Home > Poetry > Satan Who Is Most Noisy When He Whispers
Published: Tue Apr 15 1980
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Satan Who Is Most Noisy When He Whispers


_                                       _ And do you think much, Dustbin,
of the one in constant darkness?
_                                                          _ You should
remember to pity the one who is always with you
in your darkness, the one no one remembers, who lives
like the anaerobic seed of guilty organisms
in the vacuum of thought
and thinks of you.
_                                 _For every lamp turned down
a struck match flares,
and for every molten filament
a black reed beats the wind.
What profits it, the wind, to thresh beaten straw?


But doesn’t the Lord work in a peculiar way
to bring things out of my mind!
_                                                          _For now
I’m hung up on a strap under Unter den Linden:
the day of the Valutaschweine, when all the lowest
clubs and cabarets were aglut with Jasons
who could speculate on time and golden lads
and lassies without two pfennigs between themselves
and a cool breeze down the Friedrichstrasse.

Twenty-five billion marks bought
a dollar’s worth of anything. Hugo Stinnes
in mines and factories and real estate
was buying up his quarter of der Heimatsland,
and the frightened class
in collars cut from unborn lamb
_                                                          _—the kleinbürgerlich
who peck at respectability
and in the best of times have cinders in their craws—
the burghers
were lined up on the sidewalk
selling tin.

_                                                                     _Nobody we knew
had been hacked to death with an ax.
Himmler was raising chickens
in a village outside Munich. With a whip in his belt
Streicher was at Nuremburg teaching children.
And the celebrated flying ace—earth-logged
and grounded Göring—Hermann was in the small streets
splashing perfume on the sweepers.

Elsewhere, in a green and lofty glade
where pines made flamboyant arches and the sky
looked on in silence, God-in-a-silk-top-hat
passed an envelope of money to a corporal.


Packed we were, like anatomy
in the catacombs, and nobody sure
where his tibia or spatula or great left toe had got to.
Then the underground pounced and swung right
and came back yellowish, and I found one arm
hooked round an old Landknecht
out of the Archive of Mutilations.
_                                                             _Here
they keep them in a Val-de-Grâce, the heroes
without lower jaws, the old men of Verdun with mugs
like limestone caves back under scorched turf
where an eye or one or two cuspids are seen to glint.
Here they let the débris loose at night
and then well masked.
This fellow was less unlucky, to be truthful,
and had the later aspect of Ernst Röhm,
or Deputy Vallat welcoming “the subtle talmudist,”
or some undigested object off the raft of the Medusa.

_                                  _(I tell you again, Ignace, the world
without the possibility of Heydrich . . .
Come now, surely you remember Rasseneux,
the headsman of Algiers,
who always showed a flower. Asked how
he came to so love red carnations, he replied
“It is my sanguinary privilege”
and that, anyhow, he loved “the though of beauty wilting.”)

Of course I couldn’t stop myself
—for I was the Athanasian wench
who said Quicunque vult and Amen to everything—
stop myself from thinking
_                                               _What an ugly cock this Fridolon
must have, some primitive weapon, an iguana-headed
crude killing thing, a bulldog’s kisser
at the end of a pick handle.
_                                                  _Groping Jesus!
Fritz threw me a knowing sad grin and a blush
like thick port tipped into a pitted glass
ran under the stiffness of death.

_         _ “Vhat can be knowen,” he said though the dregs of a lung,
_         _ “but vhat iz knowen, in, and srough, ze bodi.”

_                                              _Can you imagine! There I was
all a doodah and flying
at 5000 heartbeats per minute
when I felt one thump of aorta rip loose
and go out to him.

_                                                                  _“Prinzess,”
he squeezed up his throat.
_         _“At zis croak broken your pollivog lippen
_         _to ze entranz at Heffen a zing-zong machs.”

_                                                                                _Lord! I thought,
If I’m to have a vision, don’t waste it on me now.
But I said softly only to his ear

_                                                     _ “There are angels
_         _which return again like planes
_         _to bomb their old equipment.”

At which moment (the doors rolling back)
there was a bum’s absquatulation to the exit
and a voice for begging bacon hollered
“Wieder Sehen!”

_                             _“Wieder sehen,” I answered,
for he was taking somewhat of me to the surface.


That was a cock of a different hackle.
_           _ “Comment épouser un soldat, moi
_           _ qui aime tout le régiment?”

_                                                            _ Besides,
all our vices were once virtues, and kneeling
has as many uses as a hair pin.


The truly dangerous
are the devil’s attempts at angels.
The wide-eyed horsey girl,
the bouncing boy who follows hygiene,
who runs the mile every morning and loves
his glass of milk.
_                             _It’s the berry-picker
who’s never turned over a rock,
the tinted lady full of causes and simpering
like a fermity kettle, the society matron
raising a subscription to plant roses at the front,
the ineffable windbag saving it all for Maisy
_         _(wants his oysters purged
his banana filleted
his Breughel velvet
and lets a Veronoff shove baboon balls beneath his skin),
the tumbling Mädchen who languors in the lindens
thinking of the butcher
(“if only he would clean his nails
and go more often to confession”),
who hear the barbarous drums and howls
of Christ Triumphant
and mistake them for the chirring gears of cherubs.

Evil, my dear,
is the willful ignorance of a Narcissus
having its way with the world.


_                                       _ The viper
defines itself by death
and without that little load of definition
dies of boredom, talking against the titmouse
and the mouse. Man without his shadow
hugs the walls, without reflection
avoids and drinks himself
into a jellied torpor. So man kills
to avoid the terror of not killing, lest
he become the shell that defines the shucker,
the mirror that explains away the fist.

See what's inside AGNI 12

Peter Klappert teaches in the MFA Program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. His AGNI poem “Satan Who Is Most Noisy When He Whispers” is the concluding poem in his book-length collection The Idiot Princess of the Last Dynasty, which was scheduled to be published by Knopf in January 1981 “and may yet appear. ‘Oh it’s a grand bad story…’” Portions of the book appeared in AGNI 9 with an essay on the manuscript by Martha Collins, as well as in AGNI 10/11 and 12. Klappert recently completed a chapbook-length poem in the form of a film script, ’52 Pick-Up: Scenes from the Conspiracy (A Documentary). (updated 1981)

Back to top