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This poem is taken from Poetry Nation 4 Number 4, 1975.

Words for Walter Benjamin James Atlas


'On September 26, 1940, Walter Benjamin, who was about to emigrate to America, took his life at the Franco-Spanish border . . . The small group of refugees that he had joined reached the Spanish border town only to learn that Spain had closed the border that same day and that the border officials did not honour visas made out in Marseilles. The refugees were supposed to return to France by the same route the next day . . . Only on that particular day was the catastrophe possible.'
Hannah Arendt



I

The stars above the road, the lights from town,
the hurtling wind: closer now than ever,
they hold out promise of another night.

I'm not alone. Everyone's face betrays
the same lustre as mine, the same distress.
This at least is certain, that I am here,
among the silent refugees whose hope
is not unlike my own: a vanished world.

What I possess comes to less than nothing,
or more than all. My precious unread books,
letters, albums, lithographs: all I owned
has been lost. Living means leaving traces.

Has this happened? Now, crossing the mountains,
my sick heart rising in its brittle cage,
...
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