Sibyl Ruth translates Peter Kien

Four Poems



Old days squatting at the edge of vision.

I work it into an image, fix that in a frame.

But it moves off just the same,

leaving me to linger on in prison,

like a gap in time ringed by frost,

like a murky past.


Come rain or shine, the image leaves –

it goes and travels and asks questions

in my voice. Has my expressions.

And it loves and hates, it laughs and grieves,

but without my heart –

it doesn’t have my heart.


Sometimes it comes back to look at me.

Its eyes are bright and mine are dull.

It has caused great misery

and is in rude health, while I am ill.

Stained hands betray the wrong

it’s done. ‘Kill  the thing!’

That’s what my heart is muttering.


But I just say, ‘Run along!’





The eagle

huddled on that absurd stump

within his iron prison

stares through an immense distance –

to the clouds of another place

which he knows better

than the bars of his cage.


He always perches like that, says the Keeper.

Perfectly still.


But the monkeys next door

doing jumps nobody has ever seen –

they‘re one hundred percent at home

in a world of umbrellas, sticks and bits of orange peel

swinging happily

before an indulgent crowd.





Are you dead on your feet?

Look at those shining gates

on the horizon.

They’ll give you strength.


Turn around!

Don’t go into the city, the magical city!

Its roads are covered in dirt, as with all cities,

but  those far-away towers glitter

in the sunset, like gold.



Kiss the day

or kiss tomorrow goodbye.

That great door shuts with a boom –

its rusted bolt squealing.


Youngsters look out!

The pen falls from shaky hands

and your hair will turn white quickly.


Oh glorious Sun

let us get wasted

one more time –


Giving chase over open country

while the hounds pant for breath at our side –

scattering  mud, foam, clouds.

View halloo!


Kiss the day

or kiss tomorrow goodbye.




Sibyl Ruth’s poetry collections are Nothing Personal (Iron Press) and I Could Become That Woman (Five Leaves).  She’s also translated the poetry written by her German great-aunt Rose Scooler, an inmate of the Terezin Ghetto.

Peter Kien, (1919-1944) a German-speaking Czech, was a prominent figure among the artists of Terezin. He died in Auschwitz.

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