David Howard


The Folly of Honest Men

            "Utopia is meaningless if not criminal."
                        —Gerhard Richter

Plagwitz. In the end you are tired, starting
over. As a boy you were taught the sun rises in the East -
not these days.

Now post-war factories host feral ghosts.
Now martens chew through the electrics in cars parked by anglers
after carp

disturbed by those impervious rowers,
mortal Olympians. Adrift, you sway past the bar the way
weed sways to

avoid an oar. You walk on all the cracks.
A 'graffiti artist' on Korn sits outside his self-regard.
You must ask:

'Why him instead of me?' Here everything
happens to happen after black coffee and blacker shadows
(O Rosa!

Your socialist dream evaporated
like a puddle of urine). It is difficult to describe
visions. Lift

your head clear of that rank canal, language;
it ripples with definitions you let loose until there is
nothing but

circles. But Karl Heine can't object to
becoming a subject. Even the breeze leaves 'things' unruffled:
it is you

who flap about. Like the watchful falcon
you never get around to procrastination: there's too much
work to shirk -

the work of girls you would like to ask out,
the work of boys you dream of beating up in front of those girls,
the work of

the foreign photographer who watches
because he wants to know who you are in order to order
black & white

thoughts. If he asks you will give a false name.
You are true to nature. The sun only tickles the canal;
the moon goes

swimming. Thrown by aimless boys, skipping stones
skew to the left (that's as far as Rosa Luxemburg's 'inner
rebirth of

the proletarian' goes). United
by neither landscape nor language 'noble' workers strive in blue

for paradise, smiling while yellow stars
diaspora the surface. A girl who fears persecution

her first lover, the halter-neck sunset
slipping off that wasp-waisted day she said yes and then lost 'it'
in shadows

no street-light penetrated (O Rosa!
Consciousness is always consciousness of something: it's outside
of itself.

Your revolution bred orphans, brought ice
which hung around like an informant until Kruschev's secret
speech heated

functionaries walking their terriers
along foggy banks. Imagine if water was animate,

how would it address fellow travellers?
Here is your inheritance. Clean the sludge off with your gossip
about 'K'

the Jewish clerk, the Party's harsh edicts -
every empty warehouse condemns the red flag your father raised,
that market

you descend to. When you visit my banks
wear your trinkets: I'll appraise them faithfully, the way brokers
reflect growth).

While Karl Heine slides past like former friends
slide past junkies, the workers disappear into 'History'.
This old man

misses Hilde, whose hair never silvered.
He produces a smile the way all migrants produce papers,

He stares at that water like he used to
stare at Hilde. His body is broken earthenware the day
glazes grey

(so, Rosa, this is 'rebirth'?) now desire
shrinks into thin air. He breathes the day as politicians breathe
acid ink

on a treaty they'll ignore. The birds pass
over everything he fought for. The folly of honest men.
The honour.

It's the absolute opposite to you
who oppose the absolute as a child opposes nightfall
by crying

to a kerosene lamp. Neither sincere
nor insincere, this canal accepts whatever was and is

At the bottom of the bottom there are:
skin and bones, gun-metal, medals you do not care to dredge for
in the new

Germany. A policeman would tell you
to move on. The sky is redder than engine oil, redder than
the water

fluttering like a fine campaign ribbon
across a country that's governed by memories yet scared for
the future;

a country that supervises limbo
as if it was one more statue honouring Walter Ulbricht
or Karl Marx.

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