D. B. DEVILLIERS

Poetry

Month: December, 2014

I Do Wish

I wish I had held myself together.
I wish I’d done better,
done more, been better.
Wished I could try,
now wishing I had.
Sure wish I’d spent less time
trying to wish away the bad.
I might’ve been something
had I been anything
to begin with,
but if there’s a God
his concerns are more
important
than I am.
He didn’t stack chips
upon any
of my plans
and I don’t blame him—
he’d have lost them.
I wouldn’t have placed
that bet
either.
God doesn’t, can’t help those
who help themselves
to repeated glasses of
bourbon and gin
and out from open windows, shout
slurred shouts, swearing skyward, said

“Well, goddamn! I never once wished for this!”

With Artful Cruelty

Fyodor Dostoevsky observed in his final work The Brothers Karamazov that, despite our alleged civility, human beings possess a capacity for cruelty far beyond that of any other creature—his specific phrasing was that we humans are “artistically cruel,” if I correctly recall.

When I first read Karamazov, I had been at that time taking an intro-level philosophy course. My professor, a kindly 77-year-old Korean War veteran of significant academic distinction, relayed to the class a story pertaining to Nazi Germany’s conduct in rural Russia, Dostoevsky’s homeland, during the Second World War:

Germany began her colossal conquest of the Soviet Union during the summer of 1941. German forces often came across villages buried deep within the Russian countryside: villages which had maintained so little contact with the outside world, it was as though they had been preserved from progress and the passage of time—a pristine glimpse into the age of Peter the Great, perhaps. So isolated were these tiny towns that their inhabitants had hardly ever before been exposed to the power of music.

German unit commanders became quickly aware of this fact.

With the artful cruelty that so deeply pervaded Nazi hegemony, Wehrmacht armor and infantry would surround one of these anachronistic villages, whose residents had in all probability never seen so much as an automobile before. The tankers, their massive machines running idle in place, would then begin playing a recording of Rossini’s William Tell overture in unison—and at a deafening volume—through loudspeakers mounted to the tanks’ armor plates.

Nearly halfway through the piece, the Panzers would begin to inch toward the village—almost imperceptibly at first, but soon accelerating, gaining speed commensurate with the music’s mounting intensity—tracks turning faster and faster, engines roaring louder and louder—as though Rossini himself had composed a part specifically for those armored machines, penning it into his score nearly a century before the tank was invented.

At this point, the piece’s recording began to approach its final measures. The sound grew maddeningly loud as the orchestra played to a cacophonous crescendo.

Then, at long last, the finale’s first notes rang out. The order was given to take the village.

The 75mm guns fixed to each Panzer’s turret spoke with burning breath—horrific hellfire percussion echoed behind the climactic close of William Tell. Engines of decimation roared with demonic rage; the full fury of modern industrial warfare struck the village like lightning. Within minutes, the life which existed there unmolested for centuries was obliterated.

And the music did onward play, an encore for which no request was made, when the Panzers again happened upon similar places.

Just as Dostoevsky once noted, over half a century before those lands which he has immortalized in literature were ravaged by the Nazi war machine, we humans are indeed imbued with a unique capacity for cruelty—such awful, artful cruelty.

Kingdom of Ruin

I was a city surrounded
by colossal walls of
stone and masonry,
impervious to attack,
built when battles past
left me crumbling
but then,
you appeared on the horizon
and approached my gates
and I couldn’t turn you away.

I didn’t understand
the mistake I’d made
until I was burnt down,
when my city had already been
razed to the ground,
and you passed by the gates
never to return
again.

What remains of me
wanders these ashes,
the flames long faded,
the ruin gone cold
and I long for you.
The walls still stand
blackened but intact
defending my domain
from an enemy who’ll never again
attack.

As days become years,
I’ve come to realize
a hard, bitter truth
that I hide with false pride:
if you appeared at my gates
ever again
I’d raise them for you
and welcome you inside
to my kingdom of ruin
my dominion of dust.

I wrote this one maybe a year ago about a particularly nasty breakup. Those emotions have by now mostly faded into oblivion, of course, but I still enjoy the poem quite a lot.

Despair

I don’t think time can kill it off completely, that emotion, I mean, but the years do dull it. Maybe it’s like a blade: you can grind that edge down flat in time, but the steel—the thing itself, however impotent—still exists, and a lifetime of effort couldn’t send it into oblivion.