Poetry

De-Nazification and Blake’s illustration to Purgatory canto 9 (lines 64-101)

Snow is falling white-out

over the Schloss and its collections

of the dead. A small marble hand

 

glistens in its case and holds

a...broken staff of life? In a darkroom

animals carved from mammoths’

 

tusks forty-thousand years ago,

and downstairs, a piece of knotted blue jewellery

aches in its category, its time period.

 

A hoplite’s helmet is mounted

as puritan offering, thick castle walls

gathering around, the snowed

 

city quiet with Sunday. I struggle

with the German inscriptions,

but manage. I won’t go into

 

the glass enclosures of Egyptian

death, the coffins, the writing

into afterlife. I won’t. And in the

 

cast gallery, myth and municipality

and old men following the narrative

of the Swabian dialect poet, the humourist,

 

the satirist, the key member of PEN,

Thaddäus Troll, in his true-life

manifestation as Hans Bayer,

 

wartime propagandist for the Nazis,

Nazi Party member who denied membership

after the war, another of the ‘de-Nazified’

 

who learnt the ropes of the New Europe,

the new morality, adjusted with verve,

became an icon of the new imprint,

 

killing himself thirty-five years later

with a Dixie band lined up for his funeral – funny.

Expressing ‘deep shame’ for keeping shtum.

 

Late-war editor of Der Sieg, egging

the Wehrmacht on and on, thrilled early-on

to be at war, thrilled to be invading Russia,

 

a victim of his own propaganda, his own

lust to be part of the Propagandakompanien?

Munitions and a thorough coverage of the arts.

 

An exhibition among bright white naked youth,

among lovers and heroes and Gods raping humans.

Animals converting and cavorting. The perverse

 

eyes of Caesars. The denied is reconfigured

and built into the reincarnation of that nineteenth-

century nationalism, the defence of the town

 

in the medieval castle, the fast shiny new BMWs.

Mea culpa and yet, those ‘ordinary’ soldiers,

the quotidian outside the Warsaw Ghetto –

 

get it out in the open, barely slanted,

and the laundry will come out clean enough.

The sin hanging around as the grand entry into the hall

 

 of the gods is made. The sun comes out – holes

through which the edges of the smear of cloud

redden and redden and redden. Not ‘angry’,

 

just reflecting. It’s physics. Properties. Sociology.

Philology. It all comes home to roost. Tracy asks

which language other than English I first read.

 

It was Russian because of Sputnik and the Cold War.

But then German because I played wars.

And I read all history of Germany at war.

 

And I knew every battle and every detail.

Then I got my Purnell’s History of WWII

issue on the camps. Then. Then. Then.

 

Is it just semantics that Bayer’s father

was a soap maker? How should we arrange

this in his biography? I am troubled

 

by the right-wing historian who prefaces

his exposé of European ‘history’

with a plea (or warning) for vigilance

 

from ‘Europeans from both sides of the Atlantic’.

Who are these bifurcated ‘Europeans’? Carvers

of mammoth tusk, idolaters of miniaturised animals?

 

Artists of cave walls. Idols? Survivors? Projectors

of force? Foundations of the state? Poets?

A dog is leaping and bounding (easiest translation)

 

down the white slope of Österberg.

The silver-foiled rays of Dante’s exile

sucking all Hellwards or up into the swirl

 
of heavenly light. What chance do we have?

It’s the colour of illustration. It’s the plates

we print from. It’s the artefacts gathered

 

to arrange a version of history. It’s

admiring the small white hand outlasting

its body: alive and glistening and holding

 

firm to its identity. It’s the laugh a minute

to keep up morale, it’s the excitement, it’s

the conspiracy. It’s the ash from crematoriums

 

disguising itself as snow; and if the world

overheats and shrivels it has still left its marks,

baked by the bloody sun we worship and fear,

 

baked into caskets (house, town, city)

we occupy with varying degrees of comfort;

painting over the cracks. I watch the ‘happy’,

 

wintering families climb Österberg

and can openly wish them well –

bright colours in the glare,

 

toboggans and release. What else

are they to do? The snow is slippery

and surprising and so inviting.

 

I think again of old men, very old men,

slowly taking in the Bayer exhibition, watched

over by casts of classical sin.

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