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The City Without Angels

Harold Rhenisch
From:   Taking the Breath Away, 1998

Freiburg im Breisgau

Long ago the angels lived in doorways.
Whenever people went in and out,
the angels had to step into the streets.
If it had snowed they were terribly cold:
all they had for shoes were sandals
woven out of reeds.

In that old city people had built shelters
for themselves and for their livestock;
they had built nothing for the holy birds.
Whenever it rained and the wind blew out of the west,
the angels sought refuge in the cathedral,

but the cathedral was built of stone: high, dark,
and cold. It held only a few low wooden pews,
without pillows, without blankets. The angels
would lay themselves out there head to head
and stare the whole night
thoughtfully at the dark stone sky.

On Sundays it was even worse:
the people streamed from the narrow alleys
into the cathedral. There was no room left for the angels:
they had to stand outside in the square
in the hot sunlight, in the snow, and in the black rain of the world.

In the nave the choir sang as beautifully as the boys
who sat on the knees of God and ate grapes out of his hands,
but in the square the angels watched the monsters
on the peak of the roof, listened to the hymns, and did not
sing a note, and said no word. They simply
waited until the people were finished.
They had blue faces. They were half frozen.
You see them now and think they are made out of stone.
They stand in gaps in the wall
and on the roof, solid, yet they are not made out of stone.
They are made out of the song of the choir
and the red mouths of women.

They are waiting for us.
They know very well that they must wait
a long, long time. They have prepared themselves
for that. They have transformed themselves from ambassadors
into Waiting itself, while a black rain falls
in the night of the cities
and the doors in the empty gaps of the wall
are newly-painted and tightly closed.

Harold Rhenisch's works copyright © to the author.

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