The Success of Captain Whitaker’s Dress, Until the Piano Can No Longer Hold Its Tune, TypewriterOne of the old family stories that gets disrobed
anytime someone brings up the war
is how great uncle Isaac dressed in drag
to fool a dopey Union picket
into giving him/her keys to Grant's food storage.
'Course he stole everything
and 'course the Yanks were fooled.
But the untold story is how Isaac shaved his mustache,
one of those bushy fox tails,
how he emerged from the river, beardless,
his naked body bare and pink
from the Bowie blade
that softened his features,
appearing, at first,
to his men as a boy,
then as a girl.
But it is of course only a story.
But if the story is fact,
then a corset harnessed him,
and a wig, & petticoats, & powder & silk were his vessel,
and like a saucy Robin Hood
he galloped off for the enemy front
in his own backyard.
And if the story were fact,
the swampy Mississippi,
even in April
the lungs sweat to move the obese air.
The only thing more uncomfortable than being a man in the southern heat
is being a woman.
Who coached his voice?
Were Union boys so polite and dumb
to forgive a husky woman,
boxy as a happy meal?
How did he hook their eyes?
With a swish? With a kiss? With a lie?
Was there a rose in your hair, Isaac?
Did the perfumes rouse your tempers
as you strumped up the country road?
In likelihood he had an accomplice,
Did she offer more, Isaac, as you slipped inside?
Or did you go alone
your guerrilla nature hammered into a long leg lady drawl?
What did you find between the folds of your dress?
Your powder as delicate as a bruise,
as you swayed your hips like a cheap ballerina
all while your men lay fattened with fever
by the river,
their throats tight
as your choker.
What did you learn when you were swallowed by the eyes
of a few rowdy kids with rifles, bullets, and knives?
UNTIL THE PIANO CAN NO LONGER HOLD ITS TUNE
Château Thierry, Fall 1940 German Invasion of France
"We will stay until I can no longer tune the piano,"
father announced over breakfast, the sausage squared,
wine thinned by water, biscuits hard as fingernails.
"We will stay until I can no longer tune the piano," he repeated.
"But we will run out of food," mother said,
the wine on her lips like the stains to come,
the deep umber that we would suddenly find on our skins,
on our clothes,
in our milk.
How we went from daily baths
the water oily from ash, and the gauze of gasoline
from the Luftwaffe raids
that made knotted smoke in the tangles above our town.
Every morning and every evening
my father played his favorite waltz
while our neighbors
and relatives vanished in their carts,
walking with the wrack and wreck of their belongings,
fever hanging on their bones like bloody moss.
Not even when the shelves began to shudder.
Not even when we were alone in town.
Not even when we could hear German shouts
in the forest where we foraged for food.
Because the piano continued to play.
Daily rounds of raiding basements, wine cellars,
the weekly runs to the far gardens in the soon countryside.
My sister and I in our charcoal clothes,
with our hunger bags, and stone stomachs.
"We will stay until I can no longer tune the piano,"
father would sometime mutter at breakfast or at lunch
spreading butter over fried flour.
Not even when the neighboring village burned in the dusk
or the Panzers crawled in,
their insect roar splintering the very sunlight
about our block.
And then it was too late.
But mother has prepared,
so sister and I, with our mother dear
left our father with his tools, his bottles of wine, and his piano
that still managed to hold its music
even as earth gave way
to engine, to gunpowder.
But he didn't stay.
He met us in the shredded wood.
He carried no food, no blankets, no clothes,
only his tuning tools, like walrus teeth in his broken hands.
TYPEWRITERS GO BANG. MUNICH. FEB. 1943. SOPHIE SCHOLL
while Sophie packed
the leaflets with import
and sprayed perfume over her locks,
and with cloth covered the tarts
her grandmother brought from far away shops.
Stamping like mad postmen,
Chris and Sophie smote and smoke
and finally agree on whom will launch
their rhetoric, their paper death,
into the air above
the lecture halls
that smell like church bread.
1. To resist evil
2. To fall in love
3. To be enlarged like the great crown of an oak
This is my agenda
Beyond the white rose wallpaper fabric of the violin shop,
in the dappled down basement,
they chop, chop,
chop at their typewriters
and drink too much
The shapeless students who comprise
the folds of their secret hours;
their mission, to ignite the very voices
of the campus,
who wait, wait, wait
and dream in lecture and do not pause
as Jews are shackled against street walls,
guilty of only being afraid
in a city come ruin,
in a cow town gone mad in the teeth,
full of poor jacks in the box,
jack bulls, the jack
of the man with trigger jaw who pines,
for some thick thighed woman whom he made love to once,
on the Rhine, in a summer air
that must exist beyond the smell of gunpowder.
If only one were allowed to love, Sophie thinks,
then none of this would be happening.
It's a violin varnish morning
and the piano has been moved to the back alley
but no one can remember why.
1. To wear a red scarf
2. To carry the leaflets like a bomb
3. To wear the white rose
4. To have a free tongue in the wolf's mouth
and Sophie continues with her make-up,
as if today is not the day
she will give hope to those who oppose the Nazis.
She will be caught.
It is that simple.
And like a child she will state, "It is better to give..."
and what can be said of that?
To answer is to give no answer.
Hans finishes the documents and Sophie folds them,
they are packed like fresh underwear
and live for twelve itching hours
in the dark crawl under her lair,
in a suitcase broad and black,
until they are unpacked
and left on marble laps outside classroom doors.
Sophie shoves the stacks of leaflets off the balcony rails,
and rhetoric flies off into the hall,
tumbling out, curling, and flipping, and dropping
into people's noses
like chronic halitosis.
It's too late,
she is seen
and they have been, been, been
up until now
and all the Gestapo needs are the stamps in her brother's desk,
red ink smudges
on her nails,
the gun in the top desk drawer,
their words a paper trail to their buckish hearts,
and the axeman's stump is strung with sprung halos,
the white flowers tight as a fist,
and the man under the deathhead mask is as naked as a neighbor.