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.