Sunday, August 28, 2022

Route by George Oppen


                                        'the void eternally generative'
                                        the Wen Fu of Lu Chi
Tell the beads of the chromosomes like a rosary,
Love in the genes, if it fails
We will produce no sane man again
I have seen too many young people become adults, young
           friends become old people, all that is not ours,
The sources
And the crude bone
                     —we say
Took place
Like the mass of the hills.
'The sun is a molten mass'. Therefore
Fall into oneself—?
Reality, blind eye
Which has taught us to stare—
Your elbow on a car-edge
Incognito as summer,
I wrote. Not you but a girl
At least
Clarity, clarity, surely clarity is the most beautiful
           thing in the world,
A limited, limiting clarity
I have not and never did have any motive of poetry
But to achieve clarity
Troubled that you are not, as they say,
I think we try rather to understand,
We try also to remain together
There is a force of clarity, it is
Of what is not autonomous in us,
We suffer a certain fear
Things alter, surrounded by a depth
And width
The unreality of our house in moonlight
Is that if the moonlight strikes
It is truly there tho it is ours
Not to reduce the thing to nothing—
I might at the top of my ability stand at a window
and say, look out; out there is the world.
Not the desire for approval nor even for love—O,
that trap! From which escaped, barely—if it fails
We will produce no sane man again
Words cannot be wholly transparent. And that is the
           'heartlessness' of words.
Neither friends nor lovers are coeval...
as for a long time we have abandoned those in
           extremity and we find it unbearable that we should
           do so...
The sea anemone dreamed of something, filtering the sea
           water thru its body,
Nothing more real than boredom—dreamlessness, the
           experience of time, never felt by the new arrival,
           never at the doors, the thresholds, it is the native
Native in native time...
The purity of the materials, not theology, but to present
           the circumstances
         In Alsace, during the war, we found ourselves on the
edge of the Battle of the Bulge. The front was inactive, but
we were spread so thin that the situation was eerily precar-
ous. We hardly knew where the next squad was, and it was
not in sight—a quiet and deserted hill in front of us. We dug
in near a farmhouse. Pierre Adam, tho he was a journeyman
mason, lived with his wife and his children in tha farmhouse.
         During the occupation the Germans had declared Alsace
a part of Greater Germany. Therefore they had drafted
Alsatian men into the German army. Many men, learning in
their own way that they were to be called, dug a hole. The
word became a part of the langauge: faire une trou. Some
men were in those holes as long as two and three years. It
was necessary that someone should know where those holes
were; in winter it was impossible for a man to come out of
his hole without leaving footprints in the snow. While snow
was actually falling, however, a friend could come to the hole
with food and other help. Pierre, whom many people trusted,
knew where some two dozen of those holes were.
         The Germans became aware that men were going into
hiding, and they began to make reprisals. If the man was
young and unmarried, they killed his parents. If the man was
married, they took his wife into Germany to the army broth-
els, it was said. They took children into Germany, and it
was not certain whether those children would remember
where they came from. Pierre told me this stroy:
         Men would come to Pierre and they would say: I am
thinking of making a hole. Pierre would say: yes. They would
say then: but if I do they will kill my parents; or; they will
take my wife and my children. Then Peirre would say, he
told me: if you dig a hole,    I will help you.
         He knew, of course, what he was telling me. You must
try to put yourself into those times. If one thought he knew
anything, it was that a man should not join the Nazi army.
Pierre himself learned, shortly before the Americans arrived,
that he was about to be drafted. He and his wife discusses
the children. They thought of tattoing the children's names
and addresses on their chests so that perhaps they could be
found after the war. But they thought that perhaps the tattoo-
ing would be cut out of the children...They did not, finally,
have to make that decision, as it turned out. But what a con-
versation between a man and his wife—
          There was an escape from that dilemma, as, in a way,
there always is. Pierre told me of a man who, receiving the
notification that he was to report to the German army, called
a celebration and farewell at his home. Nothing was said at
that party that was not jovial. They drank and sang. At the
proper time, the host got his bicycle and waved goodbye. The
house stood at the top of a hill and, still waving and calling
farewells, he rode with great energy and as fast as he could
down the hill, and, at the bottom, drove into a tree.
It must be hard to do. Probably easier in an automobile.
There is, in an automobile, a considerable time during which
you cannot change your mind. Riding a bicycle, since in those
woods it is impossible that the tree should be a redwood, it
must be necessary to continue aiming at the tree right up to
the moment of impact. Undoubtely difficult to do. And, of
course, the children had no father. Thereafter.
Wars that are just? A simpler question: In the event,
will you or will you not want to kill a German. Because
in the event, if you do not want to, you won't.
...and my wife was reading letters she knew were two weeks
late and did not prove I was not dead while she read. Why
did I play all that, what was I doing there?
We are brother, we are brothers?—these things are
composed of a moral subtance only if they are untrue. If
these things are true they are perfectly simple, perfectly
impenetrable, those primary elements which can only be
A man will give his life for his friend provided he wants
In all probability a man will give his life for his child
provided his child is an infant.
...One man could not understand me because I was saying
simple things; it seemed to him that nothing was being
said. I was saying: there is a mountain, there is a lake
A picture seen from within. The picture is unstable, a
moving picture, unlimited drift. Still, the picture
The circumstance:
And if at 80
He says what has been commonly said
It is for the sake of old times, a cozy game
He wishes to join again, an unreasonable speech
Out of context
Cars on the highway filled with speech,
People talk, they talk to each other;
Imagine a man in the ditch,
The wheels of the overturned wreck
Still spinning—
I don't mean he despairs, I mean if he does not
He sees in the manner of poetry
The cars run in a void of utensils
—the powerful tires—beyond
Tough rubbery gear of invaders, of the descendents
Of invaders, I begin to be aware of a countryside
And the exposed weeds of a ditch
The context is history
Moving toward the light of the conscious
And beyond, culvert, blind curb, there are also names
For these things, language in the appalling fields
I remember my father as a younger man than I am now,
My mother was a tragic girl
Long ago, the autonomous figures are gone,
The context is the thousands of days
Not the symbol bu the scene this pavement leads
To roadsides—the finite
Losing its purposes
Its estranged
All this is reportage.
If having come so far we shall have
Let it be small enough.
what was there to be thought
comes by the road
Tell the life of the mind, the mind creates the finite.
All punishes him. I stumble over these stories—
Progeny, the possibility of progeny, continuity
Or love that tempted him
He is punished by place, by scene, by all that holds
all he has found, this pavement, the silent symbols
Of it, the word it, never more powerful than in this
moment. Well, hardly an epiphany, but there the thing
is all the same
All this is reportage
To insist that what is true is good, no matter, no matter,
           a definition—?
That tree
           whose fruit...
The weight of air
Measured by the barometer in the parlor,
Time remains what it was
Oddly, oddly insistent
haunting the people in the automobiles,
shining on the sheetmetal,
open and present, unmarred by indifference,
wheeled traffic, indifference,
the hard edge of concrete continually crumbling
into gravel in the gravel of the shoulders,
Ditches of our own country
Whom shall I speak to
Department of Plants and Structures—obsolete, the old name
In this city, of the public works
Tho we meant to entangel ourselves in the roots of the world
An unexpected and forgotten spoor, all but indestructible
To owe nothing to fortune, to chance, nor by the power of
            his heart
Or her heart to have made these things sing
But the benevolence of the real
Tho there is no longer shelter in the earth, round helpless belly
Or hope amoung the pipes and broken works
'Substance itself which is the subject of all our planning'
And by this we are carried into the incalculable
There was no other guarantee
Ours aren't the only madmen tho they have burned thousands
of men and women alive, perhaps no madder than most
Strange to be here, strange for them also, insane and criminal,
who hasn't noticed that, strange to be man, we have come
rather far
We are at the beginning of a radical depopulation of the earth
Cataclysm...cataclysm of the plains, jungles, the cities
Something in the soil exposed between two oceans
As Cabeza de Vaca found a continent of spiritual despair
in campsites
His miracles among the Indians heralding cataclysm
Even Cortés greeted as revelation...No I'd not emigrate,
I'd not live in a ship's bar wherever we may be healed
These things at the limits of reason, nothing at the limits
of dream, the dream merely ends, by this we know it is the
That we confront

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