When I was an infant I was dandled on the knee of a Nazi. Her dress was like white icing on a round cake. I remember the feel of it. The smell of warm milk bubbled from the rubber she pressed into my lips. I was in my howling years and saw all ceilings as slanted. Her knees under my spine bounced until my cries were like a wedding between horror and error. No mother’s milk but a series of rubber nipples.
Acoustics were my field of study. The path of sound was my liberation. By the time I had located it, I was part of it. If my screams came to nothing, then my silence did, for in it I learned to hear the music of others. I remember there were two kinds of sounds in those days: metallic instrumental sounds and human ones; occasional booms. All these sounds longed to overwhelm each other but remained separate and equal like threads in a carpet. When I finally took note of another farther sound, it actually freed me: birds, wind in leaves and rain on a tin roof.
I learned that everything develops in exact proportion to something else that opposes it. I could measure my silence by the bumping noise around it. It went this or that far. Whatever you strained for, you got. And then you couldn’t get it out of you again.
I couldn’t be protected by people and expect to stay free of their influence. But when I first heard music (a whistle) it gave me a way to bridge the gulf between instrument and world, and it was also the way to dodge human influence. I let my mind run up and down the harmonies like a sparrow on a wire. I don’t know who the organ grinder was all that time but he was there, out on a street.
In any case music helped me control my terror while I was rolled through the streets like a play slave in a wheelbarrow. I hummed. The trouble is, a Dissembler’s voice kept emerging out of radios and windows like the noise of sipping straws in empty cups: ku, klux, klan, styx, stasi, swastika. . .
Now legs were levers and hands incomplete wheels.
The white wooden house outside and the halfwhite twigs and beyond them a wall in line with things blue. The land could only be warmed by a west wind drift, it was so cold.
As a glass is always water in very slow motion, so an icicle was a reminder of how far we had come since the Garden.
Every first move was a hesitant move. Adam and Eve were poised at the gate from the Garden, their feet raised, the wrong feet first, in retrospect. Goosestep or misstep, the history that followed belonged in the category of permanent miscalculations. The original guess: wrong!
Is it the case that technology also took us far far from warm bread while its nihilism showed that the past is all that is allowed to live. Face it. The minute the work is complete, it is obsolete.
While my aural attention was floating from room at room, my happiest nights were found in listening to human voices at a distance. (In the same way I continually pass others suffering, confusing their difficulty with a morbid dread of other humans like myself.) Time zones intersected on the slanting ceilings and dropped with the light. Under and outside, victims were dust under monkish stones. Some of them were still up and walking. Were people moving in order to shuck themselves? Shake off being?
I remember miles of bewildered children filtered towards some bricks in knitted caps and mittens. The snow was attaching itself to smoke stacks and branches, wires. Each one had a bone to pick with G-d. And meanwhile the cruelties made logs for cabins twelve to fifteen feet long and notched. These would store the children. Later the animals were left their roomy forest, those animals whose paws dapple the snow. They are always going or have departed. I was called Paul.
Rising by plane from the Netherlands, we children turned gray over Luxemburg. Snow in the spruce trees below flaked into handbills and pamphlets. Even the cinema system took part in the campaign to color the world gray. In that war each baby weighed a boot and bricked up, during those years, the good men’s power dried up and their foreskin shriveled.
Trains were heading in all directions grinding over weeds on ice cold tracks. The wheels at 5am bore down with the force of seventy men on a muddy woman. Snow whirled airily against each brick entrance where humans tried to get warm from smoke and confetti. The litter in the trees was sometimes white and on the sides of streets it was thick and grey. The city was an oyster inside a pearl.
Can we avoid dying by making a plan for others to die ahead? Send them before us ruthlessly to scout out the territory? Or fill it? A hutch stuffed with woodcutters and chicken-killers was my birth place. I know it. I feel it . I remember it at the level of bone. Grass ate up through the foundations of barracks and community graves. In stone rectangular caves, potatoes were the food of starvation and baked in ovens with those who would eat them.
I did my research and found out that in May of that year there was rain in the ash trees. One interim peace agreement was complete while another country pulled its forces in and out of a hellish corridor. I felt like a toy doll while all this was going on. The radio warmed and cash registers rang in the season of The Dissembler. And images the size of my pink palms were lowered up and down before my eyes: St. Francis holding a lamp, a bleeding heart, and Joseph with the Child Jesus in the crook of his arm.
I had been switched from nurses to nuns. This signaled the beginning of my liberation.
Soon an armload of seaweed and pounds of fish gleamed around me in a country they called Homeland. Innocent Homeland.
Now I remember one woman knelt and the other stood in a square like an illustration in a children’s book. Bright, shining colors on distant hills and the two of them cooking. Pumpkin soup, sole in dill, steamed greens, gingerbread, apple cider and chilled dry wine. Candles showed each face at the table filled with the expectation of a hearty laugh. By the time the coffee had come each had passed into a new position. I don’t know why I was there, but the moment passed like happiness and then the sound of that happiness.
Strains of music. In the same way certain melodies bring back my earliest childhood to me, before I was taken to this continent. They are often followed by a surge of bile, palpable in the back of my mouth. At such times I am bowled over by the coexistence of beauty and injustice.
I know there must have been a day when a mother held me like the sun. Love is passive. It only hears and sees what it wants, and endures in a state of inaction, pondering whether to lift its will to go after the object of its want. In this way it can become confused with weakness.
Does a person or doesn’t he direct his own life?
That’s a tough question. Anxious to better our opportunities we sometimes lean too far and kill them. It is strange to be a man suddenly.