Originally posted 7/3/2006.
We don’t recognize the tall old man
who asks if he can be on the list.
After he signs up at number four,
he sits in the far corner, alone,
speaking to no one.
When his turn comes he announces
that the poem he’ll be reading
is a gift from the ancient ones
unveiling the dangers of the coming
He begins in German
and if he could speak German
at anything more than a freshman level
we might find less menace to his voice.
We catch snips of words
and phrases, some in English:
We shift in our seats
when he reaches
under his shirt. Nothing is forthcoming
but no one relaxes.
His voice rises to a near shout,
concludes with English:
“man cannot destroy
the earth, for he is of the earth.”
When he is done we applaud, as always —
looking around to see
who else is applauding,
who sees us applauding,
who is sitting unmoved
This room full of smart people is terrified by — what?
A stranger reading a bad poem in halting German
and disreputable English? The potential for death by a stereotype
of mental illness or fanaticism? The invasion
of our comfortable bubble? A secret thrill
of guilty agreement? Or is it how
his elementary cadence just marched
uninflected over art
straight out of history and into
our best knowledge of how evil
is supposed to sound?