Lives Journal 1

Herbert Kuhner 







It was a mistake

for Cain to aim a stone

at Abelís head

just as it was a mistake

for Abelís head

to interrupt

the stoneís course.







Metternichís mother

didnít bake him a cake

for his fourth birthday

but she did buy him a puppy,

and six weeks to the day,

in order to purge him of pity,

she ordered him to drown it.


Metternich grew up

to be a misogynist;

he hated women

and he loved cake,

but the trouble is

in German the gender

of cake is feminine,

so for his sixtieth birthday

he had Franz Sacher

of his palace kitchen

bake him a chocolate cake

that would be masculine:

the Sacher Torte,

the King of Cakes

(thanks to the drowned pup).







I refused

to learn my lines,

don my costume

and go onstage.

I even tried to avoid

the proximity of the theater

but I could not avoid

playing the role

created for me.


The critics write

it fits me to a T

and that no one

could play it

the way I do.


The trouble is

my role is the same

in every play.

Iím sick and tired,

sick to death

of doing it

day after day,

year in and year out,

but no matter how often

I go through it,

I never get bad reviews.


They say

Iím so natural

itís as if

I werenít acting at all

but merely playing myself.


The character I play

never dies onstage or off,

but even if he did

Iíd have to get up

and bow to the audience

at the curtain call

and go through it again

at the next performance.







This is where

you learn to be clean.


Iíve never seen

so many faucets and sinks,

so much soap

and so many nail brushes.


Thereís soaping and soaping,

scrubbing and scrubbing,

brushing and brushing,

rubbing and rubbing,

drying and drying

and wiping and wiping.


At every occasion

the plugs are put in,

the faucets are turned on

and soap is generously applied.


Hands are washed and washed

until theyíre chaffed and red.


Thereís soaping and soaping,

scrubbing and scrubbing,

brushing and brushing,

rubbing and rubbing

drying and drying

and wiping and wiping.


Thereís washing and washing,

so much washing,

but so little cleansing.







For my friend Fritz Kleibel the filmmaker


Itís not easy to fell a giant,

especially if youíre tiny,

but it can be done

if you are cunning

and you unite with your kind.


All you need is enough allies

who are your size,

the more, the better.


The Lilliputians

did it with Gulliver.


They bound him down

while he was asleep,

which is fine,

but if there are enough of you,

you can do the trick,

while he is awake,

with no danger to yourself

and those who are on your side.


All you have to do

is limit his movement

and keep him occupied

with trivialities.


That should be an easy task

for someone who doesnít

need much room,

even if that someone

is a half-pint, a midget, a pigmy.


When someone

who is minuscule

works with a lot of others

who are like him,

they can do wonders together.


The trick is

to corral a giant spiritually

so that he doesnít find an excuse

to use his strength.


If you do that,

you can limit his movement

and keep limiting it

until his strength is sapped

from shadow boxing

with his own shadow,

as well as those

of others.


The strain

of trying to focus

on blurry images

that assert and reassert themselves

not only impairs vision

but makes the toughest muscle flaccid.


And in the end

the giant

will be putty in your hands.







Jazz is a religion,

but itís a nice religion.


The faithful donít pray together,

they just listen or play together.


There are, to be sure,

various musical sects,

and there may be some fanaticism,

but it is not expressed by violence,

but rather on musical instruments.





HERBERT KUHNER was born in Vienna in 1935. He emigrated in 1939 and grew up and was educated in the United States. He has resided in Vienna since 1963. He is the author of novels, poetry, and plays and has published numerous volumes of poetry in translation, which include Austrian Poetry Today (Schocken Books, New York, 1985) and If the Walls Between Us Were Made of Glass: Austrian Jewish Poetry (Verlag Der Apfel, Vienna, 1992). Kuhner plays the drums and is author of a collection of jazz poems, Swing Men and Women, which has been illustrated by Austrian jazz guitarist Manfred Markowski. At present Kuhner is collaborating with American poet George Wallace on Before the Storm, an edition of the collected poems of Alter Brody.




Slovenian (gajica)

Slovenian (bohorichica)