Roal Vertov

Transport | Gdańsk
November 29, 2015 Roal Vertov



Today, a simple bowl of onion soup
under a canopy of plane trees

in the square. I’m trying to write a poem
about a Luftlande infantry regiment

parachuting over the airfields of Den Haag
in 1940, but there has been another shooting

in America, and a great-necked grebe
plunges under the oily surface

of the nearby canal, submerged so long I think
it just might resurface in the 17th Century

beside a stewpot on a simmering fire, my ancestors
haggling over pigs and cattle in the Beestenmarkt

as others make their way to the growing shipyards
of the Dutch West India Company, the VOC,

traders of slaves in the business of human capital,
sailors bound for Savi,  Ouidah, and Rufisque

aboard Guineamen like the Leusden, the Wapen
van Holland, the Rustof, the Mercurius,

their human freight annotated in terms of loss
the way crates of cabbage and exotic fruit

were once penned into ledgers in exacting detail,
sharks in the wake for their meal of the dead.

I sometimes feel like that great-necked grebe,
rising through the cold reaches of history

to break through the surface of the rain-pocked water,
where the pitch and trough of the ocean

converses with those mighty wooden houses given wings
of cloth, a sky made of gunpowder and iron.





Hildegard Knef sings Illusionen as the turntable
spins blue hours toward dawn, and Margo, dreaming,
whispers the name of a city I haven’t thought of in years,
her head rising and falling with my breath, and it is too good
holding her while she sleeps, sweet enough to join her now
if I could, though light splays over the dark river
of her hair, fires from the grain stores and port crane
burning to their ruin in the 1940s, the building facades
gathering all the sorrow and grief that empty windows
can hold, though Margo, her eyelids sealing the night
over rubble and dust, focuses on the task at hand,
on the vast scale of all she must reassemble in dream,
brick by brick, as much ruin in the world as she can tend to,
the dead cities and dead centuries brought back to life,
gold afternoons from the summers of long ago, days
swirling around us as she takes my hand, laughing, then
serious, saying—In sleep we find the most difficult work
of our lives, saving all we can, a kiss good-bye
for all that we cannot.


—after T.R. Hummer