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4 Poems By Katherine Hollander

Many Happy Returns

Farewell to greatness.
Whatever greatness was in me I think
was a child’s greatness.
And I have hung on longer
than most, but I see now

I have slept my last night in the igloo.
Even the blue-eyed dogs
have had done with my presence,
and somebody has hidden
my mukluks and my woman’s knife.
The cooper, the cook, the sail maker
with his great thimble,
they’ve unhooked my hammock.
They shake their heads.

The twelve Olympians on their risers
have each lowered to me
their clear, amphibian eyelid, the one
they wear in all their statues.
Only Hephaestus is looking at me
sidelong, kind but unremitting.
He knows an expulsion when he feels one.

But what shall I do?
Who shall I be?
I think of the businessmen,
confused and angry, with their four
smooth pink cakes. Happy
fucking birthday, indeed.
I’ll turn around. I’ll go back.

Brecht in Hollywood

On the soundstage they’ve made
alps green with carpeting.
The resting fräuleins with their smooth
braids and pale temples
have big American teeth.
Their lederhosen are embroidered
with flowers and they wear tap shoes.
But what of blonde Germany, blood-
gloved, sitting with her feet in the ashes?

He goes about in his long coat.
An actress in fox fur takes him
for someone else in the street
and has never heard his name.
She wears a diamond so clear
it makes him thirsty to look at it
and walks a Pyrenees mountain
dog on a gold leash. The dog’s
nose is wet and steaming
like a doused coal. And his friend,
the refugee W.B., who died
crossing those mountains, what of him,
who took his life at the Spanish border?

In the street he sees
a white actor in red makeup
and a sombrero (Sancho in his poncho)
and follows him a while like an old knight.
At the soundstage they bring the actor a donkey
for his scene and Brecht
is reminded so cuttingly of his Svendborg study,
its heavy beam bearing the legend
“Truth is concrete,” and the little wooden mule
hung with the sign, “I too must understand it.”
It seems there must be something true
behind these illusions, but before his eyes,
which have toppled capitols, the walls hold.

Die Courage (Bravery)

Everything soft or tender,
be banished. Anything that asks
mercy, be exiled. A hard
cheese, that’s what you are,
sinewy, and with a voice
like smoke over a spice grater.
Your caustic joy,
tambourine and ankle.
I followed you all
through the woods,
through the bogs
and the shining mud.
I followed your horse
with her chestnut flank.
You always had
a chicken leg to gnaw,
but you never noticed
how the yellow leaves
pasted over the fallen
after they had coughed
and coughed and coughed.
Your daughter beat
a drum in her silence.
Foolish woman.
Go find your son.

Die Hexe (The Witch)

She’s here, she is here
the little burning peg.
Marrow and plug, plug
and marrow. You have sought
her out, and knocked the brass knock,
you have followed the steps
that approach her front door:
from her back door, no foot
steps lead. Soft on a mat
of gold needles, acorns
hide their helpless faces.
And here she is now,
her wand a lacquered twig.
Her head’s half red,
half white, alight like a pudding.
She eats children, drinks
stones? Her bed is of coals?
She sleeps in an oven?
Is it true? You can ask.
Her ears are full of secrets.

Katherine Hollander is a poet, critic, and doctoral candidate in modern European history. Her poems and criticism have appeared in Open City, AGNI Online, Sugar House Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere.