On the persistence of lies and poetry

May 5, 2022

Of course we all know Adorno said that after Auschwitz
poetry as we know it is senseless. The world keeps on
stumbling into the flames and dust obscures
even the faces of children. Can any art matter
without the great ideas that fuel the fire?

Over Black Forest cake and ice wine, the conversation
drifts to history and remembrance. There’s Herbert,
a boy in Germany, walking with his grandfather 
by the tracks near the railroad station. They see
a train stopped, hear human voices

murmur from the cattle cars. “Don’t look,” grandfather
hisses, “just walk on. Some things are better not
to know.” Across the table Herbert lifts his glass
to ghosts, “Don’t believe them when they plead
our ignorance. By Gott, we knew.”

Awake at three a.m., I open a book of poems passed over
for the prize because they “merely celebrate the personal.”
These poems know. Against the big ideas they weigh
the heft of each brief life, sing home games, potlucks,
hugs—each green fuse edging back the dark.