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from the September 2011 issue

Immanuel Kant

The smallest citizen of Königsberg
spent a lifetime parasitically attached to his timepiece
whose faultless clockwork      began to turn at precisely 5 a.m.
when not another soul had stirred      and even god was still dreaming
scion of a master saddler      in his red-cloth nightcap
customary black frock      Kant built a saddle      to master the world
seven sharp      he clasps his hands behind his back and wends his way to school
where fate has gathered flocks of men who’ve forsaken hearth and home
put their livelihoods at risk       to hear this wizened old man discourse on the celestial body
Herr Professor raps the lectern      now and then looks up to gaze
from one object to another       like an aging orangutan      confronted with civilization      
dismissing class      Kant hurries home to his consonants and vowels
neither emperor nor geyser can break his stride
stroke of one      his valet appears by his inkwell and bows, saying:
“Sir, the soup is on the table.”
of music and art our scholar professes scant interest
abhors the very sound of marriage      dines but once a day
for as Confucius is alleged to have said      “noli satiari ex delicatissimis cibis”
dinner behind him      our aging wraith takes the air
with an elegant gait      tips his hat at every peer and grandee      allows the local belles
to kiss his hand       is wont to turn each lane and byway his neighbors go by on
into a segue to observations on the beautiful and sublime      and winds up at the citadel
where he halts his step before the ancient stones      then quickly turns for home
there he dons a sleeveless shirt      tidies up the house a bit      peruses his journals
at dusk he waits to light the lamp      takes his station by the window
where he and the church steeple      stare each other down
ten sharp       Kant snuffs out the light and goes to bed
and when he lays his massive Prussian brow upon his pillow
the Enlightenment is finally free       to put two thoughts together

“Yimannuer Kangde” © Yu Jian. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2011 by Steve Bradbury. All rights reserved.

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