At midnight, in an empty, hushed art gallery
a tactless telephone spews forth a stream of rings;
a human sleeping now would jump up instantly,
but only sleepless prophets and untiring kings
reside here, where the moonlight makes them pale;
they hold their breath, their eyes fixed on some nail
or crack; only the young pawnbroker’s bride
seems taken by that odd, ringing contraption,
but even she won’t lay her fan aside,
she too just hangs there, caught in mid-nonaction.
Above it all, in scarlet robes or nude,
they view nocturnal fuss as simply rude.
Here’s more black humor worthy of the name
than if some grand duke leaned out from his frame
and vented his frustration with a vulgar curse.
And if some silly man calling from town
refuses to give up, put the receiver down,
though he’s got the wrong number? He lives, so he errs.
(Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh)