Te Saluto Pater
“Other crews engaged in a light attack on the Rhur
saw the fires of Hamburg 200 miles away….”
The London Times July 26, 1943
“…the chastisement of His peace was upon them.”
My father and I saw the Northern Lights one summer’s
Night from a small cove on Jamaica’s north coast.
(“What a bloody great glow it was in the night sky—
We could see it damn near as far as the Channel.”)
The moon was as dull as soap and he
Turned from the windswept north,
Turned from those weird lights so far south
He remembered in them the hell that came to Hamburg.
I remember Father how you played patience
As we listened to the BBC World Service
Crackle its way across the Atlantic
To our beachfront veranda under lantern light—
How you called him throughout “that bastard Eichmann”
Beginning when he sat behind bullet-proof glass
And said no to his guilt in the sense of the indictment.
His accusers wailed, the palm fronds rustled—
You played on and kept muttering “the bastard….”
What I remember most, being a child,
Was the testimony of the shoes—
The “field of shoes” at Auschwitz—
All those tiny shoes, in my mind
Acres and acres of shoes, lost, unmatched,
Mother-tied shoes, as he sat in fugitive stillness
And became his accusers’ rhetoric.
When I did learn what deportation meant
I pitied Eichmann too—as I did the burned-up
Little feet for all those shoes—with a child’s heart
The indignity of the glass—
Where he sat, ibis-necked,
A tired, unremitting bore.
The strange lights danced on the bay—
And I saw for the first time as you gazed
In silence up from your cards and the radio’s commentary
To the dazzling horizon what I know now
As a gunner’s squint—the wound of endless nightfighter
Vigils, and stolen, furtive looks at the remarkable sight
Of gray clouds bathed in the bloodlight of ruined cities.
You Father, who helped me sow that tribulation
Of fire on Hamburg—I love you,
Still squinting, a bastard like Eichmann,
His partner in our great travail—
Both Herod’s swordsmen come straight
From Bethlehem, come for the weeping
Man swaddled in infant’s blood.