Issue 126, Spring 1993
Knowing that Penn had dabbled, periodically,
in paints, noting the modest watercolor
of his young, late wife, above the files,
someone has leaned a catalogue by his phone:
Gli Aquarelles di Hitler,
Palazzo Vecchio, Firenze, with a note,
Gordon —you know he flunked out of art school?
Penn glances through the booklet. MÜnchen,
Standesamt, Alt-Wien Ralzenstaat, Auersberg Palais.
The captions sound portentious as their subjects:
basilicas, blocks, towers, a plaza of walls—
less loving details than things accounted for.
The few inhabitants in that draftsman’s province
(unrulier by far than mullions and bricks),
are dwarfed by statues. Stiffly swinging arms,
balanced on stiffened legs, their faces are blank
as the gradually vanishing windowpanes
(not one of those has a face peering out).
People supply, Penn figures, a sense of scale.
It’s only when he inspects the artist’s name,
A. Hitler, executed in the calligraphy
of invitations, does something sink in.
Essentially untrained, Penn’s eye begins
to scan . . . for some preoccupation with red,
an early attraction for the Aryan, an obsession
with . .. with what? What can the paintings disclose
besides Penn’s need to find the formative signs:
repressed, malignant — if only the next word
might, somehow, have been preventable.
Surely the foreword explains; Penn runs down
the names below his intercom, Italian-
sounding ones, someone who might attempt
a rough translation. He finds, instead, no one
even born before the 1940s.
Could the caption below that wrecked cathedral