TWO STORIES from GLANZ UND SCHATTEN (‘Light and Shadow’) by Michael Fehr (DER GESUNDE MENSCHENVENSAND, 2017), translated by Shaun Whiteside

The Queen in the Forest

An old man has gathered berries and nuts in the forest

in a basket he carries them home through the forest

When he arrives at the clearing

where his house stands

he sees a snake lying in the grass outside the door

‘What are you doing outside my door

snake’

he asks it

the snake replies

‘I am the queen in the forest and I am waiting for you

old man

if you try to go into the house

I will bite you to death and then eat you

if you try to escape

then too I will bite you to death and then eat you

if you try to stay

where you are standing

then I will wait

until you have starved

you will die all by yourself and then I will eat you’

meanwhile the man has recognised

that the snake belongs to a species

which is known in the whole region for its deadly and particularly painful bite

‘I fear your poisonous bite

snake

therefore I prefer to sit down

where I am

on the ground and wait

until I have starved

but look

I still have these berries and nuts in my basket

what am I supposed to do with them’

‘Just you eat them’

the snake replies

‘they might make you nice and fat’

‘I don’t think so

I’ve never looked different to the way I look now

at my age I will hardly grow fat

but I am still happy to eat the berries and nuts’

the old man takes a handful out of the basket and pushes some of them singly into his mouth with thumb and index finger

chewing he turns to the snake

‘If this proves to be my last meal

then I would at least like to converse a little

tell me

snake

what makes you

want to eat me

you have seen

I am old and thin and certainly no treat

the snake raises its head

‘Don’t you see

how big I am

to sustain such a body

I must take

what I can get

if I meet an animal in the forest

I will eat it

if I pass a house in a clearing

I just eat its inhabitants

that’s quite simple’

‘Oh

I understand’

The old man says

‘that’s how you do it

yes

I see that now

you’re big

huge even

and you’re beautiful at that

your scales gleam like precious metals

but not as hard

on the contrary

they gleam smoothly

it looks to me

as if each one were a single dew-drop

reflecting the morning light in colours of green and brown’

the snake twists and turns

it sticks out its tongue

‘Yes

you’ve noticed

I’m not just big

I’m also beautiful

have you looked at my eyes as well

they are as yellow as the inside of a bird’s egg and in between

a narrow

deep crevice

so dark is the black of my eyes’

the old man opens his eyes wide

‘No

that hadn’t occurred to me yet

but you’re right

your eyes are wondrously beautiful

and your tongue is beautiful too

fine and pointed and split precisely in the middle’

‘I know

my tongue is beautiful too’

says the snake

‘Recently when I wanted to dive into the lake in the forest for the first time

to catch a fish

I saw my reflection and in it I recognised my beauty

I swam to the middle of the lake and curled up there on a lily pad

until my tail was elegantly rolled up on it and my head stuck out like a blossom

I called into the forest

‘Look at me

I am the Queen in the forest’

then a bird cheekily twittered from a tall tree

‘what a spectacle you’re making of yourself

size and beauty by no means make a queen

prove first that you are strong as well’

I swam from the lily pad back to the shore and bit into a fallen tree

my teeth left two deep holes in the wood

the bird sailed down from its tree crown to the lowest branch

to make sure

how deep the holes were

and it admired

how sharply and smoothly the teeth had pierced the wood

it had recognised my strength and was willing to believe

that I was the queen in the forest

then a second bird of the same small

precocious species joined the first on the branch and cried

‘Who knows

perhaps this time you just got lucky and the tree is rotten

then I slipped back into the clear water and bit into a big stone

immediately the stone turned blood red

crimson the blood ran down the stone

trickled away among the stones and dispersed in the water

this made the birds fall silent

startled to death they fell from the tree and splashed into the lake

they became my first meal as queen in the forest

now you can imagine my strength

imagine

how hard I can bite’

‘That’s a great story

that you tell there’

the old man interrupts the snake

‘but for my meal I want to fetch some bread and cheese from the house

without bread and cheese it only tastes half as good to me’

the snake hisses

‘Stop

what are you trying to do

have you forgotten already

if you go into the house

I will bite you to death

you are afraid of my bite after all’

‘No

I haven’t forgotten

that you threatened to do that

but I don’t believe it any more’

‘Why don’t you believe it any more

I advise you not

to try’

‘Still

I want to try

I am an old man and I have heard a lot in my life

if I have never heard something before at my age

I can’t resist doubting it a little

a snake biting into a stone

is something I have never heard of in all my life

and it seems very fatuous to me

because a snake would break its teeth on a stone

or wouldn’t it

still

I want to try’


What an Idea

No one in the family has imagination

not the mother

none the father

the daughter no imagination

the son no imagination

no one has potential

one lives the life of the family from dawn till dusk

and at night in the beds of the family one succumbs

But one night

the mother haunts the daughters dream

it occurs to her

that should create herself from strange

special lilac material a dratted helmet with an immeasurable point

she poses with her lilac helmet amidst

the family

who mesh their fingers

so that the mother may climb the mesh

intended as a firing mechanism

father

son and daughter

with the mother in the middle

bend their knees and arise

so that the mother may lower and lift

they bend their knees and arise

until it is enough and the mother is blasted from the bosom of the family

she dashes out and further out

gets through the moon

which she smashes with lilac helmet

leaving a clean hole for the return’s sake

rushes further out

unto the dead point

where the light of the sun expires

in the dead point the mother manages to turn around

whereupon she gravitates back

she gets back into the light

shoots with lilac helmet through the hole in the moon and succumbs in the bosom of the family

The daughter keeps the dream quiet

one lives the life of the family from dawn till dusk

But early one day, the mother wakes the husband

the son

the daughter

‘It occurs to me

that I should create myself a lilac helmet with an immeasurable point’

the family numbly endures the mother’s preparations

but then she poses with lilac helmet amidst the family

who according to her instructions mesh their fingers

so that the mother may climb the mesh

father

son and daughter

with the mother in the middle

bend their knees and arise

so that the mother may lower and lift

they bend their knees and arise

until it is enough and the mother is blasted from the bosom of the family

she dashes out and further out

gets through the moon

which she smashes with lilac helmet

rushes further out

unto the dead point

where the light of the sun expires

‘Darn it

what an idea

what a rush’

she exclaims

although she cannot be heard

at home the family sings at the top of their voices and dances in a circle and celebrates the immeasurable potency of its own kin

in the dead point the mother manages to turn around

whereupon she gravitates back

she gets back into the light

shoots with lilac helmet through the hole in the moon and finally truly succumbs in the bosom of the family

who all welcome and congratulate her

with the utmost warmth

By Michael Fehr

Translated by Shaun Whiteside


Michael Fehr was born in Bern. He studied at the Swiss Institute for Literature, Biel and at the Y Institute, Bern University of the Arts. He has published three books: Kurz vor der Erlösung, Simeliberg and Glanz und Schatten. On the studio album Im Schwarm his stories appear as songs, oscillating between narration and music.


Shaun Whiteside’s latest translations from French, German and Italian. include Black Water Lilies and Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi, The Temptation to be Happy by Lorenzo Marone, Malacqua by Nicola Pugliese, Blitzed by Norman Ohler and To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann. He has previously translated works by Nietzsche, Freud, Schnitzler and Musil for Penguin Classics.


Photo of Michael Fehr © Franco Tettamant

Category: December 2018 - The Swiss RiveterTranslations

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