Translation of The Island of Museums

Over the heart of Europe the sky is remote, inaccessible.
An airplane slits open its icy lucidity like a glass-cutter.
Below, near a dumpster, shards glitter in the Brandenburg sand.
Guidebook in hand, a tourist hunts after the old course of the Wall,
Where the Spree glints like iron. The city is long since patched-up.
Here is your camp. Here is the place where you banished yourself.

Historical ground: one cleaves to it. Seen from above, the whole
Is a Near-Eastern carpet, a ratty coaster woven from real-estate,
Frayed at the edges, wherever a tuft of forest genuflects.
Here and there a green-space, canal, or duck-pond stitched in.
Only by looking a while does the pattern appear: the citadel.
Fleeing is pointless. All ways lead back to the center.

There’s a magnificent boulevard, best crossed with a goose-step.
A horse moons passerby, up top sits a freezing monarch.
Under the lindens, busses glide past like yellow aquariums on wheels.
Each bus stop, each column of ads has an air of sophistication.
A spool of electrical cable, its wooden ends stippled by snowballs,
Waits at the corner like a circus camel. It’s snowing again.

And then come the squares, so forsaken, so blank, like shorn heads,
That space itself seems to crumple here. Pilings in sodden clay
Raise an ensemble, an Areopagus, from the black waters:
Schinkel’s Greek temple, complete with museum-quality pockmarks.
Strait down the middle, the train-tracks, a rumbling commuter,
In which a cool thousand leave the city on this day.

Wherever one turns, fences, railings. They offer a hand-hold.
Certain bridges appear only stable when mirrored in water.
The wind, turning icy now, conjures a rustling scrap of newspaper,
Drives it relentlessly on, like the bearer of familiar bad tidings:
The latest on Terror, flu epidemics, an earthquake in Turkey.
In the Hall of the Egyptians a crocodile dozes in porphyry stillness.

This is where years, the thick and the thin, are made equal.
Where the Altar of Pergamon calms one like Abraham’s bosom.
How long ago was it, this marriage of Muses and Military?
The smell of grilled meat from a cart: somewhere else it’s a gunshot.
Hungry for hours now, one is prepared for the last bullet,
Stumbles, thanking the god of trolleys, into the evening traffic.

Twilight. In the Tiergarten, black among the bleak branches,
Crows out of Russia, a sullen gang of bruisers.
At the curb, an infernal cauldron boils the next batch of tar.
Construction sites everywhere. One gave up counting long ago.
The darkness, a binge-eating python, swallows both East and West.
As Berlin was an island once, so lay Bohemia there on the sea.