Issue 125, Winter 1992
A Run Along the Blackened Rhine
Monuments: They arrest the eye
like these twin tongues of ruddy stone
adorning Basel’s riverside.
Tall enough to span the Rhine
upon reflection. Monuments
enlarge upon the story. They
lend a certain slant: The minster’s
breathless firmament makes all
beneath its vault tiptoed to
in echoes. There lies the infant prince
chiseled at his mother’s waist,
an effigy besmocked in armor
which he never wore and could
not lift. Their pair of masks perform
a lovely paraphrase and closet
all obscenities. Monuments
belie our helplessness.
More to celebrate the absent one.
Built with guilty memory.
The exhausted nuisance, whom we shunned,
in afterthought we adulate.
Or the public man, a personal disgrace,
commissions artists, whose tactful hands
create a blessedness in stone.
But most of what is noble wears
no marble, has no public shrine.
I remember grandfather.
Tumors had excavated
his left hip until collapse.
They fused his bones, made him lifelong lame.
An elevator operator
in the Federal Building.
The winter of his death he took me
to his room and held my hand
against the thickened post of bone.
He leveled no complaint. I held
the haft of his predicament,
no more, no less abiding than
the poplars at the river’s edge.