You will have to forgive my hasty translations of all this, but last week when I was in Key West–where the heroic and dissolute Shel Silverstein lived and died–a German Facebook friend posted a poem that looked every bit like something Silverstein would have loved to have written.
To the Children of Berlin (An Berliner Kinder)
What do you think your parents will do at night
After it is time for you to go to bed
And they supposedly have letters to write?
I can tell you: they will kiss
Smoke, dance, feast, imbibe
Let suspicious guests creep in
And hit every depraved level of the night
Up to parrot-sodomy
They will wager an incredible sum
The room will cloud with opium and cocaine
They will screw until their skulls hum
Ah, let’s say no more: filthy, Berlin!
The thing I really like about this is that it was written in 1931. By a writer, painter and late-era bohemian named Joachim Ringelnatz (a pen name, although his real name sounds no more or less goofy to my ear) who was born in 1883–you know, a long, long time ago, when Germany was an empire ruled by Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor.
Despite those rather un-playful origins, Ringelnatz wrote this poem and many other sorta brilliant and debauched pieces that are, like some of Silverstein’s best writing, childish but definitely not for children. The book cover above is from a compilation of some of those poems, along with his rather insane drawings, called the Children’s Confusion Book.
The thing is, I can’t find these poems translated into English anywhere. Maybe I didn’t give a good enough look (if they are out there, let me know). But maybe there is not translation. After all, two years after this book came out, he was banned by the Nazis as subversive. He died a year after that at the age of 51. Most of his artwork was lost in the war and his memory certainly didn’t seem to live on very well in the States.
So my plan is to just do my dumpy little translations (his poems really bounce in German) and drop new Ringelnatz on you poor bastards as I can. Do not say you were not warned.