Tuesday, September 30, 2014

After Auschwitz

 To listen to an audio recital of the poem, click here

“After Auschwitz,” said the man on the TV,
“one simply can’t conceive of lyric poetry” -
for the literal and metaphorical,
the physical and metaphysical,
all opposites, antitheses,
all antonyms on earth and seas,
all arguments and paradoxes under heaven
have been baked in ovens without yeast or leaven,
at a temperature of pure Davidian degrees;
then iced with radiance of Zyklon-B,
and seared, vulcanised, the somethingness made none,
till there is nothing, new or ancient,
agreeable or disagreeable,
left under the sun.

Among the ashes, literally as well
as metaphorically, the sunflowers grow.
Visitors complain about the smell -
the lines of visitors who move as slow
as chosen people marching to the showers,
their heads bent down exactly like sunflowers.
The smell is bone meal, compost and manure,
some natural dung unnaturally pure,
decomposing row by unmarked row
among the ashes of the northern bowers.

Sunlight over Auschwitz is no less beautiful
than sunlight over Chamonix or Biarritz,
nor are the gardens any less colourful
than Monet’s in Giverny, or the blitz-
krieged beds at Kew. Tourists seeking a brief
respite from the chamber of horrors which is
History have been known to stroll here, leaf
to leaf and hand in hand; and Catholic nuns,
whether in black smock or coloured britches,
kneel in idolatrous worship of the sons
of God, the ones who outlived dead Jehovah,
and reinvigorate the ancient rites
by fertilising lifeless soil, turning over
the marriage-bed of earth, till sunlight
has penetrated and overpowered night.

In sleep your body lies as still
as that child I once saw in a film
about the camps, lying beside her mother -
as close as one would lie beside a lover -
in a carefully selected barrack bed.
She did not, I presume, survive. And yet
there is no guilt, no sense of sin
in me, no hesitating to recall the dead;
I am not one who says forgive-forget.
Merely I touch your thighs, your breasts, within
the deep embrace of flesh on flesh. I feel
again the shudder of that movie reel
and close my eyes to make the film expire.
Your legs wrap round me like a blanket of barbed wire.

Sweet Yehudit, let us inhabit each
other’s body once again; let us make
a melodrama of our brief affair
(I nearly said “soap-opera” - ah, words! Beware!)
Let us whisper schmaltzy pillow-talk, teach
ourselves the sentimental way; let us wake
up very late, and maybe pray the morning
service quickly, then drive to Warsaw. So we
shall tell the others how we heard the warning,
how we alone survived, escaped the strife,
understood that what must be must be -
and got on with the tedious banalities of life.

For wherefore did they die? For eternal
mourning? For a thousand year vigil? For
each of us to put on black, infernal
sackcloth, to bow our heads like Auschwitz Jews,
to offer up in sacrifice still more
unconsummated hearts and souls and lives?
No, Yehudit, this is the night of the long knives,
on which we sever with our bodies all the knots of History,
honouring the past, sailing the Vistula
towards as-yet-unborn posterity.
Here on this mound of skulls I give you kisses.
Here on this flowery grave make good your wishes.

“After Auschwitz,” said the man on the TV,
“one simply can’t conceive of lyric poetry.”
The Romans said much the same after Caligula,
and the Egyptians likewise after the Red Sea.

"After Auschwitz" is published in "Welcome To My World, Selected Poems 1973-2013", The Argaman Press. Click here to purchase the book.

I am not entirely certain where I found the black-and-white drawing which I adapted, in colour, for the illustration on this page, and I have been unable to find it even after searching the entire Internet. The signature on the page is Argaman, in Hebrew letters; Argaman was the code-name of Bernhard Aaronsohn, hero of the Jewish Resistance in Poland in my novel "The Flaming Sword", which is scheduled for publication in 2015. The painting was one of a dozen "created" by Argaman while forced to work as a forger for Himmler in the Alt-Aussee, and exhibited in London in 1947.

Copyright © 2014 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

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