This is one of the darkest poems I’ve written to date. I did not consciously intend this at the time, but in retrospect there is a palpable Godless feeling present in these words. I specifically won’t say “atheistic,” because it does not deny the existence of God; rather, it denotes the indifference of God to the atrocities mankind commits upon itself. God is up there, the poem implies, but He doesn’t care.
Calling Buchenwald the “Promised Land” was painful for me, but it was the result of a meditation upon the camp: indeed, the closing line originally read:
Until he answered at last, “Don’t you know Hell when you see it?”
The irony of “the Chosen” being persecuted in the “Promised Land” arose subconsciously, which is why it so strongly augments the equally subconscious theme of God’s indifference—His lack of any clear plan or destiny for humankind. I’m not sure I want to agree with this on a conscious level, but apparently my subconscious is trying to move me in that direction.
The angels descended upon the little community
Like water breaking from a dam and quenching a forest fire.
There was, of course, smoke rising from the little community,
Which always happens when a blistering fire is extinguished.
The people in the community—weak little people in
Comparison to the celestial angels before them—
Slowly came out of their dilapidated living quarters
And inched closer to the angels, cautious yet captivated.
No one spoke—what would they have said to one another?—and the
Community congregated before the barbed-wire fences,
Peering out in disbelief, thinking they had all passed away
With the water from the broken dam, and that their spirits had
Risen into the indifferent night sky with the rest of
The smoke from the crematorium. “This is the end for us,”
Said an old man to no one in particular—for to whom
Would he have said it?—“God has unfettered His Chosen at last!”
An angel perked up at this, seemingly stunned that one of them
Could talk, that they were, in fact, still humans, not walking corpses….
That angel vomited, and the community recoiled in
Amazement at his holy bile. Looking up, the angel asked
In the community’s language, gravely yet with a schoolboy’s
Diction: “Where is this?” The community exchanged confused looks—
For shouldn’t the angel know where on God’s earth he was?—until
A young man, unnaturally bald and emaciated
Like the rest, found the strength to say, “Deutschland.” The angel shook his
Head and tried again, still with schoolboyish diction: “What is this?”
The unnaturally bald and skeletal young man cast his
Sunken eyes about the deluge, at the dilapidated
Houses, the crematorium, the fire pits, the ashes, the
Piles of corpses, the overflowing latrines, the gallows, the
Bullet-ridden walls, the barbed-wire fences, the grim watchtowers;
And he answered, “Don’t you know the Promised Land when you see it?”