Bertolt Brecht | The Reader for City Dwellers

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1
Cover your tracks

Split from your mate at the train station
Go into town in the morning with your coat buttoned up
Find a place
And when your mate knocks,
Don’t, oh, don’t open the door
Instead
Cover your tracks!

If you bump into your parents in the city of Hamburg
Or anywhere else (for that matter)
Pass them like strangers, turn the corner, don’t acknowledge them
Pull the hat, which they gave you, over your face
Don’t, oh, don’t show your face
Instead
Cover your tracks!

Eat the meat that’s there! Don’t save anything!
Enter any house, when it rains, and sit on any chair that’s there
But don’t remain sitting! And don’t forget your hat.
I’m telling you:
Cover your tracks

Whatever you say, don’t say it twice.
If you find your idea with somebody else: deny it.
He who didn’t sign anything, who didn’t leave an image
Who wasn’t there, who didn’t say a word
How could he be caught!
Cover your tracks!

Make sure when you ready yourself to die
That no marker stands and betrays where you lie
With an inscription that points at you
Once again:
Cover your tracks!

(That’s what I was taught)

 

 

2
Fifth wheel

We are with you in the hour, in which you recognize
That you are the fifth wheel.
And hope leaves you.
But we
Don’t recognize it yet.

We notice
You speed up your conversations.
You’re searching for a word
To leave with
Because it’s important to you
Not to make a scene

You rise in mid-sentence
You say angrily: I want to leave
We say: Stay! And recognize
That you are the fifth wheel.
But you sit down.

So you sit with us in the hour
In which we recognize that you are the fifth wheel.
But you
Don’t recognize it anymore.

Let me tell you: You are
The fifth wheel
Don’t think I’m a villain
For telling you
Don’t reach for an axe, instead grab
A glass of water.

I know, you are not listening anymore
But
Don’t say loudly, the world is bad
Say it quietly

Because, not the four are too many
But the fifth wheel
And the world is not bad
But
Full

(You heard that before)

 

 

3
To Chronos

We don’t want to leave your house
We don’t want to tear down the stove
We want to put the pot on the stove.
House, stove and pot can stay
But you shall disappear like smoke into the sky
Which nobody holds back.

When you want to hold on to us, we’ll
Leave
When your wife cries, we’ll turn
Away
But when they come to get you, we’ll point at you
And say: That must be him!

We don’t know what’s coming
And have nothing better to offer
But you, we don’t want anymore.
Until you are gone
Let us shutter the windows
So dawn won’t come.

The cities my change
But you may not
We will speak with the stones
But you, we will kill
You shall not live.
Whatever lies we have to believe
You should not have been.

(This is how we talk to our fathers)

 

 

4

I know what I need.
I just look into the mirror
And see I have to
Sleep more. The man
I have
Isn’t good for me.

When I hear myself sing, I say:
Today I’m happy; that’s good
For my skin

I’m trying
To stay fresh and tough, but
I won’t exert myself
That causes wrinkles.

I have nothing to spare, but
I can make do with my ration
I eat carefully, I live
Slowly; I am
Moderate.

(I have seen people exert themselves like that)

 

 

5

I am scum. From me
I can expect nothing but
Weakness, betrayal and depravity
But one day I notice:
Things are looking up; the wind
Billows my sail, my time has come, I can
Be more than scum—
I started right away.

Because I was scum, I noticed
When I’m drunk, I just lie down
And don’t know anymore
Who uses me. Now I’m not drinking anymore—
I stopped right away.

Regrettably,
Just to stay alive, I had to
Do a lot of things that harmed me. I ingested
Poison that would have killed four
Horses, but I stayed
Alive this way. At times
I sniffed cocaine until I looked
Like a sheet without bones
But I saw myself in the mirror—
And stopped right away.

Naturally they tried to infect me with
Syphilis, but they didn’t
Succeed; though they did manage to poison me
With arsenic: I had
Tubes sticking out of me
That dripped with pus day and night. Who
Would have thought that one like that,
I went back to it straight away

I never took a man that didn’t do
Something for me and every man
I needed. I am
Nearly without sensation, almost not wet anymore
But
I’m always filling up again. It’s an up-and-down, but
All in all more up.

I notice that even now I call my enemy:
Old cow and recognize her as an enemy, because
A man looks at her.
But in a year
I’ll have gotten rid of that habit—
I’ve already started.

I am scum; but all things
Have to serve me, I
Am ascending, I am
Unavoidable, the species of tomorrow
Soon not scum anymore, but
The tough mortar, of which
The cities are built.

(That’s what I heard a woman say.)

 

 

6

He strolled down the street wit his hat cocked!
He looked every man in the eye and nodded
He stopped at every shop window
(And all know: he is lost!)

You should have heard him, how he declared he was going to
Have a serious word with his enemy
The tone of his landlord was not to his liking
The street wasn’t swept properly
(His friends have already given up on him!)

He certainly is still intending to build a house
He certainly is till planning to copulate with many
He certainly does not want to judge too quickly
(He is already doomed, nothing is there to back him anymore!)

(That’s what I’ve heard people say.)

 

 

7

Don’t talk of danger!
In a tank you won’t fit through a sewer grate:
You will have to step out.
You better abandon your hotplate
You need to make sure you make it through yourself.

Money, you just have to have
I don’t ask where you got it from
But without money, there’s no point in leaving
And you cannot here stay, man.
You are known here.
If I understand you correctly
You are planning on eating a few more steaks
Before giving up the race!

Leave the woman where she is!
She has two arms herself
Furthermore two legs
(That are none of your business anymore, mister!)
See that you make it through yourself!

If there is anything you still want to say, then
Say it to me. I’ll forget it.
You don’t have to keep up appearances anymore
There is nobody watching.
If you make it through
You have done more than
Anyone is required to do.

You are welcome.

 

 

8

Let go of your dreams
That exceptions will be made for you.
What your mother said
Was not binding.

Leave your contracts in your pockets
They will not be honoured here.

Let go of your hopes
That you are destined to be presidents
But get to work
You’ll have to do a lot better than that
To be allowed in the kitchen.

You still have to learn the ABC
The ABC says:
You will be dealt with.

Don’t worry about what you want to say:
Nobody is asking.
The eaters are all present
What’s needed here is mincemeat.

(But that shouldn’t discourage you!)

 

 

9
Four invitations to a man from different sides at
different times

Here you can feel at home
There’s space here for your things
Rearrange the furniture to your liking
Tell me what else you need
This is your key
Stay.

There’s a room we can all use
And a room of your own with a bed.
You can help in the yard
You have your own plate
Stay with us.

Here is your place to sleep
The linen is still clean
Just used once by another man.
If you’re finicky
Slew your tin spoon in that bucket there
It’ll be like new again
You’re welcome to stay with us.

This is the bedroom
Hurry, or you could stay
Overnight, but that costs extra.
I won’t bug you
By the way I’m not sick.
This place is as good as any other.
Stay if you like.

 

 

10

When I speak to you
Coldly and in general terms
With the driest words
(I seem not to recognize you
In your peculiar kind and your complications)

I am only speaking
Like reality itself
(Sober, not corruptible by your peculiar kind
Weary of your complications) reality
Which you seem to me not to recognize.

 

 


From
The collected Poems of
BERTOLT BRECHT
TRANSLATED AND EDITED BY
TOM KUHN AND DAVID CONSTANTINE

LIVERIGHT PUBLISHING CORPORATION
A division of W. W. Norton & Company 2019

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