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ISSN 1081-3500 | Copyright © Mudlark 1996

Editor: William Slaughter | E-mail:



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Mudlark No. 4 (1996)

A Conversation with Martin Heidegger

An Original Poem in English by Van K. Brock

      for Kathy Rugoff


[The] ground that enabled modern technology to set free new energy in nature [is] a revolution in leading concepts . . . by which man is placed in a different world. This radical revolution in outlook has come about in modern philosophy. From this arises a completely new relation of man to the world and his place in it. The world now appears as an object open to the attacks of calculative thought, attacks that nothing is believed able any longer to resist.

        --Gelassenheit (1959), translated by John M. Anderson & E. Hans Freund

Even before his first book, in 1927, the young lecturer Heidegger was highly acclaimed. In 1933, when Goebbels called for burning books by Jews, socialists, and others, in bonfires often fed by professors and students, Heidegger swore loyalty to Hitler and, by vote of the faculty, replaced the dissenting rector at Freiburg. Always a German nationalist, Heidegger headed the movement to unite workers and students into the Party and signed orders firing Jewish professors, one of whom, Werner Brock, later an editor-interpreter of Heidegger, claimed Heidegger could do nothing else. When Hitler wanted him in Munich in 1933 and Berlin in 1935, Heidegger remained at Freiburg, and after 1934 Heidegger resigned as rector, pleading too much political influence. His fervent support of Nazis during the year he was rector was given when their power was weakest, but investigations by the French after the war cleared him of war crimes.

Among Heidegger's loyal followers, Sartre (who read Heidegger and Husserl in Berlin) was in the Resistance and a Nazi prison, and Hannah Arendt (once Heidegger's student and lover), in exile in New York, became an influential philosopher of community and justice. If some deem Heidegger the thinker of his time, others find him original but untenable. He based his thought in a concept of rooted relation he called being-there, and stood on it by staying in Freiburg, even when it meant severing thought from action.


Brother Martin! Here? And you on my mind.
But you were drawn to poets. Rest by my hearth--
an oddity now in this red-gothic maze.

Looking into my blue flames we are soon gone,
our true selves staying in our work,
you say, as we easily fly back to Freiburg,
where by your pale fire, ten short years
after the uncovering, you sit still
"thinking back" on the glorious past
of Swabia--your corner of poverty--
and I burn to ask about whoozit--the rector
whose place you took--and those you deposed.

This all-things-bound-together-in-conflict,
you call true intimacy, and it holds us closer
to our own ground, as in undoing we do and in doing
we negate. I've no taste for your petite scandale;
we're discreet. Can I or my colleagues judge you?
Ambition, you say, means going around and around
chasing your own tale. That's true, but we need
to know, also, as you root us all in being-there,
how you could breathe the infectious air, wherein
you grasped necessity and manfully cast yourself
into a broken iron cross, your most decisive
posture, making history possible with your gloss.

When is subtlety sophistry; exposing pornography
the obscenity: the accuser the accused? Where
thought is calculative, you say, not meditative.
Excellent, Martin. I will remember.


These shapes fill and hold long-violent days:
your home, Freiburg, the university, your hut here
in the Black Forest Mountains, Europe--half-patched
after the war-to-end-wars--that feudal bloodletting.
New tributaries to their old bloodstreams, England
and France backed thugs against the yearnings
of the long denied remnants of the Triple Kingdom
(careful not to displace tarty, perfumed auntie),
new paperdolls from ministries in Paris and London,
our Bureau still jostling anti-fascists in '42,
while our boys died, as still, for Latin puppets--
cartoon figures with bald heads, mustaches
all shaping your thought, as it still scars ours,
garishly changed when your Dr. Goebbels said,
"Burn their books!" Blunt's my way, Martin.

       charnel smoke shrouding Europe--you chat
about Hölderlin's torn homecoming, over alps,
to folk, forest, field, both of you trapped in misty
nineteenth-century metaphors, dreaming a reunion,
          What part of that great green field
is our forty acres; what arc of that blue-eyed sky,
a friend asked, is home?

Where the tongue splits
into poetry and politics, poetry, you say,
is silence, a comfort to many. Is this calculative,
Martin, this meditation, this silence?


After a decade when your thought drew
Europe's best--Sartre, Arendt (your own Jewess)
among them--you gave your voice to the dregs
of your crucible in their crucial year,

then nurtured an endless silence
having led sheep for wolves sheep need,
you thought, to create new folds for sheep
lest sheep bleat and are eaten--
bleats rising already in your alpine air.

Yet you must have been comfortable when you said
poets name gods and all things as what they are,
not merely tagging those already known--
a conversation in the chambers and corridors
of the word. In speaking the necessary word,
we name things, and the named becomes known--or hidden:
you censored your earlier mentions of Husserl.
We give birth to being through the word,
our silences stretching catholic wastes around it.

We are comfortable, with many fine poets, too.
But in some situations, I want to say,
Beautiful bullshit, Martin.
                 Truth can lie.
God's sakes, Spit it out!
                 Poor Hölderlin, mad,
foreseeing his sublime made wormy, Kierkegaard
gasping at our stripped age, Nietzsche
trying to shake us awake
                 our poets in asylums
and jails. Lobotomies, lost connections.


Did Kierkegaard, before your fire at night alone,
shudder at the coals of outcasts you had once told
of the dread he said filled our teeth and twisting
veins, when we let others seize from us, for us,
the awful reins of a world we are left to die in,
daily bearing the freedom and necessity to choose:
the aesthetic, for things raised into Being,
or the ethical, for beings: that Janus coin.
Only a step, not a leap, to sluttish strutting.

Your wife, in and out to get New Germany tracts
from your study shelves, listens. The two of you
gave your children to the Holy Father and Fuehrer,
the year of the bonfires, raging inside you,
surrendering your students to the fires
(lest they consign you there?) Did you tell her
Hannah was your muse before or after you stripped
Jews, from the faculty at Freiburg, for the SS?
Do small lies make the new truths sing?

She's back for more tracts. Hannah saw them there
after the war, certain you had no patience to read
the murky Destiny of him you called Mein Fuehrer.

If Hannah read your speeches for the new Reich
(Is such patience possible?), she must have
glossed those, too. But your books were often bogs,
Martin, Hannah's more like mountain streams
you loved being near, and from clearer sources--
Augustine, Jaspers, Buber, and thou but not you.


Home again in the speech of her heart's habitat,
surely, Hannah's voice glinted, for all around you--
your wife in and out--had been subtly filmed.

Hannah wove excuses for you one knits a child,
though they can no more untrouble us than her.

You sat with quiet assassins, long, long after
it was clear--clear from the start--they spewed
Hölderlin's high streams from lips soiling
your dreams, rode stolen horses, trampling earth,
nurturing abscessed roots under new-paved roads.

Versailles only a scab on the sore Nietzsche saw
long before Versailles. Narcissus only saw
the sweet surface of the rancid water,
as Wagner, before Versailles, moaned passionately
for the old, pimply, embalmed, smelly darling--
we loved no operas more than his in the Thirties--
blurring Europe's ideas, preparing it for mergers.

What skews your words is the angle they turn away.
You traced roots into us leading nowhere.
Meditation calculating.
           Shush! Don't tell us
we are circled by the beast within; don't say
colleagues will sell us when barbarians come
to awake what lies in the bone hut. Maybe,
the beast will sleep, if we are quiet. Maybe,
we are luckier, not better than you. Yesterday
and today are tomorrow. You are the world.


If Sam Johnson could not kick a stone out of air,
troubling, unseen stones still fly around us,
litter of spirit strewn in the rubble of war.

A death parade led your retreat from earth.
Camps already near you in '33--
    Sachenshausen, Dachau, Oranienburg--
your metaphysics an erect arm.

Whappened Toozit? Did Goebbels leave it
to a committee to diffuse guilt among us
like bad air? What would you not have done
to raise children in the mistmurk you called home?

When his first crude moves still needed
Germany and Europe to look away, you and Pius
gave Hitler a cachet. Extraordinary among
your colleagues. If Pius did not sway you
as former novice, you both subordinated
intellect, passion, and humanity
to the same mosaic--church, state, family.

Later, retired to the mountains in peasant garb,
in the hut Hölderlin said defines man, the maker
of huts, could you find no words in the woods
for the dirt in the blood of your days?

Too late for you or them, too soon for us.
No gun to my head or my family's, only perqs.

Am I uncompromising? Everyday, here, too,
is a compromise and a death, Martin. I am mute,
only a hollow tree in a raucous wind.
When a poet gasps, who hears the pierced god?


You were a god almost, who could have howled
the breath you modulated as silent gas.

Some here, too, labor to please any glinting
tooth, but less original than you, leap
through paltry hoops of innocence and wit--
never blushing. I blush down to my scars,
those old concealments, under an old hat,
out of fashion and as frayed as a hairnet.

We all flee private fires. You in your dark
peasant bloodroots. Stocky, dark hair and eyes,
long rooted here. Whoever hides with you
under your peasant garb, it's not the risen dead.

Here, firelight and night licking, you are less
real than your later glosses of your early work,
where endlessly washing your hands you theorize
unspeakables the young man you strain to know
could not have guessed, without seeing what you
saw and don't even try to find words for.

It howls, Martin. Who plays your priest? you--
once a novice--washing yourself with Hölderlin's
lie to Mother, that his is the most harmless
of pursuits, most innocent, while homesick paths
lead to alpine ledges where dreams of the valley
misted far below mesh with fratricidal nightmares.
Nothing washes, Martin. Every atom holds a galaxy,
all galaxies echoing them, and we region in all
individuals. Hunger to purify a redemptive
plot of earth severs and scatters its remnants.


Surely, night on night, Pascal harped on our need
to hedge our bets, while Nietzsche threw us back
on the shit we create, words we shuttle in the dark,
playing poker with the quiet assassins, beings

your stakes, Solitaire with Being, showing us
tomes on motives for obscurity beyond laziness
or narcissism. Gates of creation shut, forbidden
muse exiled--to fire or America--what difference
to the formlessness you hailed?

Fantasies of new forms rise from the humus.
What wasteful excuses. Voice stripped for the SS,
you weren't a bad German or a good German.

You were a representative man--no worse
or a little better than most--too much like us.
You put your country above the earth, only an acre
of privilege and prestige above those who stood
in the path of your siege. That's not grounded,
Martin, that's not being-there.

Did they bring your son's ashes in a shoebox
saying the younger could be packaged thus?
No, that was a professor in Vienna, the price
of Anschluss, Waldheim the messenger boy,
in between writing his coprophagic thesis
on the dawn of the Thousand Year Reich.
He's still their messenger boy, still
Secretary General of the Crematoria.
Those ashes still my brother's, I his father.


Kurt, my philosopher friend from Hamburg, said,
"There's no end; when Karin was 17, she asked
'Will I always feel dirty for being German?"'
You had a quarter of a century after D-Day,
Martin, and what for her? What could you say?
Kurt told her what Hans' parents had said:
"There are no perfect people, my daughter, my son,
and perhaps none who came close." Yes, say that
Kurt, if it helps--what is and was should not be
the child's burden it is--but add, the hard thing
is not being an abstraction, but being human,
aware of and fighting crimes done in our name.
The hard thing's knowing how little changes--
after Nuremberg, Vietnam, Lebanon, Haiti
(the endless streams of those drowning in
our litanies of innocence). It's hard knowing
our overseers of spirit or letter, if not as bad,
aren't better, knowing dirt from soap amidst
a rat's-ass ethics we live by, nests of convenience
wherein we heap lives with the daily grounds
of our lies: graduates not sure what century
Hitler reaped, how, or what side we were on then
or are now, for whom newspapers pitch sixth-grade
speech in fifth-grade thought, to compete with
networks advertisers manage for Congress and us,
along with our lives. Truth/vermouth distributors
say and scholars echo, is what clients buy,
and through them publishers show us postmodernity's
more perfect union--claws and fangs
of wolves with the hearts and brains of sheep.

The hardest thing is knowing slave from free,
chameleons and turtles from poets and humanists.


In your Nazi nights, when Hannah visited you,
by your troubled fire, bringing Augustine,
to discuss her dissertation, there on your shelf,
his thoughts on love by the trash, did you say
how it escaped the flames that gutted you?--
echoing, Love, nothing counts unless we say so.
Martin, did she say, You mention love twice
in all of your works; what counts for Nazis?
Did you say, Fatherland, Home, Children; did she
ask, What more than dogs? They weren't Nazified.
I'm not interested in your sentiment. That's
what she thought and was too kind to tell you.

We learn to converse by questioning ourselves,
Augustine said, then speaking of his community,
did he echo Goebbels or explain how love draws
our will, by invisible skeins on pulleys of light,
toward That of which man's a faint echo, free
to sing or be hollow. Rags of truth give odorous
sanctity to solipsisms your New Student hangs by,
as wits of brass alchemize iron to tin
and dream pop alloys from plastic and aluminum.

Martin, your dying fire needs a new limb: perhaps
one from that brilliant Jewess,
over whom your logic hails assassins.

Did you not tell us words have consequences;
the limb of thinking is the way of waiting?


The names my tongue can't say aren't those who,
in your way, still chart our universities false.
I want to know what warps we tunnel through,
from knowing these unnameables, to pursue our
daily pretensions, our standards for living?

Martin, we endow ironed white shirts still;
decade on decade: wherever peace bonds kill
today. Feds harassing journalists and scholars
for trying to sing with the authors of liberty
the only thing that can save us or others,
here, in Managua, Soweto, or Port-au-Prince,
where bodies strangely grow from dirt or asphalt,
our fingerprints in the lead roots of red flowers.
Protesting students threatened in quiet nights
deans and their tails wag out deja vu Edgar's
boys called integrationists Red in the fifties)--
we too make non-persons of those who protest--
as our president, all-cap smile and tinted hair,
shrugs and talks of freedom, our own barmy
Wagnerian stagehand--where the Emancipator sat--
killing another's revolution, as Chrysler remodels
Liberty by The Book of 0, making her a fancy lady
for United Fruit, cavities stretched
until tanks drive through: the foreplay of war.
The President of the Screen Actors, playing SS
for the Bureau, prescribed capsules to metabolize
terror in our bloodstream, where his U-boat rises,
sliding up the Potomac toward the lake of ice
at the core, his leading lady gliding at his side,
nothing real but costumes, roles, of make-out,
made-up evangelists who give directions while
writing a mad play where the electors are extras


Martin, I've meditated, and calculating risks
to me, I would rather be silenced than silent.
Those are the choices we have where we are free
to see or not, as we please. Quizzes you pose
on creation and destruction, the relation of those
who reap power's prizes to dark abattoirs--let me:
Why does God hide? Is poetry mush? Will it feed
the disenfranchised poor, the confused prisoners?

What mirrors permit trafffic between torn Europe
and those who tore? Are our smoother obsessives
more educable than yours? Your silence and ours
were accessories. No one's innocent, but innocents
gasp and die in your sentences, and in ours.

We swallow blood of old scripts, wasting brown-babies
as terrorists to keep Hollywood safe, caring more
for fetuses than for the slaughtered, ignorant,
and (on so many levels) starving. Christ bleeds
in museums; we embalm children with shrivelling ideas,
petrified by the old terror in the bloodstream.
Martin, we don't know yet which of us is better.

Loyalty of those whose work you would have burned
for Goebbels the year of your loud ascent, makes
you as hard to disregard as to pardon. You owe
too much to those who bore blows you didn't oppose.
Sartre made you our hair-of-the-dog after the orgy.
But God's not dead, you responded, only hidden.
Yes, Martin. He was silenced, alone, in prison,
with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Brother Dietrich died there.
But he was only one of the numbered and unnumbered.


Your offer to help reeducate Germany refused,
we embraced scientists who had helped demolish
Warsaw, Minsk. . . and fattened on
slave factories, savage camps. No silence
can atone for such calculations.

No one can give these forms their one name.
We have neither the depth nor breadth.

I can only try to know myself--all I can bear--
nightyears trying to elude an enveloping pettiness.

Will they be us? Am I uncompromising?

Martin, I dream of your escape to a mountain hut,
where streams speak the one language that's true
and no one sells another.

At last you spoke of unwilling, of opening
toward being, that which becoming opens
to--letting go of sidesteps, calculations.

You have shown us scales and stakes.

We, the uncertain ones, live among smoldering
unknowns, contracted to their one name:
hundreds of millions in mass murder--in this
century--every continent, almost every country.

Manipulated by endemic madness, numbed.
Readier to lie and kill than to know and create.
We prepare ourselves in a subtler Treblinka.
But it's nice here in your hut, almost like home.


Burnished red trees around us sing in silence.
Fires from this quiet deathstorm swirl the map.
I've lived where hysteria rules and bids me speak
and be silent or be accused of hysteria.
Yet nothing disturbs those who can't see the dust
on the goldenrod and bloodflowers, or see naked
petals muted under a subtle film. I don't imagine
the deaf or lame, miraculously, will sing or dance.
And if what I diagram seems ordinary, more searing
forms than ours scan those blueprints. Already,
firestorms increment into organisms nothing impedes.
We are still at peace with our old psychoses. How
will the battered veer? Who will help them or us?

Martin, I know you are there, silent as always.
Hannah said you had no concept of community,
no talent for politics, and went off
into Eckhardt in old age--
        Where else?--always absorbed
with original revelation, no matter how removed,
and your bloodroots.
Alone in your peasant's hut
and Black Forest Mountain skiboots, in summer
your pale fire almost sufficed.

Innocence makes our conversation harmless, impotent,
until we learn to serve, open, wait on--
as you finally tried to, Martin--the multifoliate
unknown echoing beyond our words.

Fumes from many fires eerily flare our pale flames,
consuming me, also, Martin. Conversing with whom?

Van K. Brock

Van K. Brock has a BA from Emory University and graduate degrees from the University of Iowa and the Writers' Workshop. Since 1970, he has taught at Florida State University, where he is a Professor of English and a former director of the Writing Program.

Brock's poetry includes Unspeakable Strangers (Anhinga Press), The Hard Essential Landscape (Contemporary Poetry Series, University Presses of Florida); several chapbooks; poems in journals--including The American Voice, Georgia Review, New England Review/Breadloaf Quarterly, New Yorker, North American Review, Ploughshares, Southern Review, and Yale Review; and in anthologies--including Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms, The Made Thing: Contemporary Southern Poetry, Blood to Remember: Poets on the Holocaust, and Sweet Nothings: The Poetry of Rock 'n' Roll.

Brock is the founder and former director of Anhinga Press, founder and former faculty sponsor of Sun Dog: A Literary Arts Journal, and founder and editor-in-chief of International Quarterly, a non-profit journal of art and writing in all genres and from all origins.

Van K. Brock's most recent book, Unspeakable Strangers (1995), "is composed of several sequences of poems about or related to the Holocaust," and is available from:

Anhinga Press
P.O. Box 10595
Tallahassee, FL 32302
ISBN 0-938078-42-9
US $12.00

What others have said about Unspeakable Strangers:

"They are alternately, and sometimes simultaneously, subjective and objective, and, I think, brilliant and yes, painful, but with the necessary pain, if we are to remain human. I've read other treatments of the same subject, but these, I think, are indispensable." --Judith Hemschemeyer

"...very ambitious and I think quite successful. I like even what I would call their moral earnestness and the--at times--coolness with which it's delivered." --Donald Justice

"These are very bold and powerful poems about [of course] practically the most difficult theme in the world. I read them with increasing admiration for both [the]mastery of imagery and control. Never once [do they] slip into the sentimental and that in itself is an achievement. But mainly I am impressed by the pervasive music, the requiem sound." --William Styron

Individual subscriptions to International Quarterly are $30 for one year (four issues); $55 for two years (eight issues); and $75 for three years (12 issues). Library and institutional rates are $40 a year, $70 for two years, and $100 for three years. Add $5 per issue for air delivery. Payment is requested in U.S. currency. Sponsors and corporate memberships are $50 to $2500 and include a subscription. Send subscriptions, memberships, queries to:

International Quarterly
P.O. Box 10521
Tallahassee, FL 32302-0521
Tel (904) 224-5078
Fax (904) 224-5127

Contents | Mudlark No. 4