Berlin Fountains


Stony-faced, a smoking Turk tips ash
from a trainered foot; an Indian wrinkles
his moustache; an American and child
look up and down the washing dumpling, seeing
flecked brown marble surfaced curved and straight,
strange growths sprouting from the spreading waters,
living gargoyles from a giant puffball.

Western centre: dirty public toilets,
Mercedes’ star, Hochhäuser, café parasols,
the curve of shopping streets, the Hollow Tooth:
one big city, one big toothless smile.

The shops still open; almost four—how long
can Saturday be? Every day the dark,
wandering people fading from the light
around the endless shabby human market,
down the Ku’damm, up to KaDeWe,
off to find the S-Bahn or the bus.


Look from various angles, coming up
Motz- or Münchener Strasse, Winterfeldtplatz:
trees before silent buildings, almost London,
North Schöneberg before the shopping starts.
From one road or another—any way—
a plume of foam, a Pickelhaube’s spike,
a branchless weeping willow weeping white.

Beyond the circular low parapet,
divided lawns; light that sweeps the grass
keeps back the people, crams them into benches
hiding under trees. A breath of shadow.

How can houses point in all directions,
when the great white spark attracts the face,
draws all to face it, bends light itself
about a tenuous accretion disk, flicks the ray
across the street, or clear behind the bushes?
Turn your back; the centre’s somewhere else.


Fallout of jets from crocodiles and turtles
ceaselessly stroking rustless metal. Perched
precariously above a ring of beating centaurs,
Neptune’s lower torso’s wet, his upper dry,
as a mermaid polishes her scales. Higher
still, the Marienkirche broadcasts old beliefs,
restored to Coca-Cola land once more.

Higher still, the Fernsehturm—the golf ball,
and the spike, far-seeing tower—proclaims
eternal truths, since twenty-something channels
couldn’t all be sending passing lies.

Neptune’s waiting for a passer-by
who’s close enough to spear; the children
in the fountain are too small to cook for
such a godhead’s dinner. Something’s missing;
though sitting in the sun is pleasant, there’s
no sight nor sound of Triton’s wreathed horn.

By U-Bahnhof Rathaus Schöneberg

The fountain sprays in all directions,
continuous, like time. The waves
are pricked but heal, the shore’s unmoved.
An old French Château out of place
squats beneath the bridge, Venetian blinds
drawn down; where the table set for fifty guests
should stand, a train pulls in and pauses and

pulls out. The pool counts ripples to
the Château’s edge; a nixie sitting
on the ledge beyond the fence for solitude
laments her stolen gold in silence.

The dog that bounds down from the bridge
is always bound in memory, but bounds away.
Only the flagstaff’s left to see above
the parapet, the bear and stripes. Ich
bin doch kein Berliner; the Inselvolk
follow the clouds, avoid the midday sun.

Peter Stephenson 4/8/1996

Last modified: Sat Dec 13 18:47:29 GMT 2008