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M.P. Powers


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Goethe carried the blood of Christ through the forest
and up Ettersberg Hill. A bottle of sweet red
wine, a basket of strawberries. The sunlight was dazzling.
It poured through the leaves and the leaves
all glowing and mystical. He met Charlotte
von Stein under a tall oak tree
and spread out a soft scarlet blanket. They sat down
together in the shade and kissed and passed
the bottle back and forth, spoke about Greek tragedy
and chrysanthemums, Bruegel. They listened
to the wind in the leaves, and laughed
and kissed some more. Another
beginning. Always a new beginning for the Prince
of Poets. He didn't believe in growing old.


There is a place in the fairy tale German forest
so strange and dark and accursed
the fairies won't go there, or the giants
or dwarves. You will find no traveling musicians
there, no frog-brides or grateful beasts. It is a place
of no human comprehension
because it is so utterly human. It is a heart
carved out in wood;
the law of the soil. All the trees chopped
away, except for one: "Goethe's Oak," the cross,
and the source. The place he met Charlotte.
It stands somewhere between darkness
and light, some sylvan driving
divining symbol. But the leaves are parched.
And when the inmates are led
around the old mangled trunk, they keep their heads down.


The human spirit slipping away is the sound
of gravel
crunching underfoot, gunfire, a man
screaming in agony, a butterfly's
wings. The human spirit deconstructing itself
is a flash of light
on a dental instrument, broken glass on a cold
tile floor, an old woman collapsing
to the ground. "Now true
misleading reports are being spread
about the camp at Buchenwald;
one could say, reports of atrocities."
Goethe's Oak
"has had thus far, to my knowledge,
not a single one of the inmates of the camp
'tied' to it;
much more, to the other oaks
of which there is no shortage in this wood."
The human spirit drifting off
is the sound of an incinerator chimney
ashes of dead children.


In August of 1944, that old fabled symbol burst into flame.
It was struck by a stray Allied fire
bomb, and fell. But it was drying up
and dying long before that.
It was as though the soul of Art had slipped
out of it, refused to give
it Spring or leaves or verse & let it decay.
Poetry and politics
didn't mix very well,
according to Goethe. Poetry is
perennial; politics
a petrified stump.


But who's to say who in us is Mephistopheles
and who is Faust;
if we're all a little bit of both, and a little bit of Helen.
Where eternity ends
and time begins, or vice versa; a stump marks
the spot.
What once was a tree
and then a flaming
cross, an accidental offering to an unknown
god. Came then
the day of liberation: an American Rabbi
held an inmate in his arms and laughed
and cried. "How old are you, my child?"
"That doesn't matter. I am older than you."
"Why do you believe you are older than me?"
"Because you are laughing
and crying like a child. I am not crying,
and have not laughed
for a long time. So tell me, who is older,
you or I?" Goethe
carried the blood of Christ up Ettersberg Hill.

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