Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

Emmanuel Moses

OLD CONVERSATIONS

He had remembered old conversations with this one and that one,
Viaticums which seemed to him to be past use,
In a room almost entirely occupied by a baby grand piano,
While in the middle of the square a streetlight crackled,
A little square, German and eastern, in a pine-tree’s shade,
But especially on the bench at Greenwich,
The sky immense, dusk falling
On the line of poplars bordering the lawn
Where children played football, people walked their dogs,
As a few old men strolled before returning to the close air
And medicinal odor of their rooms,
And a biplane descended towards a neighboring club.
Mim had told him one had to be able to talk about oneself
Or one would end up talking about nothing else,
The former breaker of hearts from Moscow to Czernowitz,
The guitarist with chestnut curls and a childish pout,
At present a little man approaching fifty,
Stooped, with an émigré’s timid smile,
With his cabled sweater, his bargain boots,
The bitter fatalism of someone who’s known hope,
Has seen it grow and fly away
Leaving him alone with his risky, if not pitiful present,
The two-room apartment in a working-class suburb, the pursuit of fees,
The candle-end economies,
The son who stayed in the old country, the daughter who left,
The wife hardened by betrayal and neglect,
Showing by every word and gesture
That it is too late to start over,
Content to drift without resistance
And with an infinite patience
For what has she to expect that she hasn’t already lost,
Even Grad, pacing the apartment from end to end,
Probably already invaded by metastases,
Had shown reticence.
One does not try to escape the Almighty’s will with impunity,
Even in embarking for far-away places.
By stretching over the sheet-music and giving in to sleep,
He had gotten his fingers burnt –
No one else here, between the Hôpital St-Louis and the Institut Curie
Had had the guts to do it –
And no one would be saved without embarking on the same road,
Bitter, hard.

OUDE GESPREKKEN

Hij had zich oude gesprekken met dezen en genen voor de geest gehaald,
Behartigenswaardige woorden die volgens hem intussen hadden afgedaan,
In een kamer die haast helemaal werd ingenomen door een babyvleugelpiano,
Terwijl midden op het plein een straatlantaarn flakkerde,
Een oostelijk, Duits pleintje in de schaduw van een den,
Maar vooral op het bankje in Greenwich,
De onmetelijke lucht, de avond die viel
Over de rij populieren aan de rand van het grasveld
Waar kinderen voetbalden, mensen hun hond uitlieten,
Een paar bejaarden een luchtje schepten voor ze teruggingen naar de bedompte atmosfeer,
     de medicijngeur van hun kamer,
Terwijl een tweemotorig toestel de landing inzette naar een vliegclub vlakbij,
Mim had hem gezegd je moet over jezelf kunnen praten
Of ook je praat eigenlijk altijd alleen over jezelf,
De voormalige hartenbreker van Moskou tot Czernowitz,
De gitarist met de lichte lokken en de kinderlijke pruilmond,
Intussen een kleine man die tegen de vijftig liep,
Gebogen, met een verlegen emigrantenglimlach,
Met zijn slobbertrui, zijn goedkope laarzen,
Het bittere fatalisme van wie ooit hoop heeft gekoesterd,
Hem heeft zien groeien en vervliegen
En zelf achter is gebleven met zijn hachelijke zo niet jammerlijke heden,
Het tweekamerflatje in een arbeiderswijk, het gesjacher om opdrachten,
De dubbeltjes die moeten worden omgekeerd,
De zoon die ginds is gebleven, de dochter die is weggegaan,
De vrouw die is gehard door haar leven van verwaarloosde, bedrogen echtgenote,
Die met elk gebaar, elk woord te kennen geeft
Dat het te laat is om opnieuw te beginnen,
Die zich domweg laat afdrijven zonder nog weerstand te bieden,
Met oneindig geduld,
Want wat heeft ze te verwachten dat ze niet al is kwijtgeraakt,
Zelfs Grad, ijsberend door het appartement,
Waarschijnlijk al door uitzaaiingen bevangen,
Had bedenkingen geuit,
Ontsnappen aan de wil van de Almachtige doe je niet straffeloos
Ook niet door je voor verre landen in te schepen,
Door te gaan liggen op je brits en je te laten overmannen door slaap,
Zelf had hij zich de vingers gebrand
Niemand anders hier, tussen het Hôpital Saint-Louis en het Institut Curie,
had daartoe het lef gehad –
En geen mens zou redding vinden dan door dezelfde weg te gaan,
De bittere, harde weg.

VIEILLES CONVERSATIONS

Il s’était souvenu de vieilles conversations avec les uns
et les autres,
De viatiques qui lui avaient semblé hors d’usage,
Dans une pièce occupée presque entièrement par un
piano quart-de-queue,
Alors qu’au milieu de la place le lampadaire grésillait,
Petite place allemande et orientale ombragée par un pin,
Mais surtout sur le banc à Greenwich,
Le ciel immense, le soir qui tombait
Sur la ligne des peupliers bordant la pelouse
Où des enfants jouaient au foot, des gens promenaient
leur chien,
Quelques vieux prenaient l’air avant de retrouver
        l’atmosphère confinée,
L’odeur médicamenteuse de leur chambre,
Un bimoteur amorçait son atterrissage vers un club
voisin,
Mim lui avait dit il faut pouvoir parler de soi
Ou bien on ne parle finalement que de soi,
Le ci-devant briseur de cœur de Moscou à Czernowitz,
Le guitariste aux boucles claires et à la moue enfantine,
À présent un petit homme approchant la cinquantaine,
Courbé, au sourire timide d’émigré,
Avec son pull à grosses mailles, ses bottines bon marché,
Le fatalisme amer de celui qui a connu l’espoir,
L’a vu grandir et s’envoler
Le laissant seul avec son présent hasardeux sinon
pitoyable,
Le deux pièces dans une banlieue ouvrière, la course
après le cachet,
Les économies de bout de chandelle,
Le fils demeuré au pays, la fille partie,
La femme durcie par sa vie d’épouse délaissée, trompée,
Manifestant par chaque geste, chaque parole,
Qu’il est trop tard pour tout recommencer,
Qui se contente de dériver sans opposer la moindre
résistance,
Avec une patience infinie,
Car qu’a-t-elle à attendre qu’elle n’ait perdu,
Même Grad, arpentant l’appartement de long en large,
Probablement déjà envahi par les métastases,
Avait montré des réticences,
On ne cherche pas impunément à échapper à son Tout-
Puissant,
Serait-ce en embarquant pour les lointains,
En s’étendant sur son bat-flanc et en se laissant prendre
par le sommeil,
Lui s’était brûlé les ailes–
Personne d’autre ici, entre l’hôpital Saint-Louis et
l’Institut Curie
N’avait eu le cran de le faire–
Et nul ne serait sauvé à moins de s’engager sur le même
chemin,
Âpre, dur. 
Close

OLD CONVERSATIONS

He had remembered old conversations with this one and that one,
Viaticums which seemed to him to be past use,
In a room almost entirely occupied by a baby grand piano,
While in the middle of the square a streetlight crackled,
A little square, German and eastern, in a pine-tree’s shade,
But especially on the bench at Greenwich,
The sky immense, dusk falling
On the line of poplars bordering the lawn
Where children played football, people walked their dogs,
As a few old men strolled before returning to the close air
And medicinal odor of their rooms,
And a biplane descended towards a neighboring club.
Mim had told him one had to be able to talk about oneself
Or one would end up talking about nothing else,
The former breaker of hearts from Moscow to Czernowitz,
The guitarist with chestnut curls and a childish pout,
At present a little man approaching fifty,
Stooped, with an émigré’s timid smile,
With his cabled sweater, his bargain boots,
The bitter fatalism of someone who’s known hope,
Has seen it grow and fly away
Leaving him alone with his risky, if not pitiful present,
The two-room apartment in a working-class suburb, the pursuit of fees,
The candle-end economies,
The son who stayed in the old country, the daughter who left,
The wife hardened by betrayal and neglect,
Showing by every word and gesture
That it is too late to start over,
Content to drift without resistance
And with an infinite patience
For what has she to expect that she hasn’t already lost,
Even Grad, pacing the apartment from end to end,
Probably already invaded by metastases,
Had shown reticence.
One does not try to escape the Almighty’s will with impunity,
Even in embarking for far-away places.
By stretching over the sheet-music and giving in to sleep,
He had gotten his fingers burnt –
No one else here, between the Hôpital St-Louis and the Institut Curie
Had had the guts to do it –
And no one would be saved without embarking on the same road,
Bitter, hard.

OLD CONVERSATIONS

He had remembered old conversations with this one and that one,
Viaticums which seemed to him to be past use,
In a room almost entirely occupied by a baby grand piano,
While in the middle of the square a streetlight crackled,
A little square, German and eastern, in a pine-tree’s shade,
But especially on the bench at Greenwich,
The sky immense, dusk falling
On the line of poplars bordering the lawn
Where children played football, people walked their dogs,
As a few old men strolled before returning to the close air
And medicinal odor of their rooms,
And a biplane descended towards a neighboring club.
Mim had told him one had to be able to talk about oneself
Or one would end up talking about nothing else,
The former breaker of hearts from Moscow to Czernowitz,
The guitarist with chestnut curls and a childish pout,
At present a little man approaching fifty,
Stooped, with an émigré’s timid smile,
With his cabled sweater, his bargain boots,
The bitter fatalism of someone who’s known hope,
Has seen it grow and fly away
Leaving him alone with his risky, if not pitiful present,
The two-room apartment in a working-class suburb, the pursuit of fees,
The candle-end economies,
The son who stayed in the old country, the daughter who left,
The wife hardened by betrayal and neglect,
Showing by every word and gesture
That it is too late to start over,
Content to drift without resistance
And with an infinite patience
For what has she to expect that she hasn’t already lost,
Even Grad, pacing the apartment from end to end,
Probably already invaded by metastases,
Had shown reticence.
One does not try to escape the Almighty’s will with impunity,
Even in embarking for far-away places.
By stretching over the sheet-music and giving in to sleep,
He had gotten his fingers burnt –
No one else here, between the Hôpital St-Louis and the Institut Curie
Had had the guts to do it –
And no one would be saved without embarking on the same road,
Bitter, hard.
Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère