To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gematria (2): 14 Stations, with Arie Galles

The First Station: Auschwitz-Birkenau

now the serpent:

I will bring back
their taskmasters
crazy & mad

will meet them
deep in the valley
& be subdued

separated in life
uncircumcised, needy
shoes stowed away

how naked they come
my fathers
my fathers

angry & trembling
the serpents
you have destroyed

their faces remembered
small in your eyes,
shut down, soiled

see a light
take shape in the pit,
someone killed

torn in pieces
a terror, a god,
go down deeper

A NOTE ON 14 STATIONS. The full series of fourteen poems was written to accompany Arie Galles's monumental charcoal drawings derived from World War II aerial views of the principal Nazi extermination camps - each with an attendant railroad station - known even then to have been the sites of holocaust. As Galles worked from documentary photographs to establish some pretense at distance (= objectivity), I decided to objectify by turning again to gematria as a way to determine the words and phrases that would come into the poems. The counts were made off the Hebrew and/or Yiddish spelling of the camp names, then keyed to the numerical values of Hebrew words and word combinations in the first five books of the Bible. It was my hope that this small degree of objective chance would not so much mask feeling or meaning as allow it to emerge.

The full set of drawings & poems (also drawn in charcoal by Galles) can be found at, and the poems without drawings appear in my two books, Writing Through (Wesleyan University Press, 2004) and Seedings, & Other Poems (New Directions, 1996). An earlier posting on gematria appeared in this blog on July 8.

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