“After war breaks out in 1914, Trakl (a dispensing pharmacist) returns to his old rank of second
lieutenant in the Austrian Medical Corp. and journeys to the Eastern Front in Galicia. After days
of marching the army suffers defeats at the hands of the Russians.”
– From the introduction to The Last Gold of Expired Stars
The Battle of mud and 1 harpsichord
Sister, I can hear nothing but your Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major. Your dark
head bends over the moonlike keys. A mare lies on the ground still bridled, two
ravens feasting in her intestines. Villagers’ garden plots are trampled—an army
forages the furrows for roots and tubers. We are marching, each toe stone-
heavy—has turned into black toads and shed their skins. The sky grows green as
if a marsh at twilight, we take cover in wet slimy rushes. One foot up, one down.
8 First Violins. 2 Flutes. A lone grey wolf broken from the pack was sighted
yesterday. The men refuse to shoot it. Before noon a great army rises up in front
of us. Russians. A forest of them. Our cooking fires still smolder. Bombardment
begins. Sister, I wish to mop my brow on your silver dress. The trees hide snipers,
long guns that take the recruits from their bread to putrefaction. Shattered men
whimper, making the harsh cries of guinea hens. No bandages, no stretchers. I
remember town boys wringing the necks of screaming hens to quiet them. The
battle smells like the remains of a thing not seen on this earth in a billion years. 5
Bassoons. 3 Cellos. Another bombardment, at the banks of the River San, perch
worn down by the current. Under the whistling and booming of the shelling the
linden tree spreads its white scent between the music sheets whose pages I turn.
Custard in fresh cream. Rain keeps trying to put out the battle, to drench the
machine gun belts and snipers. Rain splashes down. Higher. A musical Eucharist.
Faster the river races and now the fish give out. Perch go mad and eat their own
eyes. 2 Hunting Horns.. Listen to the water rushing onto land; blackly the trees
have tried to run, they are caught. They stand up to their knees in the blood. They
become men. Tall eyelash trees. Falling. Sister, still the black rain throws down
its thick drops. Terrible defeat. The rhymes identical. Two ravens feasting.