Marlene Dietrich Reads Rilke on the Lido, 1937
The beach is vulgar, the resort salted
like dead fish. The book is not a prop.
Strange to be called box office poison
in such a poisonous time; she imagines
the glass of a ticket booth fogged
with a sinister green mist. The latest La Stampa
is crumpled at her feet like a cheap towel,
a crab dozing on Stalin’s mustache.
Since the studios stopped calling, she’s noticed
how the headlines crawl with new dread daily:
Il Duce preening, Earhart missing,
Guernica’s ruins smoking. How elegantly
rubble photographs, she half-thinks.
The shadow of a gull tosses
a thick X into her lap. The eagle
atop the officer’s hat seemed to be
clutching the planet in its feet. He was
almost fatherly. Nur einige kleine
Filme. The room had no clock.
The sun tries to put its fingers in her mouth.
Her legs look strange to her in this light,
like a pair of sleek Duesenbergs,
overbuffed and idle. She shifts slightly.
Sand skitters across the page, a dry finger
underlining. Wer jetzt kein Haus hat,
baut sich keines mehr. She misses California,
the rampant panther tessellated
on her salon’s wall. She was an officer’s daughter,
he’d reminded her, a true child of the Father-
land. The teacup masked her wince.
He said that people were going to be hurt
if she stayed away too long. From a distance,
all the couples in white linen
along the shore are hasty erasures.
Someone calls her name from the boardwalk,
and she pulls her panama a little lower.
She’d tried to make her reply into screenplay,
lifted her eyebrows into the famous parabolas
that refused and promised, turned smoke
into a peek of flesh. Möglicherweise spatter.
She listens to the waves’ endless collapse,
tries not to think of streets thinning to ribs,
of cities made fatherless overnight.
The world isn’t like Venice, its slow
ruin—it can disappear with a click.
The light catches in her throat. Herr: es ist Zeit.
[From The Octopus Game]
NOTE: I can place only two of the quotations in Rilke’s work, but here in any case are the Englished German lines.
l. 19-20: “Only a few small films.”
ll. 26-27, from Rilke’s poem “Herbsttag” (“Autumn Day”): “Who has no house now / will not build one.”
l. 41: “Maybe later on.”
l. 55, from Rilke’s poem “Herbsttag” (“Autumn Day”): “Lord: it is time.”
See here for several versions of Rilke’s poem.
From the publisher’s Web site:
Nicky Beer is the author of the poetry collection The Diminishing House (Carnegie Mellon UP, 2010). She has received a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, a scholarship and a fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a Campbell Corner Prize, and a Discovery/The Nation Award. She is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Denver.
See also the poet’s Web site.