Two Poems

August Kleinzahler

Exiles

I

The Super Chief speeds across the American West.
Herr Doktor Doktor Von Geist pulls the ends of his moustache,
almost like a seabird
manoeuvring his wings in unsettled weather,
while he gazes out at the desolation and tumbleweed –
the echo-less-ness, as that bore Krenek likes to put it –
moon drifting in and out of the clouds.
With a formal solemnity, confused, perhaps with dignity,
along with the deliberateness of a surgeon,
he runs his fork through the orange emulsion
covering his salad,
       or what they call here salad.
Anything wrong, sir? asks the black waiter,
who, the Doktor notes,
bears more than a passing resemblance to Louis Jordan;
that would be Louis Jordan of jump band fame,
not the other.

II

Door ajar to the great actress’s cabana at Nazimova’s Garden of Allah,
she lies back on her chaise longue,
gently running a finger along her glistening auburn lanugo,
while, at the same time, changing stations on the radio
until she arrives at Amos and Andy, her favourite:
  – Holy Mackerel, dere, Andy!
Ha, ha, ha, ummmmm, die Schwartzen . . .
Just then, Tadzio walks past,
angelic boy in his sailor suit, right off the page,
the plage, still shaking sand off,
and catches a glimpse of Frau Lola,
pleasuring herself in anticipation of a visit from Salkia,
or the English tennis star, or, God forbid, Harpo.
But no, it is Tadzio, lovely Tadzio,
Who neither blushes nor even seems taken aback.
Möchtest du Pussy essen?
she asks in a childish voice
          – Smeckt gut . . .
But the boy’s German is imperfect.
Besides which, he has plans for the afternoon.

III

The second, or is it the third, Mrs H.,
consort of the distinguished foreign character actor,
wrinkles her nose,
as if downwind of a giant log of baking Leiderkranz.
From high on a stage of his own imagining,
and looking out upon the mausoleum of easy going,
the Revolutionary Playwright
in his tailored denim Worker’s costume
loads up and begins cranking away,
            the Gattling Gun of Wilshire Boulevard:

    Francis Assisi at an aquarium
    Chrysanthemums in a coal mine
    Lenin at the Prater
    Tahiti in Metropolitan Form

Are we done yet, darling?
she asks, slowly removing her husband’s hand
from the smoking weapon.

IV

Nietzsche, playing his second shot
on the dogleg par 5 eighth at Bel Air,
shanks it into the creek.
          – You are a great man,
Freddy, my boy, a great, great man,
his celebrated playing partner, the misanthropic jokester, intones.
The philosopher stands there, motionless, stricken,
his mutton chops and jowls sinking into the collar
of his powder blue Dacron golf shirt:
dismay, terror, puzzlement, the call of an unfamiliar bird?
               – No great tragedy,
Herr Schickelgruber, a mere bump in the road, bump in the road.
knocking a bee off his plus fours with an antique mashie.

Rose Exile

The parade floats trundle north along South Orange
in the clammy darkness and floral decay of pre-dawn Pasadena,
turning right onto the long stretch of Colorado Boulevard,
following exactly the parade route of the celebrated Tournament of Roses.

Burbling from speakers hidden in the palms and sycamores
one can, just, make out the aching majesty of Richard Wagner’s
Siegfried Idyll and Rhine Journey, Furtwängler – who else –
conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker.

First, in perfect scale, bright vinyl fringe bedecking the bottom,
a bungalow-sized replica of the Vienna Court Opera,
is followed by yet another float, the Café Griensteidl, also from ‘Old Wien’,
with its Jugendstil lamps and marble-topped tables.

A local bit player, having grown out his sideburns,
solemnly writes down notes on a stave, while nibbling a Sachertorte:
Richard Strauss, let us say, at work on an opera.
And what are we now to think of Richard Strauss?

Following next, on a platform atop a huge frankfurter float,
comes the co-author of the Dialectic of Enlightenment,
seated behind a desk and clapping his hands to his ears
in a mechanical fashion, not unlike a wind-up toy.

This is not the desk later memorialised on Adorno-Platz in Bockenheim
but the desk from his Brentwood home at 316 South Kenter
(just a few doors down from the O.J. unpleasantness years later),
the tall, elaborate Bismarck-era monstrosity

with its multitude of small drawers and, beside it, the carved wooden chair
on which the great man now sits, in extreme agitation, crying out:
Wo die Aura ist? Wo die Aura ist?
The source of his distress is standing directly to his right

in a form-fitting sequined gown, singing in a voice one critic described as:
‘trumpet-clean’, ‘pennywhistle piercing’, ‘Wurlitzer wonderful’.
You will know of whom I’m speaking.
It is the ‘brass diva’ herself, Miss Ethel Merman,

belting out a hair-raising version of ‘I Get a Kick Out of You.’
‘What’s with the long face, Pudge,’ she growls,
realising she is not, has not, moved Wiesengrund-Adorno, not one eeny-weeny bit.
‘Loosen up and live a little, Mr Big Shot Wisenheimer.’

At this moment bombers are assembling into their formations over Europe.
Dishes on their rubber racks are almost now completely dry.
Someone is inventing colour TV.
Millions of cans of corn niblets sit in the darkness on shelves across the Midwest.

The streets remain empty.
The circumstances had been made clear to the participants at the start.
Trucks rumble in the distance across the Arroyo Seco,
while the first birds of the day, unbothered as ever, commence their singing.