Tourists smile for pleasant family
photographs. They saunter into town
through cobblestoned centralplatz—
a neat row of curved pastel-colored houses
and shops, red brick medieval gate.
These facades are like tubs of ice cream:
raspberry next to vanilla next to pistachio,
and the ice cream here
is some of the best in Bavaria.
It's all lovely.
Even as I wander these quiet streets
in search of someone willing to talk
about the shadows that still hang over
this place. How could an entire town,
so friendly and well-behaved,
turn so sharply to the right
that it fell off
into a deep-river current of hate?
Buried in mass graves under a lime-green forest
four hundred yards outside the town gate,
the anonymous thousands that died
building Hitler's last prayer and secret weapon,
jet engine Messerschmidts, machines
that eventually shared the same fate
as those that were forced to fabricate;
Allied bombs rained down
before a single plane got off the ground.
All things human are shadow stained
and, like the father in "Hansel and Gretel,"
we often make the same mistake
believing the forest is there
to hide and abide our darkest bidding.
History casts long shadows
from the woods outside this town;
groves of pine grow sturdy and strong
their roots nestled in among the bones of those
who knew only suffering and then were gone.
And photographs of underground slave labor
camps are, I suspect, exceedingly rare
in Bavarian towns with reputations to protect.
Still, what must happen late at night
when crisp alpine winds
exhale deeply through wooded pines
and shadows rise from the forest floor
to reach out, like gloved fingers in moonlight,
towards this pretty little town
on the edge of the river Lech.
Tony Magistrale is a Professor and Chair of the English
Department at the University of Vermont. His book of poems,
What She Says About Love, won the 2007 Bordighera Poetry
Prize and was subsequently published in 2008 as a bilingual
edition by the Bordighera Press and the John D. Calandra
Italian American Institute at City University of New York.