Often the start went wrong,
the bang wasn’t loud enough
or it wasn’t heard,
the competitors, sent back again and again to their places,
became so nervous that they began to brawl,
covered themselves with ashes, broke
their legs and threw sand into
the spectators’ eyes.
The track, the whole stadium,
was often covered with blood,
the start went wrong so many times.
a man with the starting-gun
out of fear of the imminent disaster
fired not into the air
but through his own head.
As through by a miracle this time
all the runners won.
The death of the shot man
was hardly noticed.
Ever since, tradition demands,
whoever signals the start
puts the weapon to his forehead.
The instrument that brought so many gold medals
has landed up with me.
Already the runners rest
their left knee on the chalk line,
their eyes have run on far ahead,
their nostrils quiver.
All they’re waiting for is the bang.
It’s all up to me.
Tr. by Michael Hamburger
An excellent commentary on social apathy towards recurring tragedies. Ever since, tradition demands, /whoever signals the start/puts the weapon to his forehead. . It is tradition after all and a glorious one that brought so many gold medals. sigh.
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