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THERE ARE NOT LEAVES ENOUGH TO CROWN
TO COVER TO CROWN TO COVER
For me there was no silence before armies. I was born in Boston Massachusetts on June 10th, 1937, to an Irish mother and an American father. My mother had come to Boston on a short visit two years earlier. My father had never been to Europe. She is a wit and he was a scholar. They met at a dinner party when her earring dropped into his soup.
By 1937 the Nazi dictatorship was well-established in Germany. All dissenting political parties had been liquidated and Concentration camps had already been set up to hold political prisoners. The Berlin-Rome axis was a year old. So was the Spanish Civil War. On April 25th Franco's Lufftwaffe pilots bombed the village of Guernica. That November Hitler and the leaders of his armed forces made secret plans to invade Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia.
In the summer of 1938 my mother and I were staying with my grandmother, uncle, aunt, great-aunts, cousins, and friends in Ireland, and I had just learned to walk, when Czechoslovakia was dismembered by Hitler, Ribbentrop, Mussolini, Chamberlin, and Daladier, during the Conference and Agreement at Munich. That October we sailed home on a ship crowded with refugees fleeing various countries in Europe.
When I was two the German army invaded Poland and World War II began in the West.
The fledgling Republic of Ireland distrusted England with good reason, and remained neutral during the struggle. But there was the Battle of the Atlantic to be won, so we couldn't cross the sea again until after 1945. That half of the family was temporarily cut off.
In Buffalo NewYork, where we lived at first, we seemed to be safe. We were there when my sister was born and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Now there were armies in the west called East.
American fathers marched off into the hot Chronicle of global struggle but mothers were left. Our law-professor father, a man of pure principles, quickly included violence in his principles, put on a soldier suit and disappeared with the others into the thick of the threat to the east called West.
B u f f a l o 12.7.41
(Late afternoon light.)
(Going to meet him in snow.)
(Comes through the hall door.)
The research of scholars, lawyers, investigators, judges Demands!
(With her arms around his neck whispers.)
Herod had all the little children murdered!
It is dark
The floor is ice
they stand on the edge of a hole singing—
Rachel weeping for her children
to be comforted
because they are not.
Malice dominates the history of Power and Progress. History is the record of winners. Documents were written by the Masters. But fright is formed by what we see not by what they say.
From 1939 until 1946 in news photographs, day after day I saw signs of culture exploding into murder. Shots of children being herded into trucks by hideous helmeted conquerors—shots of children who were orphaned and lost—shots of the emaciated bodies of Jews dumped into mass graves on top of more emaciated bodies—nameless numberless men women and children, uprooted in a world almost demented. God had abandoned them to history's sovereign Necessity.
If to see is to have at a distance, I had so many dead Innocents distance was abolished. Substance broke loose from the domain of time and obedient intention. I became part of the ruin. In the blank skies over Europe I was Strife represented.
Things overlap in space and are hidden. Those black and white picture shots—moving or fixed—were a subversive generation. "The hawk, with his long claws / Pulled down the stones. / The dove, with her rough bill / Brought me them home."
Buffalo roam in herds
up the broad streets connected by boulevards
their eyes are ancient and a thousand years
hear murder throng their muting
Old as time in the center of a room
doubt is spun
I know your worth
a chain of parks encircles the city
Pain is nailed to the landscape in time. Bombs are seeds of
Science and the sun.
2,000 years ago the dictator Creon said to Antigone who
was the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta: "Go to the
dead and love them."
Life opens into conceptless perspectives. Language surrounds
During World War II my father's letters were a sign he was safe. A miniature photographic negative of his handwritten message was reproduced by the army and a microfilm copy forwarded to us. In the top left-hand corner someone always stamped PASSED BY EXAMINER.
This is my historical consciousness. I have no choice in it. In my poetry, time and again, questions of assigning the cause of history dictate the sound of what is thought.
Summary of fleeting summary
Pseudonym cast across empty
Peak proud heart
Majestic caparisoned cloud cumuli
East sweeps hewn flank
Scion on a ledge of Constitution
Wedged sequences of system
Causeway of faint famed city
Dim mirror Naught formula
archaic hallucinatory laughter
Kneel to intellect in our work
Chaos cast cold intellect back
Poetry brings similitude and representation to configurations waiting from forever to be spoken. North Americans have tended to confuse human fate with their own salvation. In this I am North American. "We are coming Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more," sang the Union troops at Gettysburg.
I write to break out into perfect primeval Consent. I wish I could tenderly lift from the dark side of history, voices that are anonymous, slighted—inarticulate.
Excerpted from The Europe of Trusts by Susan Howe. Copyright © 1990 by Susan Howe. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.