by Diane Thiel


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Echolocations by Diane Thiel

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.

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.


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.


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


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.



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.


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.


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.


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,
(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.