Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken
After a surprisingly cool day, first misty and damp, then dry and windy, the warmth has returned: this premature, blissful March-summer, now April-summer. A few, dark-blue-shaded clouds like slow fish in the sky’s pale blue aquarium. Still a wide-open field of vision; the trees are budding, but still leafless, hesitant, unable to believe in the warmth or keep pace with it so soon, so quickly. Pre-spring cold in the mornings, middays like May, June in the afternoon. And then the piercing cool of evening, bringing a shiver and chasing the birds into their hiding places. And so it lives on – the first mosquito, cheery, curious little lightning bolt.
A conversation on the bus, people in t-shirts, shirtsleeves, blouses, summer dresses: “What beautiful days. But I can’t really enjoy them, I always think: it’s the climate change. And sometimes…” the girl laughs, “… oh, such a nice climate change.” When I got out, the pungent smell of summery soil hit me like a blow. I walk home each day along lush green hedges, an eastern breeze in my face, beneath a cloudless sky. Rosy refulgence in the early evening. The inward Australia begins. In three weeks I’ll be in Melbourne. Words of encouragement from my friends, the light alone means I shouldn’t worry.
All at once, overnight, it’s what we’re used to in Hamburg: cool, grey April, the cruelest month, with spring already piercing you, suddenly fat drops, heavy rain, a Starnbergersee coming down, drumming for hours, and though unperturbed, with sun inside me after those sunny weeks, I got sunshine in my stomach, I am surprised, no, constantly unsettled, for the meteorologists predicted quite a different kind of weather that fails to come, that I would have liked to experience: a warm south wind, carrying fine sand from the Sahara and making the sky shimmer yellow. The weather forecast is a narrative, less speculative than it is fictitious, uncertain and unsupportable, for that very reason feigning certainty and seeking, groping for support. Support that does not exist.
Thirty hours of rain have made of the timid budding and splitting a universal, manifold teeming green. The birds, I always suspected it, are actually fishes, the titmice trout, the blackbirds bream, the sparrows sprats. They all want to act sensibly, but fortunately fail, darting through the damp air. And the dried-out ground sucks up the water noisily. How lovely. The sky sends cloud after cloud as I send word after word. “Thin land, holding its balance and / sustaining the sustaining water, the birds / are light, after all. / The levee leads into the rain hall”, writes Nicolas Born.
In the Oberallgäu grimy remnants of snow on the mountain slopes like stunted glaciers, and in the distance the white Alps gleam through a day without a cloud far and wide. – Buttercup, cowslip, dandelion meadows, a green that’s already much lusher, more luscious. In Augsburg, too, it’s apparently summer already, street life in full swing, but when and where wouldn’t that be the case? The crowns of the trees on the town moat are pale green, light, nearly transparent (Immenstadt, Augsburg)
The predicted cold snap – the temperature was supposed to fall by as much as ten degrees – has failed to come, or it has come in a milder form. Why were they unable to anticipate this? Are they working with data that no longer have any grounding? Grounding on what? No doubt they have some precise explanation for their near-miss-rate. The rain, at night, with a strong wind rising, shouldn’t even exist; from an overcast sky blows a bafflingly warm wind. “If the sky’s grey, it ought to rain,” says the taxi driver, “that doesn’t bother anyone”, and a passing child: “It’s so warm, I’m sweating my head off”. (Augsburg)
North wind over the Kinzig Valley, all day a great spectacle of clouds fills the sky. Bellied, jagged, hunchbacked sallow white clouds high above, and streaming along beneath them a deep black cloud mass, flat on the bottom, often looming like a tower into the blue. No doubt science has names to sort them, categorize them, render them identifiable and classify them as harmless, useful, whatever. Perhaps stratocumulus clouds. Unpredictable and fleeting like the essence of poetry, like every essence. Poems could be calls clouds, “Stratocumulus Clouds” could be the title of each collection. Cloud horses. Toward evening the sun sends blazing light through all the holes and chinks in all the water vapor, all the nothingness. (Offenburg) Photo: Juliette Aubert
“That’s the Burgundy Gate”, the beekeeper, a retired town schoolteacher, tells me, meaning the source of the warm day, the radiant light over the Markgräfler Land. “That narrow passage between the Swiss Jura and the Vosges – it lets the Spanish wind through.” With the light föhn wind blowing, I can see the peak of the Säntis in the distance. Two days of benign light sky blue. Cirrostratus clouds, fanned out to a striking width, joining together and growing broader and broader as the jet trails cross them. The beekeeper is telling me about the infestation of mites imported along with the Kamchatka bee used for experiments by a biological institute. He tells me of aphids and ants and how the bees heed them – the poetry of meanings in the beekeepers’ lingo. There are no wars, he says, between bee colonies, “but there are fierce raids with far-reaching consequences. This fantastic weather isn’t just good for us; the bees like it too.” (Jestetten)
It was summer deep in the southwest, 23 degrees Celsius as I headed back north, and hour by hour the clouds grew denser, the light murkier, and the temperature dropped. It was 12 degrees in Hamburg, with a drizzle and a cool west wind; the Elbe Valley is an Atlantic Gate, not a Burgundy Gate. A week later spring is far along, the bareness has vanished, blossoming replaced by sprouting leaves. Everything’s gone green. Massive cloud colossi still stream eastwards across the city and the river, clouds like crows, that look loud, but are strangely mute. The forecast speaks of changeable weather, keeping all its options open. That reflects the sky, at any rate; mid-April and everything seems possible. (Baden-Baden – Hamburg)
April’s richness! Sun, wind, the winter cold, the May warmth, buds, chills, wide stillness, chirping nearness. Cloudless nights bring you night frost, you cover the balcony plants back up again, and in the morning bumblebees perch trembling on the pots. In the thin coat of your confidence you walk up shivering into the village, children playing on the streets and fields, and while you wait at the counter in the post office, dark clouds halt above the intersection and burst. The day before yesterday four hailstorms, and a dark-blue and purple evening sky with scattered clouds. In the day time the children play on the monkey bars –and come home with icy hands. “Flux” is what Hopkins, “Zausflaum” what his translator Waterhouse calls these clouds fanned out far and wide. A jet trail crosses them out.
The lilacs are in bloom. The first fieldfare flits through the garden. After a few cooler days with damp, cold air and a piercing west wind, Easter presages a fine May. For the coming week, they predict summery 27 degrees Celsius – which I will no longer experience. Tomorrow I’ll fly via Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, into the South Australian early autumn. In the meadows, in Hamburg’s grass, there’s a green that’s ready for anything. People in the open – open people. The smell of wood smoke from Easter bonfires hangs in the air, and the color of the night wavers between deep blue and violet, almost purple. “Not a child left awake. Not a bird in the sky”, writes Peter Handke in “In a Dark Night I Left My Quiet House”. “But there was a cloud there, a great grey-white heap of cloud, its upper edge multiply humped, drifting slowly to the east, as on a pilgrimage; as though it were pilgrimaging. It could also have been the west, and it could also have been the morning.” What follows that “but” is what weather is in poetry. Onward, off to Australia, I don’t mind!
How many thousands of miles have I flown above the clouds, over Budapest, Bucharest, Ankara, Beirut, Baghdad, Kuwait and Bahrain to Abu Dhabi? I walked barely twenty yards in the open from the gangway to the shuttle bus. In darkness on the runway the jet fuel swam in the 30-degree-Celsius air. (Abu Dhabi)