On the train, we went to sleep right away. But my cousins, as is
typical of them, complained they didn’t sleep all night. In Innsbruck,
we had to get up and go to the police station where they unpacked
all our luggage and my poor Mommy had to repack everything.
There was such a mob and we had to wait so long that Mommy
said she would unpack a book and I sat down on our hatbox and read.
When we finished, we went to the station restaurant where we had
ham rolls that tasted very good. And as I was sitting in this
book. Well, I hadn’t experienced much yet but, just wait, there will be more!
Stella, Otto, Hedy and Greta, and Aunt Gerti. Those who didn’t
have the same last name had to pretend not to know one another.
This applied to the children as well: they were not allowed to speak
and in fact didn’t speak. We traveled comfortably second-class as
far as Innsbruck. The children slept. In Innsbruck, there was passport
control: for Jews, the order was,“Get off the train with your
luggage.” Aunt Gerti was allowed to continue. Evidently, they took
her for Aryan although no one asked. We were taken by the S.A.
to the police office, across from the railway station. There, we
we were called into a room where our passports were examined,
our money confiscated (since the rules had been changed overnight).
They took 850 marks and the equivalent in schillings. We didn’t care
the slightest. Our thought was only: will they let us travel further?
Will we be arrested? Then all of our luggage was unpacked piece by
piece. Finally, we were allowed to leave. …Back on the train, we
passed one military convoy after another going the other way.
At 10 in the evening, we arrived [in Zürich].
…Here we are deciding what to do next.
Abe rim September musten [sic] wir angemeldet werden. Ich und
fame, and his physician wife, Else] kamen erst in de erste A, mein
Bruder in die drite [sic] A und meine Cousinen in die vierte B.
But my Kronstein cousins went to another school. After three days
I and George [as Hansi is now called!] skipped to 2A.
Over time perspective changes. As she relates of her 1955 return to Vienna, the city “looked like a set for The Third Man,” “I tried to find Hörlgasse 6…but something got mixed up and [we] took a photograph of the wrong house.” “From my vantage point in 1955, none of this seemed very real.” Perloff, accordingly, has little patience with those who perpetually tout the superiority of pre-war Viennese life over their new American lives in the present. The young Gabrielle clearly grew up more involved in American popular culture, perhaps, than her Iowa-bred student—and with the advantage of a cultural heritage that deepens and enlivens her observations on American literature and art. And in that sense Perloff is herself a “Vienna paradox.”
I was flabbergasted. Could a poem be so simple and yet complex, so rich in association without a symbolic structure to support it? I still remember my unspoken feelings as she read the poem. The “I did this, I did that” pattern of this work seemed at first like something out of an amateur writer’s journal; but gradually, as the references moved from simple acts–getting a shoeshine, eating a hamburger and malted—to the literature of the day. Then, things began to shift, the subjects changing from mundane actions in the American landscape to cultural experiences of significance (the new poets of Ghana [I had purchased the same volume a few years earlier], Verlaine, Bonnard, Hesiod, Brendan Behan, Genet’s Les Nègres [the book version of which I had stolen—as I describe in another essay in this volume—from an Iowa City bookstore]) before returning to more ordinary versions of things from around the world with the bottle of Strega purchased in a liquor store and the cartons of Gauloises and Picayunes bought with the The New York Post. Suddenly, as the narrator/poet walked into the 5 Spot with Mal Waldron at the keyboard, I recognized that the “she” who whispered a song— somehow related to these exotic beings and things (many of whom and which had Black or “outsider” associations)—was even more exalted by the fact that her voice literally stopped this seemingly endless catalogue of things and events, as “everyone”—the narrator and presumably the reader as well—stopped breathing. The current of this seeming narrative had been suddenly severed, leaving me with an image of her breathlessly stunned audience, an image, as well, of myself upon hearing the poem.
He is fast, was down the dune
Her scarf was small.
The wind was a wall between them.
Waves break over the tide,
hands tied to her side with silk,
their mind was lost in the night.
The green light at Provincetown
and like stars fell on Alabama.
Motivated as I suddenly had become, I undertook a class report of the theories of Ezra Pound. I’m still amazed at my youthful vigor: I think I read every prose work of that poet, including his Selected Letters, learning, in the process, the concepts behind much of modernist American poetry. I still recall my frustrations in attempting to describe the Vorticist image—as opposed to what Pound described as Amygism—outlined in Pound’s Gaudier Brezska: a record of an interchange between nature and the mind, an instant “when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.”
“It’s sort of like when it’s raining,” whined one of my classmates, “and you’re listening to a certain song, and it makes you think of….”
“No, no, not at all,” I interrupted. “It’s not an association; it’s more like music, an abstraction that represents the objective thing.”
“No,” I began again. “It’s not like Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, where the trombones imitate a donkey. His emotion carries the essence in the mind, where, like a vortex, it is purged of all ‘save the essential or dominant or dramatic qualities,’ emerging ‘like the external original,’ but as something new, something different.”
“Oh, like when you’re thinking of….”
Marjorie recalls that I grew angry, but I don’t remember feeling anything other than the frustration of attempting to explain something to my classmates that perhaps not even I completely understood.