Audio: Read by the author.
alles ist weniger als
alles ist mehr.
Then the Lord replied, who are you
to question me. Look at what I made.
Consider the behemoth, its sinew, thigh,
the great gray tail that sways like a cedar.
Take these hills that lay their oranges
and grasses at your feet. And Job fell
silent. The startled flowers of the field
shot their arrows in his eyes. Sun ached,
faded, ached, swelled and all that passed
unsaid rose and fell through the willows.
Then Job looked into the scars of boils
written in his hands and gripped them closed.
Moths stormed the river with their gold
dust, and the water startled briefly, gold.
I like my testament battered, abused,
scored with a dozen questions in the margins.
Make that five million. Why bother
with damnation, I ask the behemoth,
and the words float out as the scented
paths of smoke in some cathedrals do,
or someone silent on the phone in shock,
waiting for news that never quite arrives.
One soul turns to the greater figure,
confused—it happens over and over—
one plus one plus one and so on,
and you know you will never get there.
One plus one plus one, the Lord whispers
to the world of us. Or one such world.
A writer writes, Nah sind wir, Herr,
and reads it back aloud, alone, eyes
closed, the exhalation of the word
Herr a leaden burden he lays down
in a small dark inner court of appeals.
The exhibition table sags with words.
If it please the court, the writer writes,
and the stenographer reads them back.
Lord, we have kneeled over the ditch,
and the blood cast your image into us.
If it please the court, the writer writes,
it is our blood. Pray to us. And no one
answers. Us, he says, a little softer,
sweeter, darker. And the clock goes still.
After a great suffering, sometimes a god,
sometimes a godlike emptiness. Night
scatters diamonds and says, the hell with it,
take them, take them all. I know a woman
who lost her faith and spoke of it in cold
tones I learned to love. It made her gaze
abstract and gave five million missing
a face. I want to say God loves the godless,
but what do I know. You talk to the dead,
and the dark unknowing opens its arms
and says, you there, believer, you too,
nonetheless. And something burns away
between you and a woman. Perhaps a god-
like fog. But that is least of your concerns.
Always another monster in the room.
I tell myself that much—when I am angry
and afraid—and there are always two.
There are no facts anymore, says the man
who cuts my hair, and the gray snow falls.
The Jews control everything these days.
Then silence hangs in the air a moment.
I want to say it makes a statement. Truth is,
it flows, untouched, into a second silence
where there are always two. Fire taught me,
long ago there was a column of smoke.
Enough now to fill a library with dark.
And as it disappeared, it smelled like hair.
Like hair, it withered, stretching out for miles.
When photos of a million horrors
made the papers, a million eyes stopped
and stared, the way a glass of water stares,
and the railcar around it coming to rest.
The poet laid down her pen, took it in
her hand, laid it down again. Readers
looked up from philosophies that end
where knowledge ends and keep on ending.
Words broke down, a.k.a. wept, confessed,
lost their shit, their rational composure.
They remembered just so much and sang
we will not forget, and when words failed,
music shadowed them a while, and failed,
as echoes do in halls of state and worship.
A man opens his mouth, and out it comes,
ash, wind, pleasantry, ash. Pray to us,
he says alone, aloud, and the lightness
blows to tatters. If the threnody feels
too lovely, well, tough. If a song buries
its message in the music. Are we so small
in the clouds of smoke, they swallow us.
Are we that ashamed, embittered, proud.
Does the angel’s sword chill our necks.
Is it any wonder a survivor grows more
critical, easily wounded, his testament
bent brightly in the vise. If the music is
unlovely, tough. If later on, it flowers,
if the ash makes visible the air we breathe.
After the behemoth lay down and stars
followed and the general with his lover
drank their potion in the bunker, a new
animal appeared. Or rather a revenant
of the familiar. Same tusk, same haunch,
same bold shoulder, and although a ghost,
you could feel it settle over the horizon.
Or turn the head on its pillow or a deer
to the scent of fire. When, mid-night,
it roared, we felt the cry lie down in our
children. Though we never spoke of it.
And when they sang in school, we did not weep.
Or if we did, we kept it to ourselves.
We opened our mouths. To let the music in.
Bruce Bond is the author of twenty-four books, including Blackout Starlight (LSU/Phillabaum Award), Rise and Fall of the Lesser Sun Gods (Elixir/Elixir Book Prize), Dear Reader (Free Verse), Frankenstein’s Children (Lost Horse), and Words Written Against the Walls of the City (LSU).
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.