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Night Thoughts

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When I brood on Germany in the night
No hope for sleep. I know I'll lie
Awake with my eyes wide open while
Tears scald my cheeks.

The years are a blur of past and future:
A good twelve of them have passed since I last
Laid eyes on my mother—which may be why
I'm in such a frenzy to see her.

And I am desperate with desire.
I am under the old mutter's spell.
She circles my mind like a ring of fire.
I hope to god she is alive and well.

She loves me to pieces, the old woman,
And when in her letters her script breaks down,
I know she's shaken to her depths, I know
When the mother in her's shocked by her role.

My mother never leaves my mental space
Free of time past, the twelve long years,
Twelve! —that vanished without a trace
Since our last satisfying hug and kiss.

Don't worry about Germany: it's the picture
Of health. It will outlast us. All and all.
I'll know its borders again by the flare
Of its barbarous oaks and lime-trees' salute.

I wouldn't waste a moment thinking on
Germany were it not for my mother...;
Fatherland-is-forever; but the old
Woman, being mortal, may soon grow...cold.

Since I left the country death has taken
Many I loved. And now the unbreathing
Impinge too much upon my sympathy.
Numbering the dead does me in.

And yet I feel compelled to count and each
Body added to the tally has a say
In how my mourning grows: hordes of corpses
Crush my chest. What—relief—when they...give way.

Praise the lord. And the lighter light of France
That through this window breaks as my wife, well-
Tempered, radiant as dawn, dispels
My German burden with her lovely smile.

                                                                           after Heinrich Heine

Mark Rudman. "Night Thoughts" from The Millennium Hotel copyright 1996 by Mark Rudman and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
Source: The Millennium Hotel (Wesleyan University Press, 1996)
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Night Thoughts

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