Walter Hoelbling

Selected Poems

Berlin 1990

right in the eye
of history
I walk
among the crowds
that taste
the absence of confinement

an unfamiliar space

between the band stands
on the avenues
where people
test a freedom
newly won
still strange
as yet in need
of daily reassurance

crossing and recrossing
the big gate
and the bridges
that for generations
connected nothing
marked divisions kept
by guns and barbed wires
and well-lit empty spaces
between walls
watched from towers

the new reunion
brings happy smiles for most
quiet tears for some
new doubts for many
that are uncertain
about their lives together
after decades
of separation

right in the eye
of history I walk

just now and then
a little bit afraid
that she might
rub her eye

just now

W. H., October 3, 1990

Leipzig 1990

A city old in trades,
in cultivation of the arts
based on industrious commerce
of its citizens who boast
the world’s oldest commercial fair

the city in which
Martin Luther and Melanchthon
led fierce disputes
with delegations of the Pope

where J. S. Bach found stimulus
and time to master
harmony and rhythm
close to perfection,
(and that was shocked listening
to Leibniz’s monadologies),

the city of which
Goethe spoke with praise,
that saw Napoleon defeated
on the nearby battlefield
(and built a monument of quite
imposing ugliness one hundred years
after the fact),

this city suffered hard
from two world wars
followed by over forty years
of dreams gone sour of a new society,
until, most recently,
this city once again
became a catalyst of major change.
Yet those who kept their meetings
at St. Niklas‘ church
and by their stubborn protest
helped to reunite
a country separated by walls for generations –
those you don’t see,
walking the streets of Leipzig now.

What strikes the eye
(besides the crumbling blackened ruins
of former glory,
and strip-mined land
just out of town)
is Wall Street’s new frontier,
the bustling peddlars of new easy wealth
as they appear on every street downtown,
offering anything from oranges
to shoes and South Pacific cruises.

Ramshackled pre-fabs built on shabby parking lots
already stake the claims of big banks,
business and insurance companies
that promise earnings, safety and security
to eager if bewildered customers.

„Pecunia non olet“ says the poster
of the postal savings bank,
and shows a happy pig
rooting in money.

Old stores, in order to survive,
have started selling
new and shiny goods
to happy new consumers,

only a few resist

and hesitate to walk a mile
for the melange of
fast food, cigarettes and booze
offered at makeshift stands
that seem have come
to symbolize the great new freedom

of the new Wild East.

W. H., November 1990

new orleans

the charm of French Colonial style
with Cajun cooking promised – „genuine!“ –
at every second door
jazz bands at every other

the flair of well-groomed wealth and savoir vivre
exuding from St. Charles‘ porticos,
the restaurants on Calle du Roi,
the campuses of Tulane, UNO and Loyola

the grandeur of the superdome
the open space of Audubon and City Park
oakes draped with Spanish Moss
alive with jogging, skating, biking, walking health
between the nights –

all this makes you almost forget
the city project housings
slumming beneath the highrise business shadows
crime ridden,
floating on neverending waves of dime-a-dozen tunes
from hi-fi stereos of cruising cars

the grand lake spoiled for generations
with the big city’s waste,
the ‚father of rivers‘ dwarfed beyond repair
by wharfs and cranes and fortified embankments
that line his banks as far as you can see
and far beyond

a shotgun wedding of the rich and poor,
the black and white,
torn by the struggle to ascend
from shotgun to colonial
to the soft sound of dixie

W. H., February, 1992


after some grey days
comes the sun
summer heat
spectacle on the Seine

to commemorate

„La Route de l’Aramda“
a fleet for tourists
that never was

yet nice to watch
with fireworks
& stately masts
sails folded orderly
decks scrubbed
the crews all smiles
ready to answer
all the children’s questions

in between
gray & inaccessible
some men of war
of more contemporary make

among them
somewhat tarnished
one single ship
that really carried
allied soldiers
in its sighthless hull
on that gray morning

and suddenly
if only for a moment
you smell the sweat
of fearful courage
hear ammunition
click into magazines
the waves break dull
with hollow sound
amidst the crashes
of firework artillery
that split the waters
upward from the ground

Rouen, July 1994

above things

at standard cruising altitude
sipping my digestive
after a decent inflight lunch
on the flight from Vienna to Athens

I gaze through the scratched
double plexiglass bulleye
shielding me from the outside world
and try to pierce the blinding haze
of a lazy spring afternoon
hiding from me
the people shot by snipers
the shelling of suburbs
the burning houses
the crowded hospitals
of Sarajevo, Gorazde, Mostar, Zadar …

supsended in diffuse light
all I can see
is the silhouette
of an occasional snow-capped mountain range

there is no sign
of human suffering

May 1992


courting the sun
after a cool June
in my vintner’s garden
close to the southern border

carefully sipping
his latest selection
a good year
you can taste it

looking out from the hill
across the river valley
I listen to his children
proudly telling how
only yesterday
they filled 50 sandbags
just in case

the deafening roar
of an interceptor jet
splits the air
just for seconds
leaves my wine glass

three helicopters
slash their way south
and come back later

over the winding road
on the next hill
the last tank of the column

we can hear
not far away
over there
sounds like explosions

we enjoy the sun
Helmut opens another one
of his treasured bottles
and tells me
what he will do
if They come across

he is a good hunter
and an excellent shot

I sip the clear wine
watch how the sunlight
lends its brilliance
to the half-filled glass

I feel a little bit
like Humphrey Bogart
in the wrong movie.

(On the Yugoslav border, July 1, 1991)

hazards of the profession

quipping maliciously
the learned scholar
outdid himself
and keeled over backward
into a huge barrel
of seething criticism


People that ‚are‘
of those who still ‚become‘
speak lowly
treasuring the edge
they have
by luck or by some clever sleight
of hand
gained in the race for being

Sometimes I wonder
where I am
am I
or am I not
do I become
and if so
will I ever be
what others are
where others are
(or think themselves to be)

those who appear so sure
of what and where they are
have at their backs
the everlasting fear
that when they are
where they have liked to be
there always are
the others who were there
some time before
and now
are somewhere else
happy again
that they are
where and what
others still struggle to become

to be where I am
suits me fine
I do not care exactly
this is
if only I still see
a chance that I become
that is I change
and not just be

There is
it seems to me
too little space
between to be
not to be.

W. H., September 1990

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