When we were first divided into two
And one of our beds stood here and one stood there
We picked an inconspicuous word to bear
The sense we gave it: I am touching you.
The pleasure of such speaking may seem paltry
For touch itself is indispensable
But we at least kept ‘it’ inviolable
And saved for later, like a surety.
Stayed ours, and yet removed from you and me
Could not be used yet had not ceased to be
Not rightly there and yet not gone away
And standing among strangers we could say
This word of ours as in the common tongue
And mean by it: we know where we belong.
Emboldened, putting off formal address
Now I am given to you and wish your good entirely.
Whatever I lack I shall be well unless
Your love should ever be withdrawn from me.
The little word that we decided on
And none but us knew touch was what it meant
Word of the irresistible seduction
For months my hoard of good in banishment
That word is an embracing and a kiss
I who must wait so long for you I kiss
The word in every letter you write to me
And when I read it all my tears mean
Is that now you are with me once again
And I want nothing. As though you slept with me.
Notes on this poem
From Love in a Time of Exile and War. Introduced by David Constantine.
Steffin was a gifted linguist. Besides her native German, she had good English, French and Russian; and could manage effectively in Danish, Swedish and Finnish. She put those languages, together with her skills as a secretary and her ferocioulsy independent critical mind at Brecht’s disposal.
And alone among the women Brecht loved and who loved him, Margaret Steffin could answer him in poems.