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Through the Air Flying
by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
2018-09-12 09:11:34
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Kurland, January, 1943: damp and cold…
Every day, off the surface of the water, a muting fog rolls in.

They had rounded you up in the town and brought you in trucks to the barn,
The biggest one, of the big farmer Germanskyi, almost a noble ―
Also one of the hardest.
They had you take off all your clothes and shoved you into the barn
In your thousands, and then the sounds of hunger and shame began. …
And weeping in the knowledge of death. …
The barn was locked tight, and each family tried
To find a proper space for itself, but this couldn’t be,
Except in their minds. …  You yourself were without family,
Were naked and alone, without the need for illusion. …
In their minds they kept on the decency of clothing, and propriety.
But everyone knew what was coming,
And how important it was to keep appearances up.
They would burn the barn and everyone in it.
You all knew that with certitude.

But no, you were wrong.  The night bore on and through to day.
And in the morning some accidental bird greeted the light in the East.
And it grew lighter in that place without windows,
And many wondered, why are they taking so long?
But no one knew, and day followed day. …
At the end of the second day the children ceased whimpering,
Lapsing into a staring kind of starvation.
Starvation descended and flattened out all emotion.
But not memories.  Memories still stood.

Then, on the morning of the third day, before dawn,
Your name was called … you were to come to the door!
And the guard pulled you out by the skin of your forearm,
And dragged you to a place where there was an Oberst standing,
Who simply stared at you for a long while.
You had been a renowned violinist in Germany ―
And he stared at you, and he asked if it was really you.
And when you said yes he was moved and came forward and shook your hand,

And introduced himself as Heinrich, von Kőln,
And told you you had given him great pleasure over the years.
He was beautifully uniformed in his black on grey,
With so many shiny silver buttons and medals that caught your eye
As though you were still a child … and you replied tremblingly
That you knew Cologne well, and loved it,
Thinking perhaps he would let you go…

Cologne was so beautiful.  How odd it was to be naked here now.
Heinrich looked over your head, and said he played a little too,
And asked you about the playing, and you answered each query,
Then mentioned the starving and pleaded for yourself and all the others
But none of this registered, and he continued on about his favorite pieces,
Difficulties of technique, and questions of good and bad interpretations,
And about Konzerthäuser, this one versus that one, and
You responded with your true opinions, shivering and shaking. …
He found all your opinions very sage, very interesting, and asked further
About Beethoven’s early String Quartets, becoming very animated
About that subject, and then began to expatiate, looking you in the eye
And spoke on and on, but a string of lorries were moving on the horizon.

Your wife and your children were safe in the Argentine.
What in the name of God were you doing here?
You watched him turn to a guard.  He mentioned moving forward, then
Turned and walked away, his fingers clasped behind his back,
In the manner of Beethoven. …

The guards came and took you and put you and others in a lorry,
And drove to a wide flat spot in the open.
They set you all to work digging with picks and shovels,
And they stood over you as you worked and watched you,
And those who could not do it were hit with the picks, the shovels,
Their brains dashed out, looking rather like fresh kidney, smelling like fish.
And the digging went on all day, some guards having their fun with you,
Shooting this one or that one, torturing a few out of rage and boredom.
At the end there was the accomplishment ― a capacious hole in the ground.

Back now in the barn you looked at your valuable hands,
Which now would never perform again.
In the night you could hear work at the hole, under spotlights,
Sounds of men shouting, cursing, sounds of the motors grunting,
Sounds of timber falling. …  Three more days of this went by, and it was
Interesting, you thought.  It even blocked out the smells of feces and urine
For a time. 
The children asked many questions of their parents, and the parents lied to them,
Saying the men were building houses for them, and everything would be all right soon.

Then, midmorning interrupted the moaning with clankings and hubbub, and
The smell of gasoline, and the hollow ripple and heat of fire.
The constant lowtone of moaning ceased.
Everybody knew.  Everybody thought: “Let’s get it over with.”
Guards opened the main door, grabbed twenty or so and pulled them out,
And closed the door, and there was silence.
Then, again, the same, and again.
This went on all day.  Guards and fresh meat, wearisome work,
And you hung in the back near a dung pile
Until there were not many left, and then they tricked you,
Opening the door behind you and jumping in and snatching you away. …

It was snowing, and the wind was searing through
Your transparent skin, and you could see the smoke rising
From over where the pit was, and hear the screams and curses.
Then you knew.
Of course you had always known …
Not fame, or pleasure, or beauty — nothing could save you.
Their lust for blood had caught up with you here in Kurland,
Trying to get some of your family out, and now …
Even suicide was not possible!
They kicked you in your backside and wound you round around the long barn.
Your knees were shaking ― shaking from the cold ― and from the fear, and
Sorrow from listening to the moaning.
And you got in line behind the others, eyes on the ground, like everyone else,
When a beefy redfaced guard reached the one in front of you and hurled her
Down the line, the zigzag line that bent its way to the pit, the pit of fire,
Where smoke was rising, and screams above the smoke, and the smell
Of burning flesh above the screams.

As in a dream
The girl in front of you collapses completely, sobbing inhumanly.
Her sphincter goes.  In disgust a soldier curses her,
And kicks her, kneels down and beats her ― he’s in a hurry.
He drags her by the hair and hurls her to a second soldier, who beats her,
And so on down the line, like a rag doll, until
She disappears around another turn in the row.
Is she alive, is she conscious?  ― who could say?
You are next.  They pull you forward and curse.
You avoid their full-of-hatred eyes,
Only blurs anyway, and you feel punches by a boy
Who can only muster fuzz for a beard.  He spits.
You feel nothing, not even the jabs of the bayonets,
Which touch you, draw blood, but you feel nothing.

Single, burning human hairs float above, lit at one end.
The faces of the soldiers are all blackened.
It seems like a musical play.
A few more steps, another bend in the line, then
There!  There!  The pit!  There, a few feet more.
The tarred wood black, glowing red underneath,
The fire roiling, like roaring tins of backstage thunder,
White, and red at the center, yellow from animal fat and chalky at the edge.
Heinrich von Kőln and three others watch from the opposite rim,
Perfect in their impassivity, stiff arms at their sides, as though at attention.
No recognition lightens his face.
A child’s foot peeks over the lid of the pit, as though regurgitated.
Waves of heat.  The girl ahead has collapsed on the edge.
A blond beast reaches down and picks her up, carries
Her to the flames in his arms like a bride.
She looks up at him as though he were a savior,
Her eye on his, saying, I am sorry but I was too weak
To accomplish this. Please do it quickly.
He bares his teeth ― what duty to draw!
Like a discus thrower he half whirls, then throws her, far, into the center of the fire.
Her body burns like a dry leaf, curling, folding in upon itself. …
You see this through a squint.  Now it is your turn.
You smell the gasoline, the burning flesh.
This is like a dream, but no dream.
You shout and fall a pratfall.  They should laugh.
Your sphincter goes.  You are yourself disgusted with your self.
Let’s get this over with!!

Two burly beasts rush at you and grab your arms
And drag you forward, your toes grooving the ground.
They take a leg apiece, and fling you, in an acrobatic arc. …

And at that moment you were free, and almost happy…
At that moment you thought, “My God and Father,
You Who are in heaven looking down. …  My God,
Who thunders from the mountain and is the burning bush
And has care for His people: give a meaning to this.
Make of us who will be consumed in these flames
A burnt offering unto Yourself, that will in a way unknowable
Add power and glory to Your kingdom and Your people
And confound their enemies for ever and forever.”
When a Romance by the young Mendelssohn ran through your mind
You knew you were a thrush,
Had always been such,
And so you sang as a thrush as you traversed the parabola
Through the air flying.




Check Dr. Lawrence Nannery's Poetry Collection:
"Translations from the Cinema"
You can download them for FREE HERE!


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