Oliver Rice




Egos, Romantic Futilities, Tombs

 

Vienna!

Such aspiration, such ostentation, such humanity!

 

Arriving intent on acquiring ironies

for observing the world,

I have ridden the vintage trolley

that circles the city on the Ringstrasse,

Franz Josef’s grand boulevards,

and toured the inner city by foot and horse carriage,

my American mindedness alerted

by castles, cathedrals, palatial gardens,

by the Baroque facades of Empire mansions,

equestrian monuments, grand fountains,

my populist ego confronted

by Mozarthaus, Freud Haus,

coffeehouses familiar to Trotsky and Klimt,

by the predatory myth that loiters

in the cobbled streets, the curio shops,

that remembers the dukes, the empresses,

the defeats of the Mongols and the Turks,

the threats of Napoleon and the plague.

 

Have watched the sailboats

from a grassy spot beside the Danube,

listening in my mind’s ear to waltzes

the Strausses created for the Imperial Balls.

 

                                   

 

Such impetus, I say to the white Lipizzaners

in training at the Spanische Reitschule,

such persistence has the life force!

Unlike matter, however,

I say to the heavens painted on a ceiling,

perishable.

How many lifetimes have been employed,

I am thinking over my deli sandwich,

been consumed by insignificance

in devising this civic organism

since the year 100, as the record shows,

 

when the Romans overran the settlement

of a tribe who did not know they were Celts

and on the very grounds beneath me

built walls and a garrison and a lifeway

that would endure for three centuries.

How many motley souls, then,

I am reminded in the museums,

surviving the Roman retreat,

willed to live however they could

into and through the Midddle Ages,

surrounded by fiefdoms, Catholicism,

a Europe warring toward ideas of nationhood, 

acquiring lore and legendry,

fragments of civilization,

literacy, skills, philosophy,

 

unknowingly awaiting the ascension in 1273

of Rudolf I, founder of the Habsburg dynasty,

which would reign over Austria until 1918.

 

                                   

 

I stand before the Looshaus on Michaelerplatz,

opposite the entrance to the Imperial Palace,

created by one Adolf Loos, defiantly,

with my immense approval,

in the coming Bauhaus spirit of functionalism,

which signaled the precipitous demise,

as my guidebook succinctly narrates,

of the Habsburg ideal of joyous decoration,

but more profoundly of their sovereignty—

the Looshaus in 1911,

the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914

and Franz Josef’s declaration of war on Serbia,

his death in 1916,

the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

at the end of World War I.

 

I have visited the Kaisergruft, the royal tombs,

beneath the Kapuzinerkirche.

                                   

                                   

 

From what I perceive obliquely

I presume that this is a city to esteem,

with a sociology the neighborhoods understand,

 

with persons street-smart and adroit,

counter-cultural and entrepreneurial—

still, is it only in my poignant fantasies,

ogling through the Dorotheum,

Vienna’s version of a fleamarket,

once a state-controlled pawnshop,

now a privatized auction house and antique mart,

only in my melancholy reveries

among these treasures and frivolities,

carpets, postage stamps, urns, stuffed parrots,

that an ardent Viennese flinches at the thought

of living off the past, a borrowed glamor?

Of having been deceived by fate,

and left asking the eternal question?



Wally and Lil Man

 

Sorry you must sit in the back. But that’s the law.

Are you awake? If so, gurgle at me.

No?

How long must I wait, one year, two,

before our conversations can begin?

 

Language. That is what you are hearing,

coming from my mouth. See my lips moving?

It is a way of letting another person know

what you want him or her to know.

More efficient than yelping.

I urge you to learn how this is done.


It is one of the marvels of civilization.

The coherence of a culture depends on it.

And its distinction. I am eager to refer you

to Saul Bellow and William Carlos Williams.

 

And for you to see this countryside,

where I was an infant and a boy.

These genuine farmsteads

and rolling fields under till, such that,

when your college roommate

speaks of van Gogh’s haystack,

you can picture exactly what he means.

 

Think of this.

It is an inspiring model of democracy,

there for the using by anyone.

Every speaker has part ownership

and can participate in its evolution

by proposing innovations,

by adopting or rejecting innovations by others,

and by accepting established conventions.

You can understand that, can’t you?

 

Signal me when you’re ready for your bottle.

You know how.

 

So you see, it neither cogitates nor emotes,

but conforms to the will of the populace.

Although it can become disoriented

by abuses of accepted usage,

such as experimental punctuation

or nihilistic forms of expression.

 

On the other hand, you will be astonished

at the grace and eloquence achievable

by a Henry James or Elizabeth Bishop,

by a Thomas Jefferson or Walt Whitman.

 

And this greatest of human attainments

will shortly emerge within your being

as slyly as the neurophysiology of walking.

 

Now, your granny thinks you’re a blessed event.

So smile a lot. And no squalling. Got me?




Oliver Rice’s poems appear widely in journals and anthologies in the United States and abroad. Creekwalker released an interview with him in January 2010. His book of poems, On Consenting to Be a Man, is published by Cyberwit and is available on Amazon. His online chapbook, Afterthoughts Siestas, and his recording of his Institute for Higher Study appeared in Mudlark in December 2010.











                                    

 

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