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Poultry in the central cemetery.

My hens do not cackle. Their scaffolding hardly differs from ivy and other climbing plants, in between, a gravestone syllable by syllable whispers always the same name, as children will a difficult poem . . .

My hens do not cackle, they survey the rectangles, tidy bows that have slipped, as portals between the graves they stand, facing the client, the black caterpillar clearing its throat who hesitant, hat in hand, brings the small box full of cold witless meat for the hens.

Do you see the rooster on that spade in loosened soil? Sometimes he sings and hacks bronze chips from the little bell. Outside, behind the elms in the Piety Inn, Humor dips his finger in a glass of beer and stirs and stirs . . . My hens do not cackle.

Gunter Grass, born in Danzig in 1927, is Germany's most celebrated contemporary writer. His most recent work is The Call of the Toad, a novel. These poems are from Novemberland: Selected Poems 1956-1993, translated by Michael Hamburger.

Michael Hamburger lives in Suffolk, England. He is co-translator, with Christopher Middleton, of a previous Grass book, In the Egg and Other Poems, published by Harcourt Brace in 1978.
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Author:Grass, Gunter; Hamburger, Michael
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Previous Article:Novemberland.
Next Article:The whip.

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