Louis Daniel Brodsky’s NEW GERMANIA

The great poet Louis Daniel Brodsky passed away in June 2014. Aside from 83 volumes of poetry, he authored William Faulkner, Life Glimpses (University of Texas Press, 1990), shared his Faulkner scholarship in publications such as Faulkner JournalSouthern Review and Studies in Bibliography, co-edited several bibliographical works about Faulkner, amassed the largest Faulkner-materials collection in the world (before giving it to Southeast Missouri State University) and penned over a dozen prose collections.

I want to sustain part of L.D’s artistic spirit by sharing some of his works with others, so I plan on featuring selections here in the Tea periodically. Here is an unpublished 18-page poetry suite that Brodsky completed in the summer of 2012. The suite is called New Germania, and it chronicles his visit to Berlin. 

After previewing the work, I wrote this to him: “First of all, I have to say that this suite is further validation of how I think, or, rather, how I can’t help but process experience. There are layers and layers of meaning and historical strata under everything – especially places that have been spiritually scarred by true man-made catastrophes. It didn’t seem as if you’d toured modern-day Berlin. You broke the illusory time barrier and walked through swastika-shadowed streets.  And those three stones you took from the former concentration camp might as well have been there, in the same position you found them, when inmates shuffled toward their unsung dooms.  In a sense, you liberated those stones from their damnation. They are no longer part of that haunted earth. I needn’t go into how symbolic and mystical stones are, or the context of stacking stones on Jewish graves (as seen at the end of Schindler’s List), but I’m reminded of what Rabbi Yose wrote: ‘[Foundation Stone] stands over the abyss.'” I hope you enjoy these poems even a fraction as much as I did.


I. Street of the Dead

We take a four-hour walking tour, from the Hotel Adlon,
Easterly, along Unter den Linden,
Past Humboldt University, the statue of Frederick the Great,
Beyond the Bebelplatz, where, in 1933,
On orders from Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels,
Students and professors from the university across the street
Burned twenty thousand books deemed verboten,
Past the island of five museums, the Berlin Cathedral,
And eventually to the Alte Synagoge’s empty lot,
Then on to the oldest Jewish cemetery in the city,
On Grosse Hamburger Straβe,
Which has come to be known as the Street of the Dead.

On this peaceful side street in Spandauer Tor,
Viennese Schutzjuden settled, in the late 1600s,
And soon allocated a sacrosanct space, for a cemetery,
Where they’d bury almost three thousand of their dead,
Until, by the 1820s, they’d filled it up.
Later, they built a Jewish boys’ school and old-age home,
Both of which, during the 1940s,
The Gestapo converted to internment centers to hold Jews
Before trucking them to Grunewald, for deportation;
They also converted the cemetery,
Desecrating its gravestones and appropriating the land,
For an underground air-raid shelter.

The two of us linger, beneath a convenient tree,
Meditating on the graves, which are nowhere to be found,
Not even in the air, which, as we stare into the sky,
Turns suddenly cool, begins to swirl, ever so briefly,
Into a gentle drizzle that lasts less than five minutes.
Standing in the leafy shadows of this tree,
We listen to myriad whispers awakening from the earth,
Lifting into the merciful isolation of this side street,
Where, once again, a Jewish school is in session.
As we leave, we hear the girls and boys at recess,
Wiling away their hours, days, generation,
As if nothing will ever disturb the equanimity of their play.



II. Reichstag-Rooftop Lunch

Our first full morning in Berlin begins with us standing in Pariser Platz,
At the symbolic heart of the nation:
The Brandenburg Gate, close by the Reichstag,
That restored avatar of unified and reunified Germany,
Before whose monumental grandeur we’ll end up, four hours later,
Just in time for our precisely scheduled 1:30 lunch, atop its roof,
In the Käfer restaurant, where we’ll have a 180-degree panoramic view —
Semblances, traces, shimmers of the sights we’ll have visited.

Neither our legs nor eyes realize that those four hours have now passed,
Yet here we are, at the Reichstagsgebäude,
Surrendering our American passports, to an armed female security guard
Stationed in a hut by the driveway leading up to the front entrance —
That marble-stepped staircase I’ve so often seen depicted in movies,
To whose base shiny black-enameled Mercedes-Benzes, with tops down,
Delivered  Nazi military and diplomatic dignitaries,
Sitting in stiff-backed solemnity, in their ribbon-bedecked uniforms,
Those mythic stick-figure gods, legendary heroes, epic representatives
Of the greatest nation ever to have anointed itself savior of mankind . . .

An armed female security guard, who looks at us suspiciously,
As she scans our faces, for an exact resemblance to our photographs,
Before methodically checking our first, middle, and last names
Against her multipaged list of visitors who’ve made reservations
To enter the dome as well as those who’ve paid the high price
For the privilege of dining in the hallowed confines of this historic place,
Whose Neo-Baroque shell is all that remains of the original building.
Checked, vetted, determined not to be enemies of the state,
We’re discharged from the makeshift security hut,
Made to wait, by the driveway, for the next pair of guards,
Who escort us up the stairs, through two sets of sliding doors,
Observed by other guards, who scutinizingly approve our status,
Free us into the foyer, signal us to line up, again,
Submit our names, so that they might be checked, again,
Ensure that we’re being shunted in the correct direction —
Parliament chambers, dome, rooftop restaurant —

Where, again, we wait, this time for a cattle-car-sized elevator
To descend, disgorge its captive passengers,
Make room for our obedient group — no fewer than fifty of us,
Pressed, now, so tightly against one another
That even breathing is rendered self-conscious, difficult, thick,
For the seemingly interminable seconds the glassed-in cage takes
To arrive at roof level, where, at the behest of yet another guard,
We step out, gasp for a few fresh breaths,
Before walking several paces, to the guest-information desk,
Where the two of us ask about the location of the restaurant . . .
“We have a 1:30 reservation for lunch,” I hesitatingly state.

Once inside the Käfer dining room,
Our credentials are checked, for the fifth and final time,
By an efficient hostess, who seats us close to the tall windows.
Chilled tomato soup with shreds of basil, green salads,
And dark, thick-crusted, grainy bread, with olive oil, for dipping,
Gratify our appetites, allow us to relax for an hour and a half,
Scan the city’s skyscape, contemplate its ubiquitous tower cranes
Everywhere turning, turning, their pulleys straining soundlessly,
As they raise the new Berlin, piece by piece by piece,
From the dust- and debris-encrusted memories of seven decades.

Soon, all that’s left of our adventurous lunch
Is the fifty-person cattle-car elevator descent to the ground floor,

Past the two sets of sliding doors
Monitored by armed guards behind glass,
Down the marble stairs, to the driveway,
Past the pair of guards located behind the security hut,
Down the ramps that lead into Platz der Republik,
And the short walk back, along the Spree River,
Past the four daringly modern glass-and-stone buildings
Housing the Bundestag and federal-government offices —
Bulwarks against the resurrection of fascism, race hatred, genocide —
Until we’re standing, again, in the Pariser Platz,
Then in the lobby of the Hotel Adlon, on Unter den Linden,
Then home again, in our suite, staring out at the crowds
Milling beneath the iconic aura of the Quadriga,
Which surmounts the Brandenburg Gate,
Both of us overcome by a compelling need for a brief respite
From the gravity of the last seventy years checking on us.



III. After the Aftermath

Today’s Berlin
Is the calm after the Nazi storm,
A colossal Platz for all Earth’s humanity,
Tolerant, open, peaceful,
Boasting a pervasive respect
For those who were murdered,
Without euphemizing “murdered,”
With words
Like “perished,” “disappeared,” “lost,”
Craving contrition, forgiveness, absolution —
An insatiable necessity to erase
Without ever forgetting.



IV. Sachsenhausen

Not a twenty-five-minute drive north, out of Berlin,
Is the pastoral, palace-graced town of Oranienburg,
Where hides, in inconspicuous obsolescence,
The Third Reich’s concentration camp named Sachsenhausen,
That sublimely timeless ur-version, matrix, inspiration, prototype
Of Hitler’s system to achieve his colossal design of Judenrein,
Prove that Deutschland’s Über Alles Final Solution
Could bear the fruit of the Vaterland’s universal truth
That Aryan purity was not just an ideal but could be a reality,
A fait accompli of Germany’s majestic destiny,
If only enough Völker could be indoctrinated, intimidated —
Those who’d inevitably dominate those who’d ultimately succumb.

Entering this bucolic Hölle, through its “Arbeit Macht Frei” gates,
I traipse over the gravel paths, which collaborate in the hoax
That nobody who ever came here was designated as doomed on arrival
And, therefore, no human being of meticulously documented record
Ever had to leave here or, if so,
Had to be transported, easterly, on the ghostly underground railroad
Leading to those camps waiting, with eager open maws,
To greet the sleepwalking bones entering their fiery resting places
In spaces below and above the days passed and nights to come.
Now that I’m here, it seems incumbent on me to expose the hoax,
By spending the night in the one remaining barracks with bunks
And discovering sleep that knows it will never awaken.



V. Here and There

What could be more incongruous
Than you, a Jewess from Brooklyn,
And I, a Jew from St. Louis,
Being here, in Berlin,
Celebrating our three years together?

I know what:
That the year could be 1943
And you’re on a train to Ravensbrück,
I on my way to Sachsenhausen,
Yet we’re not separated.



VI. Breakfast Buffet at the Restaurant Quarré

Why is it that in every young, handsome, clean-shaven face,
In every pair of squirrel-alert  eyes — Aryan blau
In every precision drill movement of the strapping waiters
Replenishing a cog in the cornucopian breakfast spread,
Whenever a bowl of strawberries or kiwis or mangoes
Or hot server brimming with scrambled eggs
Or miniature vat of honey-saturated muesli
Or platter of schneken and fruit cakes and strudel
Or carving board of smoked salmon, venison, roast beef
Is no longer overflowing its perimeters, limits, edges;
Fetching patrons a second set of silver pots
Steaming with coffee or scalding water, for tea;
Meticulously, fastidiously, methodically
Eradicating accumulating stollen and toast crumbs;
Or rounding up, from the starched white tablecloths,
Every dirty dish, impure plate, stained saucer,
Sullied water glass, filthy, encrusted piece of flatware,
Whenever it’s served its purpose, outlived its usefulness,
Needs to make living room, breathing space — Lebensraum
For the next complement of eating utensils,
As the diners repeat, endlessly,
The gluttonous consuming of food, food, food,
Simply because it’s there, on never-dissipating display . . .
Why can’t I see, respect, and appreciate,
In all these orderly, synchronized, duty-bound attendants,
Just the flawlessly trained, highly disciplined staff — Schwadron
Of the Hotel Adlon’s Restaurant Quarré,
Doing everything it can to make the guests comfortable
And absolutely satisfied, gratified, happy, beholden,
Knowing they’re receiving the very best service — Über alles?



VII. Wannsee

Best known for his exquisite, softly rendered Impressionist canvases,
From the 1870s until the end of his life, in 1935,
The same year Adolf Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws,
And for serving as president of the Prussian Academy of Arts,
From 1920 until his resignation, in 1933, due to utterly helpless disgust
Over its members refusing to exhibit the works of Jewish artists,
Max Liebermann had reached the highest echelons of success,
In the decades before the Nazis catastrophically grasped the fasces,
Appropriated all semblance of democracy, in the name of the Third Reich.

Not a day has passed, during our trip, that we haven’t acknowledged him,
By standing in front of his commanding family home, on Pariser Platz,
Situated immediately to the right of the Brandenburg Gate —
The estate he purchased with the enormous inheritance he’d received
From his businessman father’s bequest, funds which, in 1909,
Also allowed him to buy the last available parcel of waterfront property
In Berlin’s most affluent and picturesque villa colony of Alsen,
At 24 Grosse Seestraβe, on the western shore of Greater Lake Wannsee,
Then hire architect Paul O. A. Baumgarten, to design his summer house.

Not three hundred meters away, a mere six years later,
When Gentile manufacturer Ernst Marlier commissioned Baumgarten
To design his private residence, at 56-58 Grosse Seestraβe,
Liebermann and Marlier, proud owners of exceptionally elegant homes,
Unknowingly became neighbors,
Neither one dreaming that the final destiny of their beloved residences
Would be decided not by God but Hitler’s National Socialist Party,
Villa Marlier becoming branch of the Reich’s main security office, in 1940,
Where, in 1942, Heydrich finally solved the Jewish riddle,
The Liebermann house, in 1938, loaned to the Deutscher Reichspost,
The property used as an entertainment spot for its female party members,
Then forcibly sold, two years later, for a sum Max’s wife, Martha, never got.
This cool, breezy, seventy-degree August afternoon,
Itself almost a scene from one of Liebermann’s brightly hued landscapes,
Sixty-seven years after the cataclysmic closure to World War II,
You and I tiptoe stealthily, deferentially, through both these villas,
Reprising the sad, sickening, heartachingly fading history
That forced such tragedy to claim so many maliciously targeted victims,

And holding hands, we forget, for a few precious moments,
While strolling in the Giverny-like gardens of Liebermann’s restored villa,
How Martha, in March of 1943, at eighty-five,
Eight years a widow and bedridden, from a stroke,
Was notified, by the Gestapo, that she must pack a suitcase,
For deportation to Theresienstadt, and chose, instead, to commit suicide;
Rather, we see the Liebermann family, in the teens and twenties,
Dining on the veranda, swimming in Lake Wannsee,
Mother and father tending their front yard’s Impressionistic flowers.



VIII. Hallowed Space

As I sit at the faux-Biedermeier desk, in our exquisite suite,
This autumn-tinged Thursday afternoon, in Berlin’s Hotel Adlon,
After returning from Wannsee, where we wandered through the villa
In which Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann,
Along with thirteen NASDAP and SS elite,
Encouraged by a surfeit of the finest cognac, for an hour and a half,
Articulated the ultimate euphemistic arabesques and prestidigitations
For the nagging subliminal implications of the Final Solution,
Conclusively reconciling the ambiguities defiling the Jewish Question,

I gaze out through the three sets of floor-to-ceiling double doors,
Which open onto the Pariser Platz, two stories below,
Peer at multitudes lingering, their presence praising reunified Germany,
Or waving flags of dismay, brandishing invisible fists of dissidence,
Or chanting strident phrases, calculated to raise consciousness’s hackles,
For miscellaneous causes gone wrong, ideals unfulfilled,
In this or lands distant from this hallowed space dedicated to peace,
Watched over by the nearby glass eye of the resurrected Reichstag . . .
The Platz is ablur with white and black on a sea of crimson.



IX. Three Stones

The three stones I brought back to our weeklong home in Berlin
Focus on me, in their faraway, elegiac muteness,
From the desk, where I placed them, two days ago,
After bending over, gathering them up,
At the six-decade-abandoned Sachsenhausen concentration camp,
Off of paths stretching, like threads of a black widow’s web,
From disappeared barracks hut to barracks hut to barracks hut,
And stuffing them into my pockets, for safekeeping,
As we waded, stumbled, drifted, like dazed, glazed-eyed somnambulists,
Through the gravel of that infamous, sinister desolation,
Weaving in and out of the suffocating crush of 200,000 ghosts . . .

Three spirits, rousted out of their houses,
In earshot of their spouses’ and children’s agonized cries, screams,
Whisked away, like scrap paper caught in history’s bad breeze,
Not even at gunpoint, just by means of a simple hand gesture,
Which said, in its histrionic silence, “You’re a dead person, dirty Yid” . . .
Three souls who compelled me to lift them, from their resting places,
As if I might set them atop their own gravestones —
Stones atop stones — in a display of desperate reverence,
To let them know that I came to visit them, stay with them . . .
Three stones I’ll take with me, when I’m buried,
So that, beyond forgetting, I can return them to their rightful owners.



X. Stelae

Contiguous with the back of the Unter-den-Linden-facing Hotel Adlon,
Where we’ve been living in a palatially spacious suite
Facing Pariser Platz and its dominant Brandenburg Gate,
Is situated the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,
A curious faux cemetery of imaginative sorts,
Consisting of a numerically insignificant aggregate of 2711 markers,
Termed, by their American Jewish designer, Peter Eisenman, “stelae,”
Which, in fact, are hollow concrete blocks, modern sarcophagi,
Whose already-cracking gray-hued surfaces are coated with a chemical
Created by a subsidiary of the former IG Farben company
(Suppliers of the Third Reich’s Giftgas prussic-acid crystals,
So vital to maintaining the efficiency of Hitler’s death-camp exterminations),
To make for the easy removal of graffiti blooms that might rise from seeds Sown by neo-Nazis, who revel in desecrating such sacred gardens.

This late Sabbath afternoon, having taken an hour’s cruise on the Spree,
After sitting inside Berlin’s recently completely rebuilt main cathedral,
We surrender to the gravity of the memorial, enter its labyrinth,
In which we encounter other visitors maneuvering bewildered,
As well as those leaping from slab to slab, like Tyrolean mountain goats,
Others sitting on them or assuming supine positions,
Using them as convenient beds, to rest their tourist-weary bones,
Study the scudding clouds, or unabashedly kiss and hug each other,
Yet others lost inside the reciprocity of their own boisterous laughter.
But nowhere is the reverence we assumed would pervade this holy place.
Distracted, disconcerted, we escape without meditating on the six million
Murdered by the Führer, who took his own life, in 1945,
In his bunker, buried under a parking lot not two hundred yards away,
Goebbels and his family still residing in theirs, thirty feet below us.



XI. Learning German

I’ve only learned two words of German,
On this weeklong trip to Berlin,
My first and my last:
“Achtung” = “attention, I’m about to murder you”;
“Danke” = “thank you, for warning me
That you’re about to take me out of your misery,
For my being Jüdischer.”



XII. “Dear Guests”

After returning from a cabaret-like variety stage show
At the fabled, newly relocated and rebuilt Wintergarten theatre
And having late dinner, in the sumptuous lobby
Of the storied contiguous-to-the-Pariser-Platz Hotel Adlon
(Whose every detail has been fastidiously facsimiled from the original,
Which was burned by Soviet troops, in 1945),
Dining to the American standard songbook tunes
Descending from a piano located on the mezzanine,
Feeling relaxed, having gotten to know Berlin another day better,
We open the door to our suite, overlooking the Brandenberger Tor,
As well as the stunningly reconceived glass dome of the Reichstag
(Which peers into its modernistic, democratized insides),
And find a note that’s been left beside our nightly chocolates:

“Berlin, August 10th, 2012

Dear Guests,

            We would like to bring to your attention that due to a demonstration on Saturday, August 11th, 2012 there will be street closings in the area ‘Friedrichstraβe’, the Boulevard ‘Unter Den Linden’, ‘Wilhelmstraβe’ as well as ‘Straβe des 17.
Juni’ .
            Please note that there will be possible traffic-delays during 11:00 a.m. until 10 p.m..
            Please allow yourself more than the usual time to reach your appointments.
            We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you very much for your kind understanding.
                                                                                                                                                                  The Management.”

We wonder if a note of similar dimension might not have been issued
By the management of this splendid hotel, on Tuesday, November 8, 1938,
The night before a vast, catastrophic, glass-shattering demonstration
Would create street closings and traffic delays, in the area.



XIII. Gleis 17

Because it was set in an inconspicuous wedge of lush, dark-green forest
Sufficiently west of fastidiously war-preoccupied Berlin,
So as to call no undue attention to itself —
An enchanted forest boasting villas and mansions with extensive grounds,
Fit for Deutsche princes and princesses,
Who made the easy commute to the capital, for work or the opera . . .
Because the luxurious suburban village of Grunewald
Was compactly tucked away, in its exquisitely inviolate silence,
Its railroad station made a perfect collection and distribution depot,
To which trucks and vans leaving Berlin, with their hideous cargoes,
Might be received, at all hours of the Morgen, Mittag, and Nacht,
Without being detected by the unsuspecting villagers
(Or so they claimed to be, repeatedly, to each other and the world),
Since it just made uncommonly good Nazi common sense
Not to have those degenerate refugees be seen boarding the trains —
Mainly Juden, with a smattering of Gypsies, homosexuals, the demented —
By Berliners in the vicinity of Friedrichstraβe and Unter den Linden.

And so it was that number 17, a nondescript “platform” or “track”
(Depending on who might be translating the noun “Gleis”),
In an out-of-sight-out-of-mind village half an hour’s drive southwest of Berlin,
Could become such a pivotal, crucial, strategic starting point
For a ragtag confederation of helpless, hapless, hopeless souls
About to make their penultimate journeys —
Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, Sachsenhausen, Treblinka —
Before reaching the ultimate destination: thorough earth or ravenous sky . . .
A notorious, stark, infamously indifferent pair of cast-iron rails,
Which shouldered the weight of thousands of starving cattle cars
Waiting, impatiently, to be fed human fodder — Jew straw, grain, grass —
And dragged away, bellowing, shitting, grunting, pissing, lowing,
By growling, roaring, belching, imperiously raucous steam engines
Working that territory, in all seasons, for more than four bountiful years . . .
An active station, today, seven decades later, with an ice-cream shop
And an abstract marble-sculpture memorial leading up to Gleis 17,
Where you and I stand beside a truncated segment of two rusted tracks
With adventitious trees growing out of their gravel bed,
Our eyes following the rails easterly, to the roof-obscured horizon,
Where we see white clouds turning into black puffs
Lifting, lifting, lifting from locomotive stacks chuff-chuff-chuffing.



XIV. Pariser Platz

Having focused on the imposing Pariser Platz,
Through the three open double doors of our second-floor suite,
We weave through the obstacle course of overstuffed lobby chairs,
Then out the revolving door and into the cobbled square,
Amidst the hundreds of congregating tourists,
Who’ve come here to appear in the roll call of awestruck pilgrims
Apotheosizing the iconic symbolism of the Brandenburg Gate —
All of this in a naked state of primal Semitic nature,
The two of us being seen, in all our unambiguous nudity,
As Jews, in no way able to be confused, conflated, with Aryans,
Both of us prepared to sacrifice the last shreds of our flesh,
To the disdainful, grimacing gazes of red-hot racial hatred
Flaming from the muzzles of machine-gun eyes.

Only, at the last second, peering out the three open double doors,
We decide, instead, to dress in destiny’s gesture of serendipity,
And leave our suite, slip through the lobby, into the Platz, undetected,
Before August 12, 2012, can fade into 1942’s abysmal haze,
When Juden like us were shorn of our spirits’ clothes,
Consigned to the chambers of the Nazi desperation for bodies,
Where they could shower us,
With the aromatic essence of their indomitable power.
But long after twilight descends, our delusion lingers,
And night catches up with us, detects our Jewish chromosomes,
Sewn, as yellow Stars of David, all over our naked souls.
Suddenly, the late-night revelers in the Pariser Platz
Smear swastikas on their bare arms and chests, with our blood.



XV. Berlin 2012

While here, in redefining-itself-by-the-second Berlin,
Amidst all its traditional and modernistic architectonic transfigurations
And all its necessarily apparent manifestations of democratic transparency
(So that its citizens might justify their being invited back into civilization,
Back into the family of peace-worshiping nations,
Back into the holy sanctuaries of their pre–Third Reich souls)
And all its memorials, proliferating on every meter of bombed-out space —
Done not so much to express complicity in genocide but contrition,
Acknowledging that though they’ll never be able to go back
To that era when “Untermenschen” and “Endlösung” weren’t words,
They must yet hope they’ll progress to a lasting redress and acceptance,
Say yes to the blessed sovereignty of each and every human spirit . . .

While here, in Berlin, this cool, cloudy-blue-sky August afternoon,
Walking through the sunny shadows of a millennium of Germanic heritage,
I postulate questions whose answers must discover their own truths
If they’re to have a chance of making me understand how the beast’s name Corresponds to the number 6,000,000, on its forehead:
What if the Nazis had offered blanket reprieve, from the gas and ovens,
To all Jews who would expose homosexuals, Gypsies, crazies, Gentiles?
Would they have eagerly donned SS, Sicherheitsdienst, Gestapo uniforms?
Had Hitler been Jewish, would he have persecuted and murdered Aryans?
Had I died in the Shoah, would I still be composing this poem,
Trying to enlighten myself as to why answers keep answering with questions
That only heighten the ruthless truth of mankind’s inherent misanthropy?



XVI. DeutscheBahn

Berlin is a reverberating, interweaving, sprawling network of steel wheels
Gliding precisely, with near-silent susurrations, over glistening tracks,
Into and out from recently constructed stations,
Drawing their pollution-free energy from overhead wires and third rails,
Running above ground, on the Schnell-Bahn and Strassenbahn,
And beneath the streets, on the Untergrund-Bahn,
In a perpetually smooth, fluid blur of yellow, red, and beige cars,
All the city’s 3.5 million citizens
Able to interface with even its least reachable places, spaces,
In a display of the world’s most efficiently operated technology,
Staying continuously interconnected, as it did seven decades ago,
When Germany came to rely on its steel wheels and cast-iron tracks,
To transport its Aryan superiority to the farthest regions of Evil,
So completely beyond the limits of reason, decency, and mercy
That not even the Prince of Lies could have conceived such malignity,
Such inhumane dominions of mass depravity, sadistic apocalypse, rot…
A city yet relying on its trains, to restore the greatness it was promised
When the Führer und Reichskanzler enticed its mesmerized residents,
With visions of the DeutscheBahn connecting the kingdoms of the world.



XVII. Home, from Berlin

Home, just a few hours more than two complete days,
From our weeklong vacation, odyssey in Berlin,
I’m still reeling, feeling, if not shock waves from Nazi Germany,
Then the temblors from its seismic scourge of European Jewry —
The war it waged, as a heeltap to the Führer‘s personal vendetta
Against Elohim’s Chosen People,
Those lower-than-earthworm-dirt vermin Martin Luther had abominated,
Advising his Reformation-minded parishioners
To burn down their houses, run them out of town, murder them.

How all that bilious ill will could still cast such a chill spell,
I can only believe is the legacy of Revelation’s Beast,
The monster’s second coming, in its reincarnated Führer-skin,
Its diabolical, infernal visitation on Abraham’s meek tribes.
How else might I reasonably explain the merciless insanity
Requisite to killing six million of humanity’s innocent beings?
Since I’ve been home, I’ve not known an hour’s, a second’s, respite,
For having stayed seven days in the abyss of Satan’s hissing Hell.
Will my cells ever quell the smell of those smoldering bones and flesh?



XVIII. A Week’s Sojourn

Back in St. Louis, after a week’s sojourn in Germany,
Where we stepped inside that infamous villa at Wannsee
And registered the jackbooted pacing of Reinhard Heydrich;
Wandered through the last of the Hohenzollern palaces
(Half-timbered English Tudor Schloss Cecilienhof, in Potsdam),
Eavesdropped on Clement Attlee, Harry Truman, and Josef Stalin,
As they reapportioned the Vaterland and Europe, in its Grosse Halle;
Had a white-tablecloth lunch of greens and cold tomato soup with basil,
On the rooftop of the recently revitalized Reichstag,
Where I overheard Hitler’s whisperous asides to Himmler and Göring;
Climbed the incline leading from Grunewald’s train-station entrance,
To Gleis 17, from which I witnessed the deportations
Of thousands of mute, humiliated, doomed Jewish wraiths,
To death’s sepulchral abattoirs, in the east, home of the setting sun;
Traipsed over Sachsenhausen’s gravel pathways, leading me nowhere,
Between gone barracks, factories, medical-experiment rooms,
Stood with those ghosts, at roll call, as the snow fell on their flesh,
Before they entered the trench and were shot or hanged;
Toured the Disney World Magic Kingdom of Dresden’s facsimiled history
And listened to Martin Luther, outside the Church of Our Lady,
Fomenting venom against Jew-rodents, while seeking God’s blessing . . .

Back in St. Louis, after a week’s sojourn in Germany’s darkest heart —
That no-man’s-Berlin of memorials, memorials, memorials,
Whose skies are filled with tower cranes rebuilding, rebuilding, rebuilding —
I’ve begun seriously wondering if ever again, in this existence of mine,
I’ll be able to breathe easily, free of anxiety, stress, fear,
Without feeling angina’s pain stabbing both sides of my psyche,
Be invisible to Gestapo agents, who, I know, have been closing in on me
And are now about to shout, “Juden raus!, rout me out of the safe house
In which my soul has been hiding, for the past five decades,
Behind the wall my creative imagination has been building
Around the ghetto in which my mind has been starving, freezing,
So that when those Aryan-indoctrinated soldiers invade my spirit,
Searching, with their frothing dogs, for my subversive Holocaust verse,
I’ll have time to bury the poems, in history-proof containers,
Hoping they’ll weather the worms and rain and tree roots
And, most threatening, those who’d deny the Shoah altogether
(That anyone ever died from being shot, gassed, burned,
Purely as a matter of pragmatics, mathematics, statistics, triumphal will),
And survive till the time is right, again, to unearth them, publish them,
To remind brave new youthful worlds, every succeeding generation,
That genocide is the Final Solution to the Human Question.

Related: Brodsky’s Rabbi Auschwitz