by Jennifer Rose
I won’t go with you to Munich’s planetarium
though I have always loved a wandering moon.
I cannot bear to bless a German heaven.
Dachau. The sign appears, colloquial
amidst the traffic; the radio sputters
Stau—or is it heil?
Everything continues in this language!
Every chimney rises with a grudge.
The Arbeit gate swings slowly on its hinge.
This is the first time I feel at home
in your country, in this museum.
Elsewhere, the Nazis are innocuous—your neighbors.
You examine by yourself their careful orders.
Every road to death is neatly chartered.
You’re horrified—not just by deaths of strangers,
but by the language, which killed them
before the gas or gunners;
your language, words you might have uttered.
Tell me what it says, this chart of stars:
Which color is my destiny of fire—
yellow, for the language of my prayers?
red, for the fury of my cares?
or pink, my crime of twin desires?
This is my planetarium, these pinned-on stars!
You won’t go with me to Dachau’s crematorium
though the ovens are cold, the fumes are gone,
and you’re too young to have fired them.
The gas chamber, familiar as a dream
but smaller, is open at both ends.
I walk, without knees, without lungs, the brief
avenue. This is it. The vault, the safe
where they escaped, scratching
in the old direction of heaven.
At night our room is dark, the bed, a ditch.
The moon grows big in its hutch as we watch,
wide awake, tense. Your father was a soldier,
your mother, a Hitler youth who quit.
I’m a Jew. I’d be dead if we were older.
What shocked me most as we first slowed
to stop was not Dachau’s walls or weight,
but its shamelessness at its own sight.
Had no one seen the guards guarding their flawed height,
the smoke drifting off, signalling in desperate code?
This is what I can’t forget:
how public it was, how close to the road.
(First published in Ploughshares.
Copyright © 1987 by Jennifer Rose. All rights reserved.)
1985Rain. Ten years since we have spoken.
Since Ma’s suicide, fifteen.
Triage of families: who to attend
to—the widowed, the childless, the orphaned?
When you smashed the kitchen radio
all the calm times you played piano
went dead too, just another symptom,
though you swept up before sending me to my room.
On those manic, all-night drives across the country,
I would not sleep, afraid you’d die
if I took my eyes off the road, afraid
you wanted to die too. Gary’s red
sky was a warning and by Buffalo
snow was higher than the car door. You
were the only pioneer among the drivers
at the vending machines (the diner
itself was closed) but you felt bigger than the blizzard
and needed to prove it, dragging me and Edward
back out to the car. Twice we were stuck
and twice random tow trucks helped us. Our luck
ran out like gas as soon as we left the main road,
our car a snowstorm paperweight, its snow outside.
Then you sobbed and the snow was psychotic
static, a white radio blasting panic
like rock and roll. . . . Ten years and I hear
you grow fat, new children in your wallet. Father,
(your name rusts in my throat), I cannot think of why
I wrote this. Those years are melted snow
under a paperweight of poems, and home
is an abstract address. Today’s storm
tantrums as I used to, but with no one to blame.
Now it is you again, thundering my name.
(First appeared in Ploughshares.
Copyright © 1991 by Jennifer Rose. All rights reserved.)
Sweet Briar, VirginiaSunday. No semis surge by.
I cross half a dozen finish lines
that spiders strung last night between the boxwoods.
Twee--twee--twee trills a bird never named by Adam.
Cool sun, blurry, a scoop of melting sherbet,
drips its light over the meadow.
Crickets ring softly, a neighbor’s telephone,
but no one answers. The cicadas’ alarms
have not gone off yet. A freight train
clacks metallically toward New Orleans.
Two cardinals, still dressed for evening, head home.
Steers graze down by the stream, auditioning
for Joseph’s dream unknowingly. I envy them
their green reprieve, its blissful ignorance
and final usefulness. A vetch twists toward me
like the serpent’s question mark. What have I
done to deserve Paradise, or exile
from it? Buzzards twirl, a silent mobile,
or an angels’ carousel without the choir.
Far below, a bunting’s too-blue suit dazzles the pews
and goldenrod overpowders her nose,
as usual. The crow repeats an old sermon.
Still, every field full of insects is
a rapt congregation murmuring amens.
Their primitive worship humbles me,
like the sound of hymns healing
some ramshackle chapel’s cripples and sinners.
O for a Sabbath not spent grappling with faith!
An arthritic cedar offers me
his mumbled benediction like a wizened deacon.
Dragonfly--seraphim hover around him,
agile as helicopters. At last God beckons
and I surrender, and then another poem begins.
(First appeared in Chelsea.
Copyright © 1996 by Jennifer Rose. All rights reserved.)
June’s graduations. How many years it’s been
since I felt that trepidation!
Their pumped-up hearts bloom like stuffed brassières.
Last month, drunk azaleas flashed their petticoats
and the river slicked back its waves with brilliantine.
Night itself was their stretch limousine.
April came of age in its back seat.
Now rhododendrons polka-dot the street,
their fat balloons already full of leaks.
Everything has changed in these last weeks.
The trick trees teach is to survive regret.
Chamomile blossoms parachute to sleep.
The chives’ wise heads chaperone their dreams.
Although we think we’ve memorized friends’ names,
the lilacs’ spell is all of youth we keep.
Each commencement is a little death.
Petunia bullhorns call the final roll.
Before the days break out of single file,
June graduates with roses on its breath.
(First appeared in Poetry.
Copyright © 1995 by Jennifer Rose. All rights reserved.)
Leaning Fence--Photograph by John Goldie
To read about Jennifer Rose.
Return to the Poetry Porch homepage.