Poem

After Chillon

We did the tour belatedly—

a century or so late—

stalking the gifted great

who inhabited this rivage

as if it were their private stage,

the wealthy, worldly masters

of the universe and art and real estate

whose leisured pulse becomes as sinister as glorious Chillon:

here, in this vast citadel that looms like a mirage

across a lake of ice-blue glass,

women were hung, Jews broken and burned,

thousands of captives held and destroyed.

We know palaces of hate they never dreamt of,

hangars and stadiums and camps where death became a science,

yet here we are with our maps, eager as shoppers,

buzzing through the medieval towers with phones and apps and guides.

What happened here?

The rich had baths, ate lamb, enjoyed the precursor of fondue.

Prisoners were dropped down a long chute

onto a bed of knives.

Only Bonivard survived, his chains burnished by fame.

Why was he held? Who perished? Why? We’re

spellbound by the names—Rousseau, Hugo, Byron and James—

as if mere autographs could somehow justify

the weight of our attention.

Casting our own disappeared into oblivion,

we have time to admire the décor

of a dungeon, to stop on our way out

for a few souvenirs that say

we too were here:

we loved the view.