The Screech Owl
Translated by Douglas Haynes

Summer evenings, the screech owl flies along our street. Then we get up and go to the window. We’re in the city here, really—near a factory, not far from the subway—but there’s a cemetery close by and next to it the schoolyard, where it’s quiet in the evening, and the houses on our street have small gardens.

Over the street lamp, in the maple tree fronting the house, the owl sits quietly for a while, but we can see it—it always sits on the same branch. Then it flies on and shrieks in flight. And we feel like we just woke up. As if all day, when we were out and about, talking, writing, calling, driving and running around, we were sleeping. And now we hear: there are crickets outside the window; we notice pitches, tempos, maybe rhythms. We wake up in the darkness.

The tomcat springs on the windowsill and greets us with his bright boy’s voice. We tell him: go to the children. He goes and lies down on the foot of Ulrike’s bed.

We live here every day; we have our children and our jobs, every day, and it’s all serious. We have to rest because we’re tired, but how do we really live—a bird calls and we think we’re awake. I’m remembering Lithuanian songs from my childhood—suddenly, in the middle of the day, the meal is on the fire—after that the kids come home from school, and I write a note here in my office to remind myself to talk with you. Or, as Günter Grass says, sing darkly on about the little river Szeszupe. Say it, how do we live here? Do people take along their fatherland on the soles of their shoes?

We’ve also heard the hoopoe and woodpecker and cuckoo here, behind the railroad embankment—that’s not it. There’s also a river here. But when you dream: what do the people talk like there, what do the paths look like, which house do you come out of, which one do you enter?

The dream-houses are made of wood, but not all of them, and that’s not it either. And the paths?

A worn sand path. Unfurrowed. How wide is it, can you say? It becomes the meadow. Or the meadow stops. Or becomes a path. How is that, exactly? There are no borders. The path does not end. And the meadow does not begin. It’s inexpressible. And is the place where we live.

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