24 August 2010 | Vol. 10, No. 2
Triumph of the Will as Underwater Ballet
Rites for an American November
The shaman finds a mirror carefully slipped
beneath the water of a running stream
will open a window in the land of the dead.
Here, the yellow and umber leaves, doom boats
strapping the current, slip quickly over the dappled
bottom where rusted wheels and bent scaffolds backdrop
The Triumph of the Will as it simmers there, bubbling,
awaiting the buoys of resurrection.
Here and there the camera winks its dark eye.
It cannot forget anything it has seen fit
to take into the black box of its mind.
So the film spools out and smooth-cheeked
Nazi faces yearn up and up like limbs tendered
outstretched against the sky, sky branches filled
with bread and circuses hovering over
the purling curl and useless talk of the river,
whisper-road for shipping slaves home
to the backbone of stone broken off just there
from the mother continent and drifted
through all the ages it took to become just this
breakdown of falls at Richmond, now, here.
Leni, young or old, might have known
what to make of it, how to see things right.
The German Cleopatra is the Queen of Denial?
Ninety and frail, she does not flinch
when the shark darts in to bump
its nose against her nose in its rubber mask.
Another triumph, lifting the heavy
camera in the water's dark. Her bright
smile engages no arrogant evasions.
And there I am, too, looking back up
from the bridge shivering under the river, not waving
a flag or pulling a gun but making myself
take a hike here in the mind-sweeping cold
alone. Here I am again leaning on the rail
where I focused my dead brother's field glasses on
the pointed yellow-gray beak, the fierce gold-red eye
of the great blue heron, who glanced upstream
fitfully, then turned back once to look at me.
The heron sees whatever is there and saw
something that took something black and no bigger
than a book from the pack on its back
and held it a while. Then threw the tape in.
The river rising today wants to say it this time
push it names itself and what it wants
push and holds to it, hesitates only
a moment before the dip and pour
over and down like polished dark glass
into the white splash and froth which
uttered in twisted tongues of current returns
eternal to the same stretch of rock.
Courage may be to see whatever is there.
The river speaks faster now here and there
where stone gathers and hunches, push
against the geese who have come again
to swim against the current in pairs push
and shake their tail feathers in the air to duck
down for the choice morsel, to reach
down for whatever is there.
Leni would know, she always responded
to the magic opera of the fairytale spell,
the marching throngs, the sweet muscle
and magnetics of its surging pull, the unstoppable
vine crawling, the drama of evil, its hydraulics
precise, the attractions she would never deny.
So they all go down in the water, flipping
once and twice, flashing, spinning and soon
the smiling Nazi formations are in the swim
of their underwater Berlin, artfully turning
with synchronized grace and it must be hard holding
their breaths and smiling always smiling and pretending
to sing from the bottom of their hearts
from the bottom of that sea and selling it,
their magnificent ballet, until it all settles
in the silt, bottoming out here and there,
those bubbling songs still hanging on their lips
as they go down and away, the plazas dim, the ritual
dies down and is emptied and is done, a chorus of lies
answered with lies, the mirror cracks,
the window slams shut.
In Egypt once we thought the sin-filled sack of the heart
could be balanced against the feather of truth,
and those heaviest hearts would be chewed to bits
as the lighthearted stepped onto eternity's deck.
We wrapped ourselves up and we waited.
Now the river rushes by, faster now, pushed on
by heavy rain on the far mountain we can't see, breathlessly
saying what it's said for so long we can no longer hear:
shh—one long lazy hush, its wobbly bubble
rising to break—shh—opening to a release without end—
never the same river, never the same never
or never again—hush now, shh.
About the author:
Gregory Donovan is Senior Editor of the online journal Blackbird and author of the poetry collection Calling His Children Home, winner of the Devins Award, as well as poetry, essays, and fiction published in the Kenyon Review, the Southern Review, New England Review, Chautauqua, storySouth, MiPOesias, the Southern Quarterly, and elsewhere. He teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University, and helped establish its study abroad programs in Scotland and in Peru.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by Gregory Donovan at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 10, No. 2, where "Triumph of the Will as Underwater Ballet" ran on August 24, 2010. List other work with these same labels: poetry.