One cloudy day, at Minden,
in a taxi that takes me
in search of these two words.
I ask around and no one knows
what they stand for – my point exactly, I reply –
what kind of place is it and where, and whether
fortress or lock. Still, the name shines
on the map, emits a blaze in the tight knot
of consonants that give off short
luminous vowels like the weapon
of a man lying in wait in the wood.
He gives himself away and I go to hunt him down.
The op-art panorama opens up between trees
and waters, while the signs point out now
a tower of Bismarck, now Wilhelm’s mausoleum,
the statue with its left leg emblazoned
with the words “Manuel war da,”
chiseled maybe with his house keys, a tenuous
gold thread on the bronze’s verdigris,
the sinuous line of the signature, a river
among rivers. I leave the car and start to walk.
Dead leaves, shifting light and frozen air.
The pang of a twisted ankle. I am
a spinning top, a screw
that’s been unscrewed. There’s nothing else.
Yet here is the sign, here the earth
throttles itself, here is the bypass, the wall
of a watery Berlin in the midst of
phreatic strata, man-made basins,
war and peace and the Latin language.
Nothing. And wandering in the forest, I think
of the driver who waits and frets,
of the driver who waits and frets
and takes this opportunity to clean the car windows
while with a chittering sound
under the dashboard the meter runs on
like a brook, the propeller of money,
dike, conduit, outlet, opened lock, aorta,
hemorrhage of time and mitral valve,
Porta Westfalica of my life.
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