Berlin, 1992

O Berlin, with its typical trashy European outskirts, the denkmal in honor of the victory in the Franco-Prussian War über alles, the former East's surveillance tower truly über alles, graffiti everywhere, NAZI RAUS, mustardy and fudgy dogshits, no one curbs their dog, a neighborhood cafe playing American country music, obsession with Florida and California, still green trees, JFK's malapropism "I am a jelly donut," grass-covered rubble of the SS headquarters, think of the people murdered here, the suffering, like in Lubyanka, vendors of Russian Army hats nearby, brass belt buckles with the hammer and sickle, Lenin mementoes, Russian dolls within dolls, DDR plates, Weimar 1,000,000 mark notes, Turks arriving with dolleys of stuff, Zimmerstrasse, green POLIZEI surrounding Willy's funeral, those tiny bottles of booze, Cafe Alibi, strong coffee, "O mercy mercy me" from '60s Motown, none of these countries have their own music, young cottonwoods and lindens and oaks and locusts and sycamores, purple ponytails, surviving fragments of the wall, palimpsests of graffiti, "Test the West" ads, AUSGANG, deafening sirens, Bauhaus, weeping willows by the Spree, the Winged Victory and Bismarck statue, repeated bragging over the Franco-Prussian War, bulldogs, Frederick the Great, starlings, crushing sacramental Near-Eastern art, sudden whiffs of horrible odors, the clean lines of the avenues, a saving grace, no sense of urgency, a good place to recuperate, streets named after writers and philosophers, Hitler, Heydrich, Himmler, Bulowstrasse, unprepossessing vending machines, fat poles covered with posters, simple Italian stucco apartment buildings with boxy balconies painted yellow or pumpkin, people really waiting unnecessarily for the walk signal, cars revving on yellow and red, Amerika and Afrika with k's, late sleepers, difficulty getting going, sudden lack of resolve, KIND IM AUTO stickers, deconstructionist architecture, Kulturforum mall highway wasteland, once Potsdammer Platz, American geometric abstract painters, even Kirschner's "Potsdammer Platz" here in Potsdammer Platz, pictures of how it was, all the pictures of how it was, construction sites, gypsy caravans, Hitler's bunker, mullein and white asters, the silence of neoclassical sculptures at the edge of the Tiergarten, new lindens alongside the Tor, a bust of Lenin and a cop and a street sweeper still in front of the Russian Embassy, all the missing people, dead before their time, NUTRIMENTUM SPIRITUS, buildings that make me look up, that make me feel small, elaborately folded napkins, enthusiastic Communist applause, older men with combed-back hair and check sports jackets, redfaced orchestra conductors with smiles of encouragement and approval, lovingly restored late 19th century kitsch, yellow Norway maple leaves on the ground, sprechstimmung, men in orange plastic overalls and blue suspenders sweeping up leaves, streets that suddenly die, blond new-wave kids in faded jeans, droopy women in their late 20s, "a leetle English," eight marks left, enough for a cheese croissant, an apple pastry and coffe grosse, Bill Clinton's theme song, "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow," and Elton's "I'm still standing" on the radio, weepy '70s and early '80s music, bum front-door keys, the U-Bahn coming above ground at some leafy allée or other, our host Gabby's apartment at 36 Hohenstauffenstrasse, yellow stucco with no decoration, once the home of Egon Kisch, now inhabited by Rudiger, Straub, Kusitsky, Milge, Sachs, Kreft, Waldmann and Buchweitz, a million steps to climb, always someone lingering around, no privacy whether you want it or not, take your shoes off at the door, please, bathrooms filled with Sensodyne toothpaste, Kleenex Boutique, Margaret Aster Cover and Care, Christian Dior Eau de Toilette, Inui, Oral B floss, Shiseido Concentrate, Facial Cleansing Foam Concentrate, Creme Mousse and Estee Lauder Hair Conditioning Mousse, Chesterfields, big stereo systems, houseplants from the desert, euphorbia, crown of thorns and aloe, Hesse and Camus, a neighborhood cafe playing American country music, obsession with Florida and California, all the transplanted Easterners who can't find jobs, Germans who can't stand Germans, haziness about all the Jews killed in other countries, myths that all Jews wear hats and the like, endless talkers, currency with pictures of architects and artists, inoffensive types, DEUTSCHE BUNDESBANK BANKNOTE, slightly overrated museums, no more men in high bowlers or women in hats with high feathers in Potsdammer Platz, a girl in the U-bahn with Jewish blood, you can still see the traces, the great victory in the Franco-Prussian War, such ugly streets, no poetry or dreams



Michael Ruby

Michael Ruby is the author of eight poetry books, most recently Compulsive Words (BlazeVOX, 2010), American Songbook (Ugly Duckling, 2013), The Mouth of the Bay (BlazeVOX, 2019), The Star-Spangled Banner (Station Hill, 2020) and the forthcoming Close Your Eyes, Visions (Station Hill, 2024). His trilogy in prose and poetry, Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices (Station Hill, 2012), includes ebooks Fleeting Memories (Ugly Duckling, 2008) and Inner Voices Heard Before Sleep (Argotist Online, 2011). He co-edited Bernadette Mayer’s early books, and Mayer’s and Lewis Warsh’s collaboration Piece of Cake (Station Hill, 2020). He lives in Brooklyn and worked for many years as an editor of U.S. news and political articles at The Wall Street Journal.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Monday, August 21, 2023 - 11:33