Wednesday, July 07, 2010

391. Saved from the Flames

Excerpts from Granddad's Diaries
(the bits Grandma couldn't find to burn)

In my younger days I'd gape
at famous people: I was a fool,
when I think about it. I’d forgotten
the old and everlasting rule
that nothing, nobody lasts forever.

Too many friends
having topped themselves,
not very well, hardly
artistically, often with rather
messy consequences

I thought, I felt, well ...

My dear! Have you seen
what a train can do to a human body?
Grotesque! I had to identify
Emil in his various pieces.
Only his signet ring was conclusive.

I thought, but thinking
in those days, as in any day

was not encouraged … I harboured doubts,
let's say, as to whether literature was the path
to tread, waiting for my mind to be pure or totally dead
among many high-strung fine-featured females,
who never once, not once, were seen naked and beguiling,
and who had no intention ever, never,
of becoming naked, or of being beguiling,
as they could have ... so easily done, the bitches,
by sliding happily, gloriously into bed,
by being nice to you, making the whole world
in a moment ten thousand times better.

They carry around their god-given bodies
nervously, without an ounce of comprehension:
words, words, so many words instead.

The mustachioed pale-faced gentlemen
held delicate scented handkerchiefs
to their bony twitching noses, ultra refined,
leaving no echo of the sweat the blood and stink
of Arminius, of the looming Nazi hooligans,
who were coming on, like Werner.

He came up to me at the ‘Babalanka’
one of these forgettable but fantastic
cosy places we used to love in Berlin:
fizzy very bad champagne on the tables,
young girls pretending to be loose and wild
while thinking about Papa, of their riding lessons
on the weekend. Hello, Jew.

That’s what he said. I was so incensed,
amused, I let him believe it. After that,
throughout all my outrageous spying forays,
he protected me. He thought I was a Jew homosexual,
not one but two counts against me. He was
visibly startled and in spite of himself, impressed.
After the war started, not long after,
the Yanks, the Irish, pushed out the boat of neutrality
while the Brits, Canadians and the rowdy Australians,
and even the quiet New Zealanders (all three),
swiftly skedaddled. I was able to pick up
some used furniture on the cheap. The Germans
were not keen on the idea of war. It was obvious
they hated the whole idea. Um Gottes Will,
they said, downing liters at the local, Was soll denn
das alles sein
? (the fuck’s this all about then?)

So, no enthusiasm. None whatsoever.
I was scribbling all of this happily down
and sending it out through US embassy pouches
thanks to Nick and weird Oklahoma Julie
because the so-called Irish embassy was run by
one of our very own anti-British fascist manqué,
a total blinkered idiot, so shaming, you didn’t
even want to go to the receptions. But I did

occasionally, so that’s how I first met Hermann Goering.
I’d brought a wee tin whistle and that's what got him going.
I played a few tunes, a jig, a reel, and then a plaintive air
and the fat fucker just went berserk, mouthing off
about Aryan purity and asking me up for the weekend,
so I went off to his place up at Karinhall. My God!
You wouldn’t believe the luxury this fellow lived in,
wall-to-wall paintings and tapestries and sculptures
and the whole bloody house lined in marble. He was
on his best behaviour, slapping me on the back,
bad-mouthing the English, saying the Irish were so pure.

Idiot. The fuck he knows about the Irish.
Anything that happens outside of Germany,
these people simply don't have a clue, I mean,
look at Ribbentrop: he says “Heil Hitler” to the King.
Then he hates England because the English laugh at him.
I laugh at him too. That’s normal. Even the Germans
want to laugh at him but that, of course, is not allowed,
Strengst Verboten! not in a land where an unguarded remark
can send you straight to prison. I'm sorry I bought
the furniture; I really think I ought to leave.

I got back to Berlin and who’s sitting in my room,
there in the chair at the foot of my bed, but Werner?
The hell you doing here, I say, pass over my pajamas!
I have message for you, Bernd, you must send please.
O God, that’s how it started. Neutrality, I’d have to say,
went out the window. The Americans got chucked out
in ’41 after Pearl Harbor, the Irish stayed on. Not many.

By then we knew what side we were on. Oh, but listen,
must tell you! Must tell you about the time I met Herr Hitler
and taught him a few words of Irish, Conas ata tú,
which I hope, you know, he took with him to the grave
along with Eva Braun. He could have turned to her
in their last moments, smiled and said: Conas ata tú ?
How are you? How are you? How are you?
She'd have had no reply, she never did, I only met her
the one time and it was Hermann who introduced us,
and after that to some sly sarcastic little dwarf,
a very nasty little piece of work who faded out of the picture
after I’d challenged him to a foot race: a name with “b” or “g”.

Werner was gobsmacked when I left for Sweden
so casually in the winter of ’43. You could still do that then,
even after Stalingrad. The truth hadn’t quite hit them.
I met him after the war in Hamburg, running a bar on the Reeperbahn.
People like Werner never go under, they just bob to the surface
while others are dying in droves all around them. They flourish,
eat well, screw and drink. He looked at me cagily, benevolently,
still thinking I was a corkscrew Jew so I pretended to kiss him,
but his smile went rigid when I whispered in his ear.
Crooks (this is the good thing) don't write books.