“On Birds,” “Tristan” and “My Loneliness as Kafka’s Diaries”

Poetry by Nadine Klassen

“On Birds,” “Tristan” and “My Loneliness as Kafka’s Diaries”

On Birds

I.

                           Papa nearly kills a pigeon

             with a rock.

That means, your own name can be used

against you

& that is the way a mother can carry hope

without its burden. Then, grandma’s fingers

                                         pinch

                           my flawless cheeks like salt. She drafts

a boat

from her lips, singular, preoccupied.

                           When I tell her I don’t like it,

we’re on Hainan

                           & I don’t have anywhere

                           but water. Mama’s colleague

knows who

I’m in love with

                           & cuts off my ponytail,

                           but Mama still wants to be

best friends. I wake early the next day

to find myself

a daughter. We raise

                          chicken for their fragility,

& Frida sleeps on Mama’s pillow,

but only follows

             me around

the garden.

                         Mama sews me a skirt

to wear to church. The seam

only kissed the sewing

machine

              & after the sermon

it confesses like wings

that lay bare their frame with each flight.

            That means, Mary might not have been

a virgin. That means a mouth

can be piece

                          and blackmailer at the same time.

II.

                          The fan drags a dead bird/

hot air / thirty three degree Celsius

around with its propeller.

Through the window,

                         the coral

dies by the hands of white

               curtains & it reeks

of coconut conditioner, oxygenated

                        drinking water & seventy

                nanograms of bad girl

                        testosterone; half a bridge

                on a foot.

                        & I give her what girls want

                which is attribute/

feature/ distinction/ contribution.

                       That means, I hand her

the chalk

              she fingers me

with. That means, we are now

                        in contrast –

the words friends or lovers,

              not animalistic enough.

              The dead bird picks at her shadow,

a chisel, however pragmatic – there to carve,

studies the stone. Rehearses its reverse,

              makes an organ of a stimulus

in a God’s pubescent flair.

                            A chip of hair loosens

               from its bun.

I ignore the jewelry –

the heart-

                           pendant & diamond

ring – best

while wearing it.

& I give her what girls want

                          which is a secret/

            non-cursive/ abstract/ seven minutes.

That means, I give

her a closet.

                            That means, I hand

her mother a picture

of a boy & don’t write anything in my diary.

That means, she has

             long hair & no tower

but my cervix.

She makes her hand

a shadowbird

               below my waistline,

& that wingwork

means, she puts

                            an effort

into her delirium.

Tristan

We’ll celebrate whatever

snow-ridden day it is,

when I can only speak riverwater.

When I step on my tonguebed

and the rocks are round.

We'll go to the botanical gardens

and I'll water the succulents

on your chest

with my spit. Say

with high humidity, here, have me like

you knew I was coming.

You didn't grow a beard to hide

your mother's face beneath it —

how did she love you? And doesn't it make you

sad — the definiteness of “did”? I can't remember

what my father said about love,

but I remember his tears

when I moved out and on.

The thing is, he didn't know what I left —

that fact made me want to become him.

The thing is, when he found

out, my name sounded

funereal.

Some of my body's light still catches

the truth of that house.

When my bones rupture

with laughter, my flesh doesn't know

the difference of a good bleed and a bad

man. Some say, coping mechanism

and how strong it made me.

I am not talking about my father,

I am talking about Tristan —

that, of course, is a made-up name,

because when I tell the light

my tongue falls out like

my story doesn't belong to me.

(I wonder what his purpose

was, now he's in my body,

he doesn't even talk, doesn't

tell me what happened.)

This is now third nature,

one I have been served

on the rusted platter

of my bed. The oil stain

of his body engine, grease

I have taken to white-coated

strangers, like to the public

washing machines, sat and waited

for an hour worth a coin,

worth 50 dollars. Came out

wet and heavy. Isn't that what it is like,

to talk about trauma, doesn't it traumatise?

Heaven held its birds and songs

and hallelujahs above my head,

they say, which only meant I was dead-

flat on my back like a bug.

I have now learned to flee

but it is only from my own self

and into your rib bones. But whose heart

wouldn't want that. Look, I don't want to injure

love with my knowing-nothing-about-it.

I don't want to spin an empty

barrel at a rabbit, I want you to chew

on the lead when you make a meal

of my hunting. Lose a tooth for a heart,

you thief. I mean to say that out loud

to my father and have him be done

grieving my name. Love is such a colossal

question, and for some reason

this poem is not about Tristan at all.

My Loneliness as Kafka’s Diaries

8 August. The two vases sit on the windowsill, and the slit of dust between them

reminds me of a woman’s skirt.

After half an hour of reading, loneliness has become academic. I don’t interpret anything into its presence – its fact. The knots in my fingers, derived from a precedent love-affair, are a thesis that only proves loneliness is a misshapen thing, that wants everything to look just like it. The only logical conclusion of an argument I have with myself, over which pillow to imagine a lover’s head on tonight, is Chimera. I chase myself around the bed until it is a brothel, meet loneliness in the red room and fall in love with her.

What events can I tell my friends about when we next meet?

The lid would not come off the marmalade jar, the sugar sat on the frontiers and gripped ownership of the land I wanted to screw off, to pass through and claim the chunks of orange fields for my mouth. I took a gunmetal spoon - stained silver at least - under the edge of the lid, or was it under the jaw? Then a shot-like sound. You can make a bullet come out of almost anything. These wars, however small, present themselves to me. I already know how bored they will be of my spoongun story, but I would rather not talk about corruption; the money that flows out of my pockets and under the table of mania, to fool myself with shiny new shoes, that will stay carpet-friendly and heel-scouring.

In my dream, my mother speaks Spanish and the postman delivers the wrong letter. We eat chips together, my cousin makes me a sandwich with chocolate spread and marshmallows. And I don't know what to get from that, other than at first I was lonely and misshapen, then suddenly I was not.

About the Author

Nadine Klassen

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Nadine Klassen (she/her) is a German poet, whose work focuses on mental health, trauma, identity and relationships. It has been published in Anti-Heroin Chic, Olney, Sky Island Journal and others. She lives in her hometown with her boyfriend and their dog.