D.E. Steward

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Vocational Salvation

Hours before the Allies arrived in Gardelegen north of Magdeburg on April 13, 1945, an SS detachment bugged out 
from guarding a column of civilian prisoners, and Wehrmacht troops, remaining SS, local volunteers, and some 
Hitler Youth and Volksstrum took over 

And executed over a thousand of the civilians by gasoline-soaking the barn into which they had been driven and 
burning it

Those trying to escape the smoky hay and fodder fire were murdered by machine guns set up to cover the 
barn’s doors 

While I was shooting marbles squatting on a school playground in the Shenandoah 

The day was a Friday, the day after FDR died in Warm Springs 

A quarter century later while bent down to study a Wehrmacht helmet bolted to a grave’s cross in a church cemetery
in Oberösterreich, a woman appeared behind me cursing violently and repeatedly swinging at me with a spade  

In Europe, “Night comes from Asia, and asks no questions”  (Adam Zagajewski)  

When Peter Hanke stood up in the Princeton Chapel in the Gruppe 47 meeting, April 1966, shouting about the 
descriptive impotence, Beschreibungsimpotenz, of his German contemporaries, my German wasn’t up to 
understanding what was going on and I was about to leave for vocational salvation in California   

There the chain of potent volcanoes which are the mountains themselves and the wild Pacific itself waited and wait 

When moving into a lookout at the start of fire season, first orient the fire-finder correcting what accidental jars, 
adjustments by people ignorant of direction, and the winter’s earthquakes and tremors have done to the plane table

all along the bloom below,
scrolling the wrestle of directions
that make the oceans go     
                         (Les Murray)

Anton Webern was shot and killed by an American soldier on a street under curfew in Mittersill, Austria, 
September 1945    

Instances of change that coalesce into a sinister post-modern coherence

The twenty-first-century proposal of a sugar tax to counter obesity echoes back to the beginning of African slavery 
in the Americas 

After the enslaved pre-Columbian residents died off on the cane plantations, Bartolomé de las Casas, their 
advocate, proposed bringing in Africans instead 

The trade winds carry well from West Africa to the Americas thus the Middle Passage and the triangular trade 

All for sugar 

Slaves in, sugar back to Britain and Europe, trade goods to West Africa, slaves out

And slaves in, rum north to Maine and the Maritimes offloaded for dried cod and tall timber (white pine masts for 
ships of the line), then back across on the westerlies  

Sugar and slaves, slaves and sugar 

Trade and technology ruthlessly modify 

Turocolonialism, technocolonialism 

Oil became the elixir and radical exchanges followed

Petroleum fosters plutocracies, plutocracies foster petroleum

In 1966 there were a hundred and eighty thousand residents in the United Arab Emirates, now there are eight million 

Future shock 


Dig in 

Hold on

In the manner of any opportunistic orthodoxy


With distracted readings of Derrida, Barthes, Sassure and Benjamin and their dogmas

As current literary critical idiom involves originary, cognized, stylismic, alterity, foregrounding

“Americans are highly moralistic, and any kind of moral ambiguity irritates them. As a result they completely fail to
understand themselves, which is one of their strengths”  (J. G. Ballard)

Earnest, incompetent, aging Wasps often self-depreciatingly confused, befuddled, charmingly and tellingly like 
surviving aborigines living on the fringes of the new computer-driven vitality

“Nothing is more certain than the foolishness of old certainties”  (Elliot Weinberger) 

Such pinched and narrow Aubrey Beardsley faces

A self-defining clerisy 

At the 250-years-of-Princeton reception of the university’s architecture department in the 1990s, almost three 
quarters of all there were dressed completely in what was still then metropolitan black 

French paced piano wistful, ritardando, cédez, serrez, rubato  

The hanging drift smoke of rubato

The Florentine palazzos, Strozzi, Pitti, Medici, Rucellai, Pazzi, Antinori

Italy, tolerant of divorce and abortions, idealistic but grossly materialistic, deep respect for intellectuals but horrible 
mass media and childish popular culture, conservative but highly stylish and able to innovate brilliantly, a corrupt elite 

“Anachronistically, I imagine the Florentine patricians [Pazzi v. Medici] solving their problems by learning the trick of 
rotating apparently opposed but complicitous factions in power in response to the whims of a complacently 
enfranchised popolo anesthetized by mass media and consumer goods”  (Tim Parks) 

The startlingly monumental Piero in Williamstown, Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, massive in the 
manner of his Resurrection in Sansepolcro 

Piero, exciting as the indisputable stirrings of spring 

Or the autumn theme from Glazunov’s The Seasons, the Adagio of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, or Tristan if in the right 
mood for it

“…Dawn always tells us something / always.”  (Adam Zagajewski)

A thousand writing programs established mostly in American universities and colleges 

Plus who knows how many unregistered with AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) along with 
private and community writing workshops involving who knows how many tuition-paying earnest people questing for 
a freedom window 

Against odds similar to a high school player making it to the NBA 

The whole, with chronic American cooption in play, keeps a cadre of generally well-meaning writing teachers in oil 
changes and baby food

Flaunting flat-brimmed, bowl-crowned Boss of the Plains hats, facial hair and haven’t read that attitudes  

“Society… teaches its members that their only hope of salvation, within the established order, lies in an absurd and 
despairing attempt to get free of that order”  (Lévi-Strauss)

Gainsay any connection to AWP

Or to the fictive/factive nuttiness of psychiatry/psychology

Or to mysticism or spiritualism

Or worldorderism of any sort 

Smelling of moldy carpeting and cat piss 

Gainsayer, gainsaid

“Mysticism… a mental system that prefers vagueness to meaning, coincidence to causation and pomposity to 
criticism”  (Druin Burch)

Much better is the intense, vivid sarcasm of Goya

The defining acuity of Les Murray 

The precise wonder of W. S. Merwin 

Straight-shooter Umberto Eco, stick with the subject and the words will follow, and in poetry stick with the words 
and the subject will

The trundling sound of travelers pulling along their rolling luggage  


El Escorial’s one hundred and sixty kilometers of corridors 

Fixity and order 

Bearing gravely on the commodification of girls and women, the normal gender ratio is 100:105, presently China’s 
is 100:121 and the world’s is 100:107, by the 2020s one in five men will be surplus in China and northwest India

Having to do too with all sorts of other unsettling things

“I wonder what I am, / a passerby who won’t last long”  (Adam Zagajewski)

Most probably that’s just as well but then it will be others like us when unsustainability will encourage all sorts of 
grotesque ethical compromises down the line 

D. E. Steward mainly writes months with 364 of them to date. Most of them are published, as is much 
of his short poetry.