Reinhard

The world is just a barrel-organ which the Lord God turns Himself.
We all have to dance to the tune which is already on the drum.
– From “Amen” by Bruno Heydrich

Jan. 20, 1942

Wannsee House. Its wings of stone unfold
To expand upon a mere eighty-five minutes
Enclosed by the written minutes of history.
They bear our words aloft as its only witnesses.
But stark with refutation of its pinions,
The villa’s cold, translucent panes, dark and
Deformed, ripple and buckle before
A thousand winter suns and earnest Baltic winds.
Thus comes death from the east? We’ll make reply:
The sound of quills sharpening. The suck
And sumptuous appetite of fountain pens
Leaning their brass beaks into their work,
Engorging bladders, gobbed and dripping black
At the gathering of nibs by the inkwell.

But I am undisturbed. The serenity here
Is music missing only the poetry of action –
It will come along soon enough for our tastes.
There, on the other side, the Wintergarden.
The crouching stone bench. The runic sundial
In total shade. The fountain fossilized and mute.
These true residents alone rejoice in time.
The rest, we are boarders urged to move on.
So, the rose’s thorns and dead petals gone to earth,
The seasons’ nine months of pretty leaves
Received as refugees, hide in their surroundings.
The ordered beauty of the Wintergarten,
It pains me to speculate on its Junes, Julys….
The opera of the rose, the overture of its folds.
Now, nostalgia is all, memory without redress.
Rendered to earth, abused until the spring,
The squared-off trimness is blurred with sorrow.

The last of the boots have made their statement
And stand at attention. The first shall be last….

In through the alcove’s wall of windows,
The light become a translation of rainbows.
The sagging panes like ice sheets in slow melt
Bulge the leaden frame’s base into the sill
As if the entire house were sinking back to earth.
But we know it is not. Quite the opposite.
Today, Wannsee is the only place left on earth.
From here, we rebuild and rejoice in the light
We shed for humanity, our humanity.
As if fostering songs of spring in winter’s heart,
Das Wannseehaus’s windows showcase
The lake spreading its stain of bruised blue.
The Grossen Wannsee: famous for its regattas
And tea parties, Weimar excess married to
The older considerations, including cognac
Served by waiters dressed for the occasion
As male brides in polished spats and whites,
Winking at you as they light your wife’s cigarette.

A throat cleared, the table cleared of lunch.
I hum a snatch of something from childhood.
It’s almost a prayer, a strange sense of reaching
For something in the heart, a picture book
From childhood you know is not there,
And yet you reach. –A windows bursts open
And secretaries scramble to save their papers.
The wind wounds the lake with slanted shadows.
Calls for fresh rounds of cigarettes and coffee
Return us to the world of things at hand.
The napkin rings serve as playthings; forks mark
Locations, and knives point out supply routes
While pepper mill and salt box serve as depots.

As we attend to business, upper-class whores,
Like a gaggle of lawyers awaiting cases,
Sit in a corner, awaiting further orders.
Tossed in scripted nonchalance, our field hats
With eagle crests and patent leather brims
Pile like grey soufflés on the table in the hall.
The darkened stains of sweat on the inner rim
Of each bears up like a happy thought
That moment when we took our seats,
And launched into the formal conference,
Determining history, and bleeding red ink
From our hands to pen and paper, stamped
As any heel to stone, any steel to wood.
No words can describe. No words do justice.
How do you explain success in such terms?

The light from the lake conspired with my joy.
It was total. It was fulfillment. All eyes on me.
It was more than my father could compose
From his conservatory eyes and metronome.
The failed composer and failed watercolorist,
Birds of a feather, never would listen, never know…
I was an artist, more so. My subject was man
And I myself the canvas, the instrument, the form.
The successful service man, his uniform tastes
And predilections easing his ride up the ranks.
Begin with broken glass and long knives, night and fog,
But no more color-coded index cards and file drawers.
No crackling telephone receivers gone
Suddenly dead. I can now admit, the joy
Provided sober perspective of that day.

Afterwards, confirming success to its accessories,
As we stood to a portrait of our fearless one,
Goddamn me, but I almost blessed myself!
A decrepit force of habit I hadn’t quite
Abolished – like fear of Jew blood trapped
In veins. The corners of my eyes confirmed:
No fear, then, for none saw the slender hand
Rising in the air, spidery fingers folded
Like a tulip to the temple, the leaning forward
In utter beatitude, slowly descending to meet
The hand that upward reaches… – Interrupted,
Jerked away from leprosy’s white hot flame.
Who saw? None because the index cards saw first.
None. Not among those men of beautiful will –
Those thirteen officers and captains of their time,
Numbering more than a jury, less than an army.

A scrape of chairs across marble, hands clapped
Backs slapped, chevron-crosses polished up
By quick breath beneath an elbow, a sleeve, a cuff.
Timepieces cross-checked with wall clocks.
An hour and a half. In that time, roads were paved
For war with bone meal, brick and seashell;
A satisfactory framework of redress.
The human machinery fine-tuned with gas
And clever transcendence – history
As hysteria. Mystery as miasma. Hatred
As achievement. Time pieces rechecked.
Spectacles, credentials and genitals adjusted.
Before next orders of business consume us,
There’s still time for sluts and sips from a glass.
And we would decant and sip our cognac.
The servants would wink as they lit our cigarettes.
The sluts would take and swallow our orders.
The world’s problems would find solution
Like squalling babes drawn to flowing teats.
In the name of the Fuhrer, and the Reich
And the Holy Fatherland. Amen. Amen.
Amen.

Comments

  1. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OPL says

    Heilige Scheiße!

    JOB, do you have any idea what possessed you to tour the mind of a Nazi aesthete, and take the rest of us along for the ride? (That IS what’s going on here, isn’t it?) The poem certainly stands on its own — it doesn’t need an explanation, still less an excuse. But it is SUCH a strange and repellent choice of subject, and, for that, so thoroughly well imagined and nicely wrought, that I have to wonder what you and/or your muse were up to.

    Of course, just because a reader has to wonder, doesn’t mean the poet has to answer. A little mystery never killed anybody, while too little mystery can cripple a work of art. But if you do want to shed some light on your motivations or inspirations, please consider this an invitation to do so.

    And so far as a person CAN thank someone for granting him a first-person view of capital-E Evil… thank you, JOB.

  2. Angelico,

    Thanks for reading. You seem to have drawn a good bead on this bit of craziness.

    To answer your question: I don’t know. I guess as I began researching a completely unrelated thing, the “American System,” – the economic policy which the U.S. had until about right after the Civil War – I got lost along the way….

    At any rate, one think led to another, and before long my “Wikijahr” led me to Reinhard Heydrich, the Thomas Jefferson of the “Final Solution” (i.e. Just as Jefferson had put in words what the founding fathers had been thinking, so Heydrich drafted Hitler’s vision of the Holocaust in formal terms at the Wannsee Conference.

    (Incidentally, the final Wannsee draft of the Final Solution was pretty much scrapped after other signficant events (including the U.S.’s entrance into the war) made it impossible to carry out the first phase – setting the Jews to hard labor building roads eastward out from Germany for ease of conquering Eastern Europe. The hope was that the interminable labor would do in the vast majority of the Jews, leaving the concentration camps to take care of the rest.)

    But it was all the externals and accidents (Heydrich’s father being a (semi-successful) composer, the thing being done in the Wannsee villa’s dining room, his being a baptized Catholic, etc.) which happened to invite themselves into the poem so well that after I threw down about 20 lines or so, it grew and grew to what’s there.

    I guess I’d say I don’t usually go looking for such trouble, but when it comes it’s always best to take care to attend to it.

    JOB

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OPL says

      JOB,

      Thank you very much for the note. For this reader, at least, it is an explanation that adds to the understanding without subtracting from the experience. Truly appreciated, sir.

  3. And let me add that I concur with Angelico in his ambivalent thank you. It’s a creepily beautiful poem.

    • Bernardo,

      Why thank you! Great minds think alike and all that.

      Interesting that Katie’s research says 14 members. I read 15 – but I like her number much better – that puts the number of subordinates at 13 (instead of the 14 mentioned in the poem), making it a far better number for the purposes – invoking covens and other triskadekanalia. Please let her know that I’m deferring to her research on this aspect.

      Also, Katie mentions the fact that East Berlin became a virtual prison state under Soviet rule. A year after the war’s end, Reinhard’s mother would die of starvation, having been caught in East Berlin at the time of the city’s downfall.

      By the wya, “creepily beautiful” is about as good a tagline as one can hope for as we close in on All Hallow’s Eve…

      JOB

      • Matthew Lickona says

        I’ve always favored “beautifully creepy.” But still – thanks for sharing that piece, Bernardo. As for the poem, I assume JOB is just working the Percy (hello, Father Smith!) out of his bloodstream in the aftermath of Gerasene ’11.

        • You know, there was only one line, in retrospect, that I could pin down as being Percyesque:

          Today, Wannsee is the only place left on earth.

          But last night, having unsuccessfully navigated reentry after banging my head amid the Aryan stars, as I was taking my shoes off at the edge of my bed, thinking of nothing in particular or the Greek dative of possession (I can’t remember which), I suddenly realized that Father Smith could have had a part in the thing after all.

          Although, I dunno, maybe it might have been a little of that Nazi-obsession thang Sylvia Plath had going for her too…

          JOB

  4. Jonathan Webb says

    This deserves some time.

  5. Hard to believe.

    • Churchill,

      I’m sitting here wondering what you found so silly about it.

      I’m sincere in my desire to know.

      For what that’s worth.

      JOB

  6. Jonathan Webb says

    Brilliant, for my part. Thanks.

    What a useless continent.

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