Friday, August 14, 2009

Lost Soul

Cafe Griensteidl in Vienna

(not my photo)


A hundred times a day, he says,
“I’ll have to return. Here, there is no mercy.
There, there is kindness and warmth and …”
Then he falls silent.

I ask him, “There?
Where is that?”
He points somewhere.
His face is expressionless,
and he does not say anything anymore.

I take his hand.
We go to a café
and sit down at a quiet corner table.
I order coffee for him
and water for me.

I speak to him in Arabic
and mix water into the coffee.
He is annoyed, “Are you crazy?”

He tries to remove the water
from the coffee.

He tries to.

He tries to get the water back
into the water.

Vienna, Café Griensteidl, June 27th, 1997
by Tarek Eltayeb

(translated from the German by Wolfgang Astelbauer;
from “Ein mit Tauben und Gurren gefüllter Koffer,” edition selene, Vienna 1999)

Tarek Eltayeb was born in Cairo in 1959, the son of Sudanese parents. He studied Business Administration at Ain Shams University in Cairo and at Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. He has been living in Vienna since 1984, and is currently teaches at the International Management Center / University of Applied Sciences in Krems, Austria and at the University of Graz.

Found this poem on the poets against war website of all places, and it drew me immediately. I don't know why I pictured that the dreamer was an old fellow, but I did and still do. Perhaps he is thinking of the old world of his past in another country where he grew up and was happy but it is no more --- all are gone; but just because he speaks Arabic doesn't mean that he couldn't be thinking of another life, another time where there was mercy, kindness and warmth and . . .
It is sad that he cannot return, cannot get the water out of the coffee and back to its proper place. But sadder still is that he cannot be in that coffee shop looking around and realizing that this is where he is, and how great it is to be alive.
But I probably change the intent of the words?

Maybe it's that you just shouldn't fool with an old guy's coffee!

Some kinds of poetry have always baffled me: seems as if the old uncertainty principle may apply, as the closer you get to the subject the more it is influenced by your being there. Differing meanings appear as you change perspective based on your experiences rather than those of the writer. Then I think that maybe that is the whole idea!

(not mine either!)