7000 Oaks

7000 Oaks, documenta VII, 1982

Das Chaos einer Nacht

22 October 1943,

cities shrunken into history

at the dead-most hour of the night,

English bombers, storms of fire,

factories billowing,

Flammenmeer. Soot, bone,

human waste, later

snow and ruin.

In the dark of a cellar

I felt a woman in a fur coat.

The hawks' woods burned,

childhood spiraled to an end.

The archeology of war

spread its footprints into

the mountains of rubble.

Horse carts, Fleischmarkts,

the shoveling of endless bricks.

Streams of refugees make

for the gates of the city,

fleeing anywhere

as American soldiers come

to occupy, along with stragglers

from Kiev. Speer's architects

are left to reconstruct

as they see fit, this wasteland

of sewage, iron, and cement.

In 1955, a bear visits

from the Berlin Zoo,

the Rembrandts are restored,

a first art documenta,

the belief in things again.

But not one tree is standing.

Baumschule (Tree Farm)

Our tree truck didn't come,

the sun now high over pines

of the valley, so I walked

through rows of sapling oaks,

linden, cherry and birch and

wrote this poem in my head,

as Mayakovsky always did,

bounding through meadows

or on snow-covered steppes,

embellishing himself with

the words, the rhapsody,

scaring off plowmen, cattle,

rushing home without words

written down, so to scrawl

from memory his odes to hope

and homelessness and fury.

I found a love-worn nest

and a robin who prattled

on with me, and still,

the tree truck didn't come.

Holger sat at the wheel

of a pickup, humming to

Connie Francis on a radio,

Tu mir nicht weh,

and, Darling, du bist alles,

while in a penitentiary

on the hill, a poet of the RAF

walks in circles in his cell,

scribbling for his dinner,

as light streams in a window

bent to hell. On his wall,

pictures of caves and crows

and lizards without wings,

hairy arms, exploding things.

A circle of girls, sketching trees.

try to sing some sky back in.

The leaf mulch dump beyond,

its sooty fires and raven cries,

and Hercules, up in a baroque

garden of the Landgraf Karl,

ponds where strangers might

meet and make love in the dark.

Finally, when the tree men came,

we lift up the balled-up roots

already dug from the ground

and we drove the twenty trees

downtown to a central station.

Stadtverwaldung (City Planting)

We planted along the Autobahn,

by Mercedes and the Holiday Inn.

One basalt rock for every tree, we

laid them out the length of the city.

We dug, cut roots, stamped earth

around the stones and false acacia.

Three smashed tree trunks,

felled by a drunken driver,

whose grave became their stone.

Turkish sheep in a meadow

(with giant Dumbo ears!),

a field of ravenous crows

and ripening red cabbages

on the first day of December.

Later, more trees had to go

to the Theaterplatz, the museum,

by the pile of stones which

prompted all this digging.

Five trees for the parking lot,

each one to be given a name.

The middle one now will grow

for the daughter we don’t have,

not yet made into this world.

We walked to the Fulda River,

to the huge pickax thrown by

Hercules, and to the single

hermitage left of the sixties,

and an abandoned farmhouse,

the only one whose yard is full

of weeds in all of Germany,

where a man lives toothless

on welfare, building scarecrows

or tractor parts to pass the time:

even there we saw our trees,

a miraculous seven thousand

lining each and every street.

This taking care might insure

a lifetime for our children.

Still Life

Up before dawn, we get our trees

and two guys from the prison,

drive down to the South End

to plant six trees by lunchtime.

After three days of rain, the earth

was like a pond, and we had to

sling our axes into mud with

each thrust, as Holger spoke

on and on of Perry Rhodan,

outer space adventurer, savior

of the twenty-first century.

But the men wanted to talk

of the here and now, so happy

to be out at least on Saturdays.

The nature of a gift to the city,

what might the world be like

without these rocks and trees.

We lounged in the truck at lunch

with breads and wurst and coffee,

as someone talked about acid rain,

how all the rabbits were dying.

Feeding the god, another said,

this worship of the oak, pruning

of the golden bough we thought

we knew everything about.

How to save the world, not by Reds

or Greens or SPD bureaucrats,

but all of us just listening.

I heard, saw how much joy they had

to have found this time to share

their chocolates and clementines.

As the rain fell, a woman

scrubbed her porch, and stared

at us as if we were from the moon.

We Germans are good at looking after

things, but beware the taking charge.

And as the prison bus came

to pick them up, we were out again

in orange vests, pounding stakes

for the last tree, so they whistled,

waved, and shouted to me, be sure to

plant a stone and tree for every poem.