sloe

what was this, as blue as autumn evenings
or black as the bible? hanging, in october’s
showers, in the mists, so dry it shrivelled
everything to bitterness? the sloe.

we headed to the woods to gather them with the first
frost: like barbarians, shrub to shrub.
they waited deeper in, behind their barriers
of thorns; we knelt on the ice, and groped

for the yielding, blushing flesh.
carefully: reaching in, probing
like doubting thomas in the gash,
with time enough to think

of other things – of osmosis,
of next week’s homework, nylon tights
and nina wriggers’ breasts, or the cosmos,
that some time soon would reach its limit, its
        point of absolute expan-
        sion, and then would begin

to shrink: heaven, country, school, and, closing
in, houses, we ourselves, the whole world
hanging from only a twig: the sloe.
no wonder the buckets were so heavy, filled

with deepest blues. behind us, the thickets
of almost entirely vowelless words,
shrubs just a few wild strokes of the quill –
what we’d left would be for the birds.

Translated from the German by Jamie Osborn