him some bread or a few coins

or your honest attention.


at the dock near giardini, three yachts with darkened windows

rise up three stories, bobbing with self-assurance


now step close and start cursing

like you used to, start raging

like you used to, pick an unfair fight

with your misbehaving heart like you used to


puke on the hull and slowly move on


enter san zaccaria, stand still.

with your last coin

light a candle at bellini’s sacra conversazione

whisper into the dark: I can’t understand



so little sensuality


can be expressed with words: a mere naming
of angels without capturing their faces,
their soft vaults of bone,
their fluid arches of man and woman.


comparisons only begin to shimmer
as if in oil: a metallic suit of wings
like the crumpled aluminum tail
of a lear jet ..


and yet: how impoverished!
no red curtain of words that allows
the eye to comprehend, and the mind. no r-e-d
that can pierce mary, her crystal b-l-u-e


and how will you ever replace light!
here, it’s absurd to even utter light
which crashes and creeps through the window
to almost imperceptibly lift her face


to see the white lily, finally
set eyes on it, in this room
that floats in silence, tumbles through space
in geometric patterns, castle and cloud ..


a poor man’s meal, nothing more


a bowl of soup
where words only swim
like feeble hands that can’t grasp
but still try, and still pray into a flat spoon.


(after “Angel of the Annunciation and Virgin Annunciate” by Giovanni Bellini, Accademia)

Original ↓

schließ deine augen und hör die symphonie eines pontons

halt die augen geschlossen bis sein stöhnen und quietschen

vom meer angetrieben

geschwisterlich neben beethoven tönt


in einer gasse in dorsoduro fragt ein flüchtling nach brot


auf seinem dunkelblauen t-shirt steht geschrieben:

ich bin stolz ein ossi zu sein. – jetzt geh zu ihm hin, ossi

und gib ihm brot oder münzen

oder dein aufrichtiges interesse.


drei jachten, drei stockwerke hoch mit verdunkelten scheiben

unverschämt schaukelnd an einer kaimauer bei giardini


jetzt tritt zu ihnen hin und beginne zu zürnen

so wie früher, beginne zu toben

so wie früher, lass dich verprügeln

von deinem verhaltensgestörten herz so wie früher


kotz an die bordwand und geh langsam vorüber


betritt san zaccaria, bleib stehen.

beleuchte bellinis sacra conversazione

mit deiner letzten münze

flüster ins dunkel: ich kann nicht verstehn



so wenig sinnlichkeit

können worte: nur engel benennen
ohne ihr gesicht abzubilden
ihr sanftes gewölbe aus knochen
ihr vermischtes gewölbe aus mann und frau.

einzig vergleiche, die noch leuchten können
wie in öl: sein metallisches flugkleid
wie der zerknitterte rumpf eines learjets
ohne lackierung ..

und dennoch: welche ärmlichkeiten.
kein roter vorhang nur aus worten
der sich begreifen lässt im auge, im gehirn. kein r-o-t
das in maria eindringt, in ihr kristallines b-l-a-u

und wie, wie willst du licht ersetzen!
noch lächerlicher hier nur licht zu sagen
das durch die fenster stürzt und schleicht zugleich
um ihr gesicht kaum merklich anzuheben

dass es die weiße lilie sieht
endlich erblickt, in diesem raum
der lautlos schwebt, im weltall schwebt
mit strengen mustern, burg und wolken ..

ein arme-leute-essen ist gekocht, sonst nichts

ein teller suppe
wo nur worte schwimmen
wie lose hände, die nichts greifen können
doch greifen wollen, und in den flachen löffeln beten.


(nach “Verkündigung” von Giovanni Bellini, Accademia)

Translator's Note

At a time when the word perspective seems to mean one’s singular immutable way of looking at the world, German poet Carl-Christian Elze’s habit of observing the external world from multiple points of view and then seeking this multiplicity within himself stand out. It is this openness, this interplay between reality and identity, and the accompanying power of discovery that make his work remarkable to me.

Elze won a residency in Venice in 2016 where he encountered so much in the city beyond his comprehension—its history and beauty but also its dark side and its fundamental contradictory elements. Against this backdrop, he wrote langsames ermatten im labyrinth (Verlagshaus Berlin, forthcoming Winter 2019) as a lyric exploration of a cityscape and a self as (funhouse) mirrors of one another.

In some of the poems in this book, it is a fly perched on the wall of a palace, a vaporetto sailing up and down the Grand Canal, or a guard dog on a lonely island—the celebrated and also the overlooked—that trigger the process of internalization, reflection and expression which results in the expansion of self. In other poems, the viewing of a painting and a chance encounter at the docks generate that same process but the outcome is the realization that language is an inadequate means of self-expression.

Regardless, when I read his work, I recognize how much I fail to see on a daily basis merely by not looking. I understand that everything in the world holds a something that can also be found in me, and that perspective rather than a means to exclude all but my own viewpoint is the way to open myself up, sometimes to a broader capacity to connect and sometimes to a humbling awareness of human limitation. These poems, and others in this book, take the reader on a lyrical tour of an ancient city and, at the same time, offer sightseeing in an internal landscape where wonder and devastation, empathy and agency are the top attractions.

Caroline Wilcox Reul


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