In memoriam Helena Adler

For the 20th issue of Dorotheum myART MAGAZINE, outstanding Austrian author Helena Adler, who died far too early on 5 January 2024, was inspired by a painting on offer at Dorotheum. Taking her cue from a Markus Pernhart painting, the author allowed the Großglockner, Austria’s highest mountain with a receding glacier, speak for itself, to be heard at least by one creature down at sea level. It shouts, it appeals. It shouts, it appeals. In order to be heard by at least one being down by the sea.

Markus Pernhart (1824–1871), Der Großglockner, Öl auf Leinwand, 23,5 x 29 cm, Schätzwert € 30.000 – 50.000
Markus Pernhart (1824–1871), The Grossglockner, oil on canvas, 23.5 x 29 cm, estimate €30,000 – 50,000

Snows of yesteryear

What do all of you know of tomorrow, when you drop dead in the snows of yesteryear? What do all of you know of the Saharan dust deposited in my bones over millions of years? What can I tell all of you other than of my today and your presence in my present day. I’m shivering and shaking: stranger danger. You’re shedding: autumnal. My skin rises through you and your sediment. It has grown thin, and you’re skating on thin ice penitents. You’re lilying my liver, you’re trials and tribulations on the tip of my tongue. My closeness to heaven has made me hard. I sweat white as edelweiss, clothed just like it. Hugged close to the earth. I thirst for the drifting dunes, drawn south, drawn west, an eternal sigh in my ear and time thawed. My brothers in the east long dead. 

My sister buried beneath Bohemian forests. Glacier melt is the gods’ misery! Look at me when I tell you of my battles, a hundred storms absorbed in my face, I am the Great Bell, I toll and toll, I’ve toiled and troubled. Swallowed up bombs, earthed lightning strikes. My lichened flanks flicker yellow and orange. Every recollection: a flash of static. My memory: a field of scree beneath which all of you shall lie, my boulders your headstones, your remains my massif, my glacial crevasses your icy graves; nothing bears witness to you witnesses in this stumbling-block sea but my shrinkage, sloughing off your carcasses. When my slopes thaw, Eppan comes to the fore. All via ferrata mere garden paths leading to another eternity. Masses trampling me, beating tracks through my head, spiral staircases around my brain convolutions, vertigo and vociferation. Rags of cloud around my skull like scraps of thought of those fallen. A terrain with no hand rail. Abstract, my mountain range; blurred, my visual range. Romantic, my painted likeness in the galleries. That’s not how I am. That’s not how I’ve ever been. That’s just how I’m traded and treated. Forget the ugly watercolour, the pathos of painters. Ground your canvasses with avalanches! You know nothing of my Pasterze’s phantom pain. In the November mists I came apart at the joints; you came too close to me with your January faces. The treeline below my belt, my greenschist under your calcified fingers, clawing out of the firn above them. 

I buried your no bones about it, mass graves under glacial milk. The hole in my breast filled with your memories, the misty umbilical cord: cut. It stank of burnt milk, of wet cur and fresh carrion; even my new snow, you blackened. You saw the cross on my back and you saw it was empty. Resurrection follows first ascension. Followed by my rejection reaction; I broke my backbone in two, my spine all contortion, Atlas shrank under the weight of waste, a fissure covered up by a cornice, impregnated by rumbling. At the end of the valley’s sole, above my bedcover, rises a dishevelled red dawn, the bloodied snow around your murderous mouths, crimson, white, lead shot, the glacial valley as a brimming human water trough, yet a mere drop in the bucket. Abolish yourselves! 

Amass all the more ancestors, go by the book with your ceremonies in this land of a thousand hills. Evaporate, evacuate. You taste metallic, like your weapons. The water in your lungs: frozen and deadlocked. Create time capsules beneath my canvas cupola. Create universal linguistic comprehension. Fill my amniotic sac with your blood and extinguish the red sunset. Saddle the steeds. Rein in the beasts of the grief-stricken. Gather the modest. Equip the rescuers. Salve the seekers. Miss the missing and measure those without measure. Sow fissures. Get to the crux! Beg the beset. Mow the battlefield. Tear the canvas to shreds, not reputations. You’d never speak well of badmouthing. Shatter your heads. 

Fork your tongues. Kneel down. Bow down to the peculiar. Proceed to the Adlersruhe where eagles rest, and empty the cuckoos’ nests. Raise towers of your skulls, reach the sky. Flood the caves and fell hell. Down with the lowlands! Put your foot down, but don’t toe the line. Tar the dead. Touch their dreams. Count the apes. Aim at the hunters. Blast the Teufelshorn. Name the celestial bodies. Empty the caskets. Mix your ashes with meteorite dust. Salt the rivers. Sugar the snow. Demystify the mist. Cast out the shadows. Reel in the nets. Don crowns of leaves. Build barricades of rescuing anchors. Take fate for a ride. Deliver yourselves of pain. Cast off your bodies. Cast out. Barrage the buildings. Abandon the villages. Close the mines. Take flight. Listen. 

Take your children by the hand and at their word. Comb their hair with the sickle moon, make chieftains of them. Root for them, root out. Bestir them and teach them to curse. Put your glass eyes under a magnifying glass and roll them down the slopes. Burn your tongues! Break your scales. Take an inch, but sacrifice a mile. Plant golden larches over your nutty corpses. Hush up your toxicity. Swap up your faces. Play up your mothers. An icy wind blows over the choughs. You are unencumbered and weighed down with cares. Blow up the serpentine roads. Concrete over crossroads. Hoist your hearts, raise your heads, enliven your numbness. Rise up! 

You exclude me, I enclose you, the shadow of pine heads on dusty ground, the black branches and the pale sunlit spaces, marbling the earth like randomly scattered acrylic splashes. We will perish, but you will leap. You leap from shadow to shadow, because light always makes us fail. On the picture there, tracks in the snow. Down here, only steps in the sand. Glacial milk up there, before me only ocean spray. Back there the ice, beneath our feet the dust. You’re melting, I’m sweating. When you’re no longer here, the sun will shine through me and the world will grow light. Down here, the ice melts and runs through our fingers, up there you drip. Sandstorms and cloudbursts, here on the shore. 

We head for the seashell staircase that once rises to an elevation. A Lorraine light illuminates the olive trees, which shade the cicadas in the cypresses. Sea foam around the shell mouth. Salt and kerosene. Lain down on the sand, we layer like shell sediments. The land is an accumulation of sediments. On your fat belly. Spread and stretched towards the sun, turned, I would like to bend and bow my back. Your sheer rupturing paunch, my abode. Redress me! 

About the author

Copyright: Eva trifft Fotografie
Copyright: Eva trifft Fotografie

Helena Adler, born in 1983 in Oberndorf near Salzburg, Austria, is one of the strongest voices in contemporary German-language literature. The author and artist studied psychology and philosophy at the University of Salzburg as well as painting at the Mozarteum University Salzburg. Her debut novel was Hertz 52 in 2018. Adler’s black-humoured, artfully eloquent anti-home- land novel Die Infantin trägt den Scheitel links (The infanta wears the parting on the left, 2020) was listed for the German and Austrian Book Prizes. Her novel Fretten, published by Jung und Jung in August 2022, was shortlisted for the Austrian Book Prize.

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