Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Walking To Auschwitz


for Carey Harrison

He never had a grandfather
he could never walk to the old house
where one comes from,
one comes from nowhere.
That is what one looks at
when one looks out one fine morning
and says I will go there.
(I had no grandfather,
I could not walk there,
no trolley to that place.)
I will walk there along the tracks,
railroad or through the forest
dimidiated farmlands, axis acreage.
He was gone before I knew.
Later scant understanding seeped
so poorly through the world
of what kind of place it was
to which the old man was brought
and from which at the end he was spilled
out to make his way along
the chartered roads, with others,
bearing blue numbers from
that same series, sequence, broken galaxy
released into winter.
It is impossible. The cards fall wrong, queens
buried under kings, we’ll never get there,
the lady with the wheel holds back the sky.
I can’t find the way. No grandfather,
no house. He owned lots in Babylon,
that’s all I know. A civil engineer
with acreage in Bethpage, Wantagh,
Babylon. Property. We can have things.
We can map shadows on the earth
and play at dice to own the shadows.
Where the bull’s blood drained into soil,
where rites were practiced, ill-grasped
by those who worked them, screams
of the slaughtered. Property means this.
We bleed from what we own. And all
my father ever owned was the blue
shadow on the moon, face of the moon,
Levanah, I’d look up past the brick wall
and ask the moon, Are you my grandfather,
his face lost even deeper than winter?
Strange man, think you can walk there
along the tracks: photo shows it:
freight train juddering by out of focus
in a scanty shimmer of snow
slowly passing the eyes, coming
out of Budapest due north on foot
only mountains in your way, the roads
go every which way between you and
him. The him you never had
so have to meet there, here, on the face
of the earth, pnei ha-aretz, from which
we measure how high is up.
And the road above the coal mine goes.
The tracks led underground, slipping
inside the smallest hill
and in the dark, he followed
thinking: this is what we call a tunnel,
it goes through, it goes through
even the biggest mountain. Remember
Mont Blanc. Or the sinister
tunnel at St Dié beneath the Vosges
where you choke on fumes for seven miles
and think of sky. No sky
any more. When a man walks
the place that is remembered
there is no sky. But why do the tracks
keep going down?
Intention is a tunnel.
When you walk somewhere
you walk through a tunnel.
He saw a blue light far ahead
and went for it, the way we do,
easy, I love blue, the soul’s own color,
and in the old subways once a mile
the light was blue. Easy going:
his feet had some while back picked up
the measure of the sleepers, he stepped
easy on the wooden ties, easy
from wood to wood between the metal,
alchemic road, so dark. I am a calendar
he thought, my pages flutter under ground,
I make time with my feet,
measure, moonless measure of a man
meaning something, trying to do something
that has meaning, sharp as a violin
escaping from the cello in Mozart, K.428
never get out, never get out.
A blue light he followed since he saw.
Measure of men under ground,
lost runes they read with their fingers
trail along the old stone walls,
who knows who dug out such descendings?
See with fingertips, touch to make real,
touch if you believe, always doubt,
the light goes out, on again, the blue
condition you propose to follow.
There she is, it is a woman,
one of so many
but this one is here,
I see her face
her bare shoulders
press against my cheek
women are paratactic
one and then another
linkless on a dark road.
Where to lead him
that was her worry
(her business, fault,
fate, responsibility)
a man’s destiny
is a woman’s
that is the nature of the dream,
the sad old scripture we call Lilith’s Dream
ich bin die schöne Lau
she said, bluish,
an inland mermaid,
lukewarm lady
wherever I am
something streams.
She wanted really
to be sitting by the fire
in a taffeta housecoat
reading folk tales
out of Hebel’s Little
Treasure Chest but
here she was in Slovak cold
naked in blue light
leading a man no longer young
into a dark place no longer earth
in a world no longer real.
Is this the road to Krakow
over the border, is there a border
that teaches me where I want to go
(he wanted to know), I am looking
for my grandfather
dead sixty years, on this very road,
did you know him, in winter
they sent him from Birkenau
to make his way in cotton clothes
his stripes were blue like you
and no food, no food to Budapest
from which I come, did you,
maybe it was this very winter
where I meet you, isn’t winter
what lasts always, tell me.
Speak to me. But the woman
(he could see only her shoulder,
I could see him watching
only her shoulder) could say
nothing, I do not speak
any language of the living,
she thought (I could see her
thinking) I speak Etruscan,
Lydian, Old Basque,
nobody will ever know
more than the shoulder
of me or what I know
flashing in blue light
under the earth like a
dolphin’s fin flashing
like a rabbi calling God
to help him, a man
starfish splayed out
on the electric fence,
let my shoulder guide you
through all the images of pain
to where the pain is born.
He could hear her thinking.
But no man knows
what thinking thinks.
It is an arrow, like the one
Sloterdijk says Heidegger drew,
one of many, an arrow
hurrying into the bow
hurrying towards an ever
vanishing horizon.
To be is to be gone.
Clink of gravel against the rail,
prithivi he heard
where you are
the earth before the earth
you find again.
But his feet understood
how to walk in the dark.
The obstacle becomes the road.
The blue light is gone now,
extinguished when she didn’t speak.
A man’s body knows
well enough where to go.
Aitatxi, your grandfather,
he heard something finally,
more echo than her voice,
more slish of gravel
under his feet than echo.
When the camp was abandoned
and the Nazis fled
the prisoners were led on frozen marches
here and there
and so many died along the way the camp
that had been the hearth of death
became the core of a star whose mortal arms
spread out, Poland,
Germany, Bohemia, Slovakia. Once (Sima Vaisman
tells this) the straggling wretches were
just a field away from the border
but no one knew, the guards
were still there,
still enough ammunition to kill
the ones who fell to their knees
or just lay down.
But grandfather kept going. Budapest. And now
grandson was walking back, to reverse
the flow of murder, reverse the stupid brutal
caravan of time, the insane circus
that keeps running even after
the mustachioed clown is dead.
It never ends. Hence the walking. He walks
against the rain, the snow, against winter,
against war, against commodity, brutality,
who knows why he walks,
the blue light keeps him going,
the blue light that not even he can see.
Then one day he is there.
It had to be winter now
because it was winter then. Blood is time.
Remembrance is a kind of blood. Blood
is what the Saxons called the milk of swords.
Rain is somehow connected. He has a fever.
I am a fever in the calendar, he thinks,
the numbers run me, I am spelled
by what I pass. Here is the snow.
Here are the famous fences.
He sees the walls. The bricks
that look older than Lascaux.
This is the deepest place he’ll ever know,
where he came out of the blue lady’s
hole in the ground to see the stars
and there were no stars. The stars
are irrelevant, we see with our bodies
not with light. Our legs understand.
I am a calendar torn out leaf by leaf
I am a day lost on the road
a road lost in the forest. All I know
is how to walk. Bless you,
strange man. Every footstep
is an arrival. Make the body smart.
Make the skin never forget.
They say it’s like saying a rosary
bones in the dark
or like a room you heard about
but were never in,
they say it’s also like amber,
like cheese, like a Miles Davis thing
you heard and hated
but can’t stop
you can’t call it humming,
it’s like the rain.
He was there for the rain
the snow, cold, all the discomforts
of the authentic,
the clock on the tower,
broken radio, the dead horse
on Reid Avenue
one hundred years ago
when my grandfather died.
A hundred years. The other one,
the one who wouldn’t hold a bird in his hand.
Between the first gate and the second.
Birkenau, meadow of birch trees.
The gate, like Breughel’s devil
wide-spread wings welcoming to hell.
Open mouth. Close my mind,
deliver us into memory,
the horizon keeps running away.
How dare you quote Heidegger in this place?
Another meadower,
the sun is dead
caught in the hedge
killed by the badger
hung up by the shrike,
the orphan earth
grows brash.
Children bold.
Men doubtful.
Women cold.
Where is my father, my father said.
The worst things were the churches
that we passed,
Christ trying to escape from the cross,
or like Jesus in Moishe Nadir’s story
trying to get out
of the stained glass window
and get back to his brother Jews, minyan,
to die with them, in that company.
It’s time for prayer. He didn’t pray
along the way. The worst things were
the churches, the schools, the breweries,
the neat hotels.
The worst things were the houses,
the cars that passed us
and the cars that stopped.
Go back. All I can do is try to change
directions. Break the pattern. Chop
down the birch trees. No,
they’re gone already.
So you’re back from your outrageous pilgrimage–
walking anywhere at all is walking there
I said.
No it’s not, he said, you don’t
meet her along the way unless the way
you’ve taken takes you to
the worst place of all
and you walk only half-conscious to see
where death comes from.
Folly, I said,
death comes from everywhere and everything.
Fool you, he said, not this kind of death,
not this special death that spoils the past
along with all you love, the death
that wipes out Hölderlin and Brahms,
Dürer and Nietzsche, leaves nothing
but an old man dying in a cotton shirt
praying to a god that death spoils too.
After this death no one listens,
no one prays.
That’s why I had to go, to reverse the flow.
Nothing is left of all we loved but love.
Or just some pity to sense with my legs
the only trace I have of him,
to wear his shadow
and let it take me through the dark.
I look down at my feet
and see his scars.

Robert Kelly

Posted over on Charlotte Mandell

from MAY DAY: Poems 2003-2005

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