The Ticket

(posted Tuesday, Oct. 15; to be composted Tuesday, Oct. 22)


To hear the poem read by the poet, click here or on the title.


False-faced monument, monument of mind that fades
into the story a friend tells in a bar–how her mother
and father survived Dachau together, then made each other
unhappy for thirty years … though in the camp her mother
seemed to flourish, nicknamed “the Angel” for helping
the sick, the old … but after the War grew negligent,
despondent, as if ordinary life was life among
the dead, the Angel haunting as she cooked, cleaned,
her own face reproaching her for having filled in,
the Angel’s hollow cheekbones still sharp under her skin:
Monument of brick, of crumbling mortar, of a chimney
toppling broken-backed: Sign that reads “Ten thousand by day,
ten thousand by night”–the eye prying at the neat stone houses
in the town tight-shut, repulsed by the sentry box
at the nearby Army base, one way glass impenetrably smoked.
Bulb flash; snapshot–I watch a father pose his wife and kids
under the entry gate as around us the camp staggers in the heat …
Faces flattened into photographs dissolve into dots swarming against
the eye that pushes to see through them to the living face behind
but the face keeps submerging into that blurring wash:
Monument estranging because its image lasts, monument less real
because the eye can see it whole; lassitude of spirit, horror learned
by rote, stagy strangeness of the preserved gas chamber (it smells
of clay, rank sweetly mouldering clay): The Angel now a wrinkled
smoke-dark woman who warily half-smiles in a wallet photograph,
her eyes holding my eyes off, her image defiled by my looking past
the image, wanting more and more; that hunger devolving into
film-eyed suffering, smoke of prehistory smearing over history:
Grease of millennial ash that blackens a stone roof, cannon bones
whitening heaped among cattle skulls, toothless ransacked jaws:


Monument untranslatable, monument that runs parallel
to the Neanderthal family flickering huge across the screen, the child
I was agog at tyrannosaurus rex stalking them, mechanical:
The ticket in my hand that gives entry to these shades,
moment of spectral smoke skeining from a cigarette,
voices still thirsting to tell what they lived and died,
voices asking our protection in the drifting shifts
and lapses of our attention, the Angel still haunting,
a self-haunter: Monument of mouth turned down at us,
mouth moving: Once you were the Angel; now what are you?