Man kann darin weitergehen
und den Blick
auf die Dunkelheit einstellen.
Man kann die Wände abtasten,
um etwas zu tun.
Man kann rufen auch wenn
man nicht weiß wozu.
Man kann sich verlieren,
Man kann also
—Walter Helmut Fritz
I could or should have posted this earlier; it fits with Pan's Labyrinth and House of Leaves, but what both of those works show is that this is a sub-par meditation on labyrinths. It is more in the mold of Lisa Goldstein's Walking the Labyrinth, which begins with promise but becomes self-involved, overly metaphysical, and at the end not very rewarding.
For quite a while as a child all my male playmates were older than I. There was the neighbor, Mike, who was two years older and had the potential to be a bully. He once shot me in the back with his BB gun. All the neighbor kids watched Jaws 3-D at his place when it was shown on TV; I say it was Jaws 3-D, but that movie came out in 1983 and would have been on TV later; I don't recall Mike living there that long, but my memory, while considered uncanny by many, still has its faults and limits.
Until late in elementary school I was good friends with Louis down the street. He, too, was a year older, and he had a younger brother, Frank, who was one year younger than I—I never identified with Frank. Perhaps it was that Louis and I were both older brothers, perhaps it was that I have always socialized better with those older than I am. My closest friends now are one to three years older, one or two college friends being the exceptions proving the rule.
And then there was Stephen, wearing a hearing aid in one ear and the twin brother of Andrea. They had a younger sister, Erica, who was one year older than I, and thus in Louis' grade. Perhaps I was the little kid who tagged along with him, perhaps we were friends. It's hard to say. There was only one kid older than Stephen on the block, and that was his neighbor, Heidi Todd, the youngest of that family, which consisted mostly of older brothers nearing the end of their school years.
As this was an agricultural region we had canals, big ditches, drainage ditches, and ditches. Canals, you see, had names, and tended to be ten to twenty feed wide; a big ditch was a small canal, often six to ten feed wide and still with a fast enough current to sweep away and drown non-adults. Large dogs could swim in them. A drainage ditch had almost no current, and due to the slowly moving water was home to bugs, reeds, cattails, and hours of fun playing in the mud. And finally there were plain ol' ditches, a foot or two wide and provided with water from the big ditches, which were fed from the canals, which streamed out of the Boise River near a reservoir, for example. We had the whole politics of water rights to deal with, and any ditch that ran to other ditches or to drainage ditches had to remain available for others to access in some way. A number of us irrigated our lawns with ditch water at least some of the time; we used it to irrigate our field to grow grass for the cows.
While we only had a ditch (covered for most of its run on our property) that ran in front of our home, and another that ran down the eastern edge of our property, feeding water to our field and dumping into an east-west ditch at the back of the property that eventually dumped into a drainage ditch, Stephen's family's property butted up against the drainage ditch itself, which was V-shaped and a good eight to ten feet, top to bottom, depending on where you were along it. We would crawl down the side and sit for hours, playing, talking, etc. I remember one such occasion only vaguely, but that is part of the charm—because I'm missing most of it I'm always searching, yearning, and never satisfied. It's an unending well of imagination. I had this handheld mechanical toy, a type of pocket pin-ball machine or similar, the plastic frame yellow and the cover transparent. One such toy was lost in the mud and reeds and weeds of that ditch one of my first summers in Idaho.
Stephen's family moved away about the time he and Andrea entered junior high. When years later I entered high school and had Spanish with the choir director the year we deposed Noriega our class was held, most of the time, in the same classroom used by the school's only econ teacher, and I was the only freshman. We had a jock or two, several varsity cheerleaders, and Stephen's sister, Erica, whom I hadn't seen in probably half a decade. She was the ugly duckling of the family; no, that's not fair. The ugly duckling became a swan, and I'm not sure that ever happened to her. Her older sister Andrea had been the pretty one, but so it was with all the Andreas I knew. At the time these people seemed older, not as a comparative but as an existential category. That year, when students from several middle schools were pooled into one high school a number of people I'd lost track of over the years were seen again. What I never figured out was whether they recognized me as I recognized all of them—that was the curse of my memory: I didn't forget faces and only rarely names, even if years of growth spurts had twisted and deformed bodies into things no longer children but not yet adults. My pattern matching software extrapolated and made the connections.
Sometimes a good translation demonstrates the weakness(es) of the original poem. Fritz's other poem, “Liebesgedicht (II),” used a similar repetition (“Weil dein ...”) to good effect, constructing cohesion despite the lack of rhyme, etc., but this time around it's not repetition—it's repetitive. It's a non-poetic and merely rhetorical reflection on labyrinths and the self.
There is nothing wrong with Grimm's translation, though I do think I would have preferred “therein” to “in it”—“You can therefore / Live therein.” The excessive Man kann/You can statements would be improved by just having the actions/verbs, not the modal construction, but Grimm must have them because Fritz has them.
You can move on in it,
your eyes to its darkness.
You can finger its walls
so as to do something.
You can shout, even though
you don't know what for.
You can lose yourself,
You can therefore
live in it.
—Translated by Reinhold Grimm
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