ON CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI’S LESSONS OF DARKNESS
The difficulty of picking out details rhymes with the difficulty of insight
into the past. --San Francisco Chronicle
i. Les Archives
We step from the streaming sun of California
to this dimness the lessons rely on.
Tin biscuit boxes gleam and frame
three hundred photos, enlarged and blurred
beyond recognition under low watt spots
connected by tens of wires hanging like
sloppy nooses. A caption asks what became
of these Jewish classmates in Vienna in 1931.
Around the corner hang other questions.
A wall, say thirty people wide,
a story and a half or two tall,
draped ceiling to floor with children’s coats,
“not with thrift-store effect.”
Each coat waits, empty of its particular child.
We move out to an interior stair,
find it narrow and sepulchral.
The Angel of Accord and the Angel of Death,
each the size of a long-fingered hand,
rotate round a light in the darkest room
where their shadows loom huge above our heads
and endlessly crisscross the four spaces.
In a side gallery tiny Klee-like figures quiver
at a small fan’s wind and cast
stick-people shadows that shudder on the wall.
Published originally in the chapbook, The Places We Find Ourselves.