The Shadow Behind the Door by Ruth Padel


Ramparts of Vienna. An airy view
Beethoven loved. The rooms
where he wrote the Archduke Trio
and re-wrote Fidelio.
 
Nothing gave him such trouble.
I once asked a professional
what it was like
singing the First Act quartet on stage.
 
She said, The earth moves if you get it right.
 
On display, a showcase all to itself,
the canister that held his salt and pepper.
Separate lids, delicately hinged
for each gilded compartment
 
like tiny harpsichords opening side by side.
Amazing this survived. He rarely
picked up anything without dropping it.
Every domestic item knocked and broken.
 
In shadow behind the door, a sign
says this museum was set up in 1941.
Jews in the house of Beethoven!
The family living here was sent to Auschwitz.
 
I think of fallen stones, a Jewish cemetery
in forest overgrown by fern
and the story of a cantor’s son
I heard in Sejny, Poland.
 
Twelve. Fastest runner in the school.
When the Nazis came, his father said Run.
He ran the stretch marked out on sports day, from
the synagogue steps to the forest edge -
 
the only one in town who got away.
 
This sign behind the door is Europe too.
We are all Vienna, the beautiful
city you cannot trust.
Beethoven knew it, we know it again,
 
creatures of division, evil and good
blown off course by a bitter wind
and lost in a haunted wood.
We are the dark. Rift in the lute,
 
fault in the bone, the light
of enlightenment driven away
by monsters at the heart
and fallen feathers in the dirt like warnings.
 
But earth still moves if you get it right.
 

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