Every country brings its children up
imprisoned by its nationality – ergo
every upbringing is strange: each nation
trains its trapped constituents to wrap
themselves in scratchy coverings
of fearsome premises and to consume
great quantities and sizes of infernal
truths that they’ll assume to be eternal.
Thus are we saddled, addled, reined in
like unwitting cattle into languages
and rules and other rude awakenings
against which we have no defense.
Hence, perhaps, why, going to Berlin,
where I would undergo the vaguest
whispered consequences of a place
so riddled with its privacies, so rattled
with its rage at having to feel shame
about itself, I couldn’t blame it for not
being anything whoever wasn’t German
could quite name. It’s the country’s capitol,
and yet succeeds in failing to cajole
a single soul into rejoicing in its economic
boom and bloom: there isn’t room
for praise: only blurry memories of days
the city can’t re-live. But I wondered
at how any country can forgive itself,
or sieve the poison out of cells it’s
irremediably stained with its inevitable
sins. For it’s not only Germany that presses
into hearts to darken them: harken to
our own beleaguered pasts and presents:
the then’s and now’s of us that bear the scars
of the interment, torture, murder
of the body and the soul to which America
remanded untold numbers of the human
beings it held captive: people it enslaved.
History entirely retains its mystery until we’re
able to breathe in the acid tendril scents
it always will have left of any flesh it’s burned.
On such horrors have our nations turned.
Berlin is more than sin, more than it’s taken in;
the USA construes a way to kindness,
sometimes, and to something strongly felt
as freedom. But neither one has solved
the oddity of being human in great masses,
or how to lead them into breathing unity –
or who can’t seem not to divide each
other into classes born of the belief that
one’s self-evidently better than another.
For that, perhaps, we’d all have had
to have the same exhausted mother we
could love and who’d love us. Into
what world, though, would that great
strained enormity shove us? A lineage
of disciplined Queen Bees, producing
billions of identical small you’s and me’s.
Immune to difference or strife:
Is that a life that would appease?
Or must life tend to us, and bend us
into terrible impossibilities, from which,
at moments, some transcendent loveliness
might find a way to scent the breeze?
Is all that’s open to my human brain
the idiocies of its fantasies? If there’s
an end to this, who could know or see it?
Much less be it? And still I wait to smell
the roses – no, I lie. I’d rather smell
the sweat. Oh yes, it’s sweat I crave
to smell. The sweat of human forcefulness
all siphoned into bodies into sex. Can
a heaven make provision for a hell?
Would that cast or break the spell?