Das Chaos einer Nacht
22 October 1943,
cities shrunken into history
at the dead-most hour
of the night,
English bombers, storms of fire,
Flammenmeer. Soot, bone,
human waste, later
snow and ruin.
In the dark of a cellar
I felt along a neckline to a cold breast
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 Arbeit macht frei
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,
the first art documenta,
a trust in smoky glass again.
But not one tree is standing.
Baumschule (Tree Farm)
Our tree truck didn't come,
the sun now high over the pines
of the valley, so I walked
through the rows of sapling oaks,
and linden trees, gingko, cherry, birch,
and wrote this poem in my head,
as Mayakovsky always did,
bounding through meadows
or snow-covered steppes,
embellishing himself with
the words, the rhapsody,
scaring off plough men, cattle,
rushing home without one phrase
written down, to scrawl
from memory his odes to hope
and homelessness and fury.
I found a love-worn swallow's nest
and a red-breast chat who chirruped
into noon, and still,
the tree truck didn't come.
Greybeard Holger sat at the wheel
of the flatbed pickup, humming
to Connie Francis on the radio,
Tu mir nicht weh,
and, Darling, du bist alles,
while in the penitentiary
on the hill, a poet of the RAF
walks in circles in his cell, vogelfrei,
scribbling against the light
streaming in through bars
that are bent to hell. On the wall
are pictures of caves and cunts
and Scamander River fowl without wings,
hairy arms and exploding things,
a circle of girls, sketching trees,
trying to sing the sky back in.
The leaf mulch dump beyond,
its sooty fires and raven cries,
and naked Hercules atop the baroque
gardens of the Landgraf Karl,
duck ponds where strangers could
meet and make love in the dark.
Finally, when the men came,
we hauled out the balled roots
already dug from the ground
and we drove the twenty trees
to the streets of the city.
Rain on Dresdnerstrasse, a smog
worse than that in Hollywood--
we had to plant along the Autobahn,
by the Mercedes works and the Holiday Inn.
One basalt rock for every tree--
the prism of volcanoes Beuys would say--
we laid them out the length of city.
We dug, cut roots, stamped the 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 full of ravenous crows
and ripening cabbages
on the first day of frost in December.
Later, trees had to go to the Theaterplatz,
the Fridericianum and museum,
near the pile of stones which
prompted all this digging.
Five trees for the parking lot,
each one to be given a name:
Uta, Veronika, Charlotte,
Johanna and Christina;
the middle one now will grow
for the daughter we do not have,
not yet waxed into this busy world.
We walked then to the Fulda River,
to the huge pickax thrown by
Hercules, and to the single
hermitage of the sixties,
the abandoned house of Kassel,
the only one whose yard is full
of weeds in all of Germany,
where a man lives toothless
on welfare, building scarecrows
and tractor parts to pass the time.
Even there was a line of our trees,
the miraculous seven thousand
sprouting and tilting everywhere,
green windmills without Quixote.
This taking care might insure
a lifetime for our children.
Nature Morte (Still Life)
Up before dawn, we get our trees
and two guys from the prison ward,
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, cartoon
outer space adventurer, savior
of the twenty-first century.
But the lifers wanted to talk
of the here and now, so happy
to be out at least on Saturdays.
The plug of this gift to the city,
what might the world be like
if all these trees weren't here.
We sat in the truck at lunch
with breads and würst and coffee,
as Ulrike talked about acid rain,
how all Beuys' rabbits were dying,
even without his ritual sacrifice.
Feeding the god, Matthias sang,
this worship of the oak, pruning
of the golden bough we thought
we knew too much about.
How to save the world, not by Reds
or Greens or SPD bureaucrats,
but all of us harsh 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 kerchiefed hausfrau
scrubbed her porch, and stared right through
us, as if we were from the seventh 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.
Flammenmeer, a sea of flames.
Arbeit macht frei, Work makes you free, words inscribed above the gates of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
vogelfrei, free as a bird, also the name of a book of lyrical poems by Peter-Jurgen Boock, arrested and life-imprisoned, as a member of the RAF.
Scamander--ancient name for a river of northwestern Turkey which flows into the Aegean Sea.
Tu mir nicht weh, Don't do me no harm.
Darling, du bist alles, Darling you're everything.
RAF (Rote Armee Faction), the left-wing group of which Baader and Meinhof were members and founders.
SPD , the Socialist Democratic Party of Germany.
Red, communist party
Green, ecological party
hausfrau, housewife (Saturday mornings are porch-cleaning time all over Germany)
In 1986, as his first book of poems was coming out in the United States, William Allen planted trees with the 7000 Eichen project in Kassel, Germany, Joseph Beuys' documenta 7 exhibition and gift to the city. This book provides a lyrical and social eye at the inside of a project which has worked to redefine understandings of social sculpture--art employed to radically empower people to challenge urban planning with respect to democratic and healthy city community.