Fall 2009, Volume 7

Poetry by Oliver Rice

Hello, Nation Builder

   Kurt’s home place was Eikenroth, in Rheinland-Pfalz,

where he had played the tuba and valiant soccer,
been significantly approved by Greta’s parents,

    where, beginning in 1914,
    one fourth of its male population was conscripted,
    of whom half returned by 1919 dead or wounded,
    the remainder in exhausted defeat,

    the Kaiser forced to abdicate,
    an armistice declared, the nation in riotous turmoil,

where at gymnasium they had learned curses in Greek,
made lists of the virtues and their opposites,
scorned a sociology of mutual predators,
saying how much of life is absurd,

    where, a survivor, less traumatized than others,
    although beset by unquiet sleep
    and momentary spasms of panic,
    he found social disruption, hunger, grief,
    bewildered rage at whatever, whoever,
    after all the sacrifices, wrought such failure,

    Greta married,
    his grandfather’s orchard now a landing strip,

saying to his brain the poplars tremble,
saying we are guerrillas against ourselves,
where is the wisdom of the elders,

the neurons asking what to do, what to do,

the dark ages biding their time to come again,

    departed for Essen to find work,
    escape nostalgia, locate a viable self,

    became a gardener by ambiguous choice,
    observing from the vantage of flora and fauna
    the anarchy, a maiming of the civilization
    of Bach, of Goethe, of Kant, of Freud and Jung,

saying reduced to our anxieties,
eyes like the windows of houses left to fall in,

saying beyond all irony,
like bile through the capillaries,

    was exhilarated, however, within weeks
    to witness the parties of communists,
    workers, elites, military leaders, crazies
    arriving at a sufficient consensus
    to bring about a national election
    of delegates to a constitutional convention,

    to convene it and, by August, 1919,
    proclaim it in the city of Weimar,
    thus founding, in effect, the Weimar Republic,

    provoking his resettlement in Berlin, the capital,
    to witnesss the emergence of a new Germany,

saying a subtle silence has fallen
as if this morning the iris has blossomed,
as if the hypothetical intelligent man has spoken,

hears the sound of stones fitting together,
saying the day belongs to a chronicle of the world,

    instead, has enlisted for fourteen years
    of gradual disaffection with populist will
    in the perpetual partisan conflicts,
    the conspiracies, frenzied rallies,
    defamations, street brawls, assassinations,

    the steady prevalence of the rightists,
    of consentual hush by the many,

saying they have lives, the swallows up there
and the mole down there in his wily tunnel,

    the nation outraged by the Versailles treaty,
    the severe reparations, the civil decrees,   
    by persisting unemployment and inflation,
saying the garden wishes to go to ruin,

    nonetheless, a radical  expressivity occurring
    among Gropius and the Bauhaus movement,
    Hindemith, Brecht, Thomas Mann,
    the venomously satiric paintings of Grosz,

    not unrelated to the vivid amorality
    of the sophisticated, the night spirited,

    women, having received the vote,
    boldly displaying their liberated manners,
saying futile causalities shape in the mind,

    tremors of fear and vindication
    arriving from America’s stockmarket crash,

waking in the night to an angst on the air,

    the tragedy finally confirmed in 1933
    by Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor  
    of the still-termed republic,

    five nights later, with a crippled mechanic
    crossed the border into Switzerland,

saying to Rilke, yes,
what horror to think that the world
has fallen into the hands of men.


BIO: Oliver Rice has received the Theodore Roethke Prize and thrice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies in the United States, as well as in Canada, England, Austria, Turkey, and India. His book of poems, On Consenting to Be a Man, has been introduced by Cyberwit, a diversified publishing house in the cultural capital Allahabad, India, and is available on Amazon.