People have a gift for mouth and eye
and ear, and houses have doors, corridors,
windows, and in the alleys, in the halls there
was always a lucky one, who carried with him
the mistakes of others, what a burden
it must have been that pushed him down,
but he was pleased by all this pushing.
Once, by the way, he went to search
for something in a grand garden.
Someone had given him a difficult task
he couldn’t possibly hope to complete.
Dignified men and women stood
on the Altan, the terrace, that is,
and scrutinized him, a splendid
gathering, from which, like rockets,
emerged laughter, and on this substantial day
the stupid boy that he was broke a hand
painted cup, whereupon at once the scenery
was shifted. There was always something
important that remained strange to him,
he remained foolish, but of this something
one was perhaps rightly envious. He always
hauled the mistakes of many others
through life, and he was being pulled down
and up, he saw himself useful and useless,
lauded, blamed, and in pieces and whole.

Translated with friendly permission of Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main and the Robert Walser-Zentrum Zürich.

robert-walser_80x100.jpgRobert Walser (1878-1956) left school at fourteen and led a wandering and precarious existence while producing poems, stories, essays, and three novels: The Tanners (1906), The Assistant (1908), and Jakob von Gunten (1909). In 1933 he abandoned writing and entered a sanatorium, where he remained for the rest of his life. “I am not here to write,” Walser said, “but to be mad.”

Daniele Pantano is a Swiss poet, translator, critic, and editor born of Sicilian and German parentage in Langenthal (Canton of Berne). His most recent works include The Possible is Monstrous: Selected Poems by Friedrich Dürrenmatt and The Oldest Hands in the World (both from Black Lawrence Press, 2010). His next books, Oppressive Light: Selected Poems by Robert Walser and The Collected Works of Georg Trakl, are forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. For more information, please visit

Translator’s Recommendations:

The Microscripts of Robert Walser, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.

The Arrival by Daniel Simko.

Love Is Like Park Avenue by Alvin Levin, edited by James Reidel.

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