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Echolocations
     

Echolocations

2.5 2
by Diane Thiel
 

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At home with traditional forms and free verse patterns, Diane Thiel composes highly charged, evocative poems that celebrate and elucidate voyaging-in our own hearts and minds, to other lands, back and forth in time-the natural world, science, and her family's German heritage.

Diane Thiel's poetry has appeared in The Best American Poetry 1999, The

Overview

At home with traditional forms and free verse patterns, Diane Thiel composes highly charged, evocative poems that celebrate and elucidate voyaging-in our own hearts and minds, to other lands, back and forth in time-the natural world, science, and her family's German heritage.

Diane Thiel's poetry has appeared in The Best American Poetry 1999, The Hudson Review, Poetry, among others. She is the author of two chapbooks, Cleft in the Wall and The Minefield, both out from Aralia Press. She has an MFA from Brown University, and she teaches at the University of Miami.

Editorial Reviews

R. S. Gwynn
"[Diane Thiel's Echolocations] demonstrate[s] both considerable ability and promise of good things to come. The poems in the book's first third deal with Thiel's attempts to come to terms with her German heritage…In the book's other parts, Thiel shows skill at evoking places -- her hometown of Miami in 'South Beach Wedding' or a Colombian beach in the book's title piece -- but I want to single out one short poem for special praise, 'In the Thirtieth Year,' which deftly parodies J. V. Cunningham's 'In the thirtieth year of life / I took my heart to be my wife'…"
The Hudson Review, Summer 200
Poetry Magazine
"...Thiel loves the language she does have; she'll use it to make poetry out of a different time and place...Skill at distancing -- moving from a simple, involved moment to a wry, repositioned overview, thereby allowing the emotional experience to endure in the language and to be available to every reader -- is evident throughout the book...American tradition lives. And it throbs and pulses in...'Echolocations'"
Library Journal
Winner of the 13th Annual Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, this work is laced with memories of Thiel's German heritage, often alluding matter-of-factly to a shameful historic past. Her poems address the guilt of a nations and people who bear a violent history. "It will take many lifetimes/ to reclaim this language of my childhood," she says in "Traume" after listing the names of villages whose names are equated with concentration camps. Thiel disperses the silence of those who were the oppressors and takes responsibility for the wrongs into the present. Miraculously, the poems do not plunge into utter despair. In fact, it is re-hearing that brings redemption: "Our languages returning to the sounds / The calls reverberating through the waters/ to navigate the depths, to guide us through/ one ocean to another, the dark indigos,/ the song returning from the deepest blues." Recommended for general collections.--Ann K. van Buren, Riverdale Country Sch., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Thiel's ear for meter is astute, and her skill at forms is attested to by prize after prize, not to mention two chapbooks from the formalist small press Aralia; her mainstream narrative voice is a natural for the aptly named Story Line Press. Still, one wonders about her ability to contextualize her major topic, her family's history in Germany during World War II. In Echolocations, World War II is about the bombing of Dresden, and civilian children killed crossing a minefield while looking for food, and children who go from Silesia to Prague for schooling: "When you're a kid, you never think you can't go home again." The little boy, however, who loses his parents and becomes the speaker's father is also unable to talk about anything but the way life was before the war: "'This might have been the house—and this, the farm. / This thin red line was the road I walked to town.' /...But if we ever asked a direct question / to get him, just for once, to finish a thought, / we'd watch the curtain drop...." Likewise, in "Trümmerfrauen" ("Rubble Women"), "I spoke to an old couple nearby," she writes, "who said, 'we don't talk about it.'" The unspecified antecedent might mean the bombing of Dresden. It might also mean the war itself.Only one time, in the poem "Träume" ("Dreams"—the bilingual pun is undoubtedly intentional), does Thiel reference "the places we can never name again/ without the shame": Dachau, for example, and Buchenwald. How much does this speechlessness carry over into the lives of the speakers of the other poems? The twelve-year-old girl in "Memento Mori in Middle School" is urged by her mother to end her oral presentation on Dante's Inferno ("where Satan chewed the traitors' frozen heads") by passing out popsicles to her classmates. The poem's terza rima pays homage to its literary subject, but the children in the poem race out into the schoolyard, "The Inferno fast forgotten." In "At the Mailbox," the speaker carefully taps her mailbox before opening it so as to alert the lizard who lives inside, "a ritual we both appreciate." Thinking, "What would I do" were she to live in the lizard's circumstances, the speaker answers, "I'd move. At least, I'd like to think I would." Using echolocation, bats navigate without the sense of sight, according to sounds returned to them by objects they don't directly encounter. The title is an apt choice for a book dealing with silences, evasions, loss, and omissions.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781885266972
Publisher:
Story Line Press
Publication date:
11/28/2000
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.01(h) x 0.25(d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


    Kinder- und Hausmärchen


                   tiefere Bedeutung
Liegt in dem Märchen meiner Kinderjahre
Als in der Wahrheit, die das Leben lehrt.

                   —Friedrich Schiller


                         deeper meaning
lies in the fairy tales of my childhood
than in the truth that life teaches.


Saint Nikolaus had a giant gunny sack
to put the children in if they were bad.
It was a hole so deep you'd never come back.
A porch swing full of stories, where the smoke
went up in hot, concentric, perfect rings
and filled our heads with unbelievable things.

A nursery heavy with a history
where nothing was whatever it had seemed,
where Aschenputtel's sisters cut their feet
half off—so desperate they were to fit.
And in the end, they also lost their eyes
when steel-grey birds descended from the skies.

Rotkäppchen's wolf was someone that she knew,
who wooed her with a man's words in the woods.
But she escaped. It always struck me most
how Grandmother, whose world was swallowed whole,
leapt fully formed out of the wolf alive.
Her will camedown the decades to survive

in mine—my heart still desperately believes
the stories where somebody re-conceives
herself, emerges from the hidden belly,
the warring home dug deep inside the city.
We live today those stories we were told.
Es war einmal im tiefen tiefen Wald.


The Minefield


He was running with his friend from town to town.
They were somewhere between Prague and Dresden.
He was fourteen. His friend was faster
and knew a shortcut through the fields they could take.
He said there was lettuce growing in one of them,
and they hadn't eaten all day. His friend ran a few lengths ahead,
like a wild rabbit across the grass,
turned his head, looked back once,
and his body was scattered across the field.

My father told us this, one night,
and then continued eating dinner.

He brought them with him—the minefields.
He carried them underneath his good intentions.
He gave them to us—in the volume of his anger,
in the bruises we covered up with sleeves.
In the way he threw anything against the wall—
a radio, that wasn't even ours,
a melon, once, opened like a head.
In the way we still expect, years later and continents away,
that anything might explode at any time,
and we would have to run on alone
with a vision like that
only seconds behind.


Delineations


Kind, du fragst mir Löcher im Bauch,
his father often told him after the war,
collecting his remaining children, moving
west of the Oder, and then west of the Elbe.
Among my father's favorite possessions
were turn-of-the-century maps his father left him.
The maps would give some answers to our questions.
He'd let us use the magnifying glass—
he'd trace his finger over old Silesia,
start talking to himself, as if in trance:

"This might have been the house—and this, the farm.
This thin red line, the road I walked to town.
I think the last time was to say goodbye
to Tante Grete when I went to Prague
for school. She always said to me, Verfahr
dich nicht
. When you're a kid, you never think
you can't go home again—Imagine trying
to cross the state line into Florida
when you come home from summer camp one year,
but there's a sign that says Stop. No Access."

But if we ever asked a direct question,
to get him, just for once, to finish a thought,
we'd watch the curtain drop. He'd close the maps
inside their tattered, yellow folder, saying
Kind, du fragst mir Löcher im Bauch.


Changeling


Bernhard had nothing but their names.
He'd come there on his own.
He asked and asked, but no one knew.
So many had come and gone.

The boy had followed others west
and walked much of the way.
In the leveled continent,
Dresden had been saved.

The city was filled with refugees
when the markers floated down,
cone-shaped like Christmas trees
lighting up the ground.

For this—the city had been saved,
the people suddenly knew.
They poured into their cellars. Someone
brought the boy below.

Beneath the ground, he couldn't see
the rain of fire fall,
but he could hear each bomb explode
and feel the buildings crumble.

The heat melted all it touched,
bodies before the stones,
carving out the Frauenkirche
down to her catacombs.

Between three raids that night and day,
survivors left their cellars
and faced the burning homes next door
caved in at their centers.

The streets were heavy with rock and ash
as another search began—
turning over coats to find them
holding skeletons.

Alone in the hollowed city, Father
wrote on the church in chalk:
Where are you, Paul and Hedel Thiel?
I live. Bernhard


Textiles


What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

                      —Robert Hayden


We found the bolt of thick purple cloth on the shore
at sunrise—we were always finding things
the ocean had brought in, but never anything like this.
We brought it home, unrolled it through the backyard
and into the front, like something royal.
It dried quickly in the noonday sun.

Then we swept it free of sand and salt.
We debated whether or not to cut it,
but we'd never get it clean unless we did.
The first layer was marked with tar. We cut it off
and measured the rest in equal parts,
washed, dried, and folded them.

"They'll make such perfect covers,
one for each of you," my father said.
He had been so different that day,
like a small boy having found a treasure.
When he came in to tell us a story that night,
he smoothed our new covers, fingering the cloth.

After he left, I lay thinking of the boy
half a life ago, hiding alone
in the Lausitz forest just east of Dresden.
The fresh rabbit skin as a pillow,
for a cover, the white parachute silk
that had likely floated down the flares before the bombs.

And what he chose to speak about, that time—how soft it was,
like nothing he had ever felt—he said,
it was such beautiful material.


Trümmerfrauen


I.

When the sirens began, we went underground,
and when we surfaced, the streets were gone.
The war gave us the name. Later,
when the men who lived were still in prison,
the women were left to clean everything up.

We collected the houses, churches, hospitals,
the halls where I had never danced,
impossible to sort. We all did something.
One woman pulled stone after stone from the rubble.
One hammered mortar from the edges.

One stacked bricks in orderly piles
next to the mountains—Trümmerbergen.
The rubble became part of so many words.
I remember a few Trümmermänner,
and long lines of Trümmerkinder.


II.

As a young woman not yet twenty,
I walked where my aunt had walked at that age,
clearing the nave of the Frauenkirche.
I spoke to an old couple nearby,
who said, "we don't talk about it."

We stood in silence. I could see the sky
through the windows of the two church walls—
sandstone forms, far from each other,
one worn column wearing its holes
like a place where the heart had been.


Träume


Whether you like it or not, your genes have a political past,
Your skin a political cast.
Whatever you say reverberates.
Whatever you don't say speaks for itself.

                  —Wislawa Szymborska


The language of our dreams contains
the places we can never name again
without the shame. Can we ever speak the words
Dachau, Buchenwald—the blighted patch
of Goethe's home on the banks of the Ilm,
the forest of books—burned with the bones.
It will take many lifetimes to reclaim
this language of my childhood.
In this recurring nightmare, I am dragging suitcases
behind me, filled with bodies, other selves
I silenced. The train pulled out again and again,
left the bags to be opened later and divided—

Like the genes in this body, remembering
more than they should know, learning
this white-washed language coating tongues
in hallways, smoking rooms,
on the constant flicker of screens—
hearing the murmurings of a machine
we will not name, until our hands
become hammers, our ears recorders,
our mouths removed.
With all these words caught in my throat,
the most terrible ones I hear are in the way
we speak of history—then and they.


Prefix


Most of the grounds of the world's troubles
are matters of grammar.

                   —Michel de Montaigne


I remember first learning
that you could add ver
to change the meaning
of many German verbs—
laufen (to walk),
fahren (to drive),
could become verlaufen,
verfahren
(to lose your way).
Like an incantation,
you could also add ver to nouns—
verfeinden (make an enemy)
vernichten (turn into nothing).
I remember first learning
that in my father tongue
were prefixes built in
to do everything wrong.

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Echolocations 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An outstanding collection, one that operates on various landscapes from the personal to the social to the historic and the mythical. Vivid, effective imagery and strong craftsmanship.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My teacher assigned this book for us to read over the Spring break and it almost ruined my vacation on the beach. I had to memorize a poem from the book and I could not find any that were good enough. The poems in echolocations have no rhythm or pacing. The sentences are clumsy. I think the poems have intellectual pretentions and are pretentious.