Night Thoughts

By Mark Rudman

When I brood on Germany in the night
No hope for sleep. I know I’ll lie
Awake with my eyes wide open while
Tears scald my cheeks.

The years are a blur of past and future:
A good twelve of them have passed since I last
Laid eyes on my mother—which may be why
I’m in such a frenzy to see her.

And I am desperate with desire.
I am under the old mutter’s spell.
She circles my mind like a ring of fire.
I hope to god she is alive and well.

She loves me to pieces, the old woman,
And when in her letters her script breaks down,
I know she’s shaken to her depths, I know
When the mother in her’s shocked by her role.

My mother never leaves my mental space
Free of time past, the twelve long years,
Twelve! —that vanished without a trace
Since our last satisfying hug and kiss.

Don’t worry about Germany: it’s the picture
Of health. It will outlast us. All and all.
I’ll know its borders again by the flare
Of its barbarous oaks and lime-trees’ salute.

I wouldn’t waste a moment thinking on
Germany were it not for my mother…;
Fatherland-is-forever; but the old
Woman, being mortal, may soon grow…cold.

Since I left the country death has taken
Many I loved. And now the unbreathing
Impinge too much upon my sympathy.
Numbering the dead does me in.

And yet I feel compelled to count and each
Body added to the tally has a say
In how my mourning grows: hordes of corpses
Crush my chest. What—relief—when they…give way.

Praise the lord. And the lighter light of France
That through this window breaks as my wife, well-
Tempered, radiant as dawn, dispels
My German burden with her lovely smile.

after Heinrich Heine