Hitler’s Taste Testers
From Table Manners. Published by Signal Editions/véhicule Press in 2017. Wright’s poems have appeared in many publications. She won the 2014 Litpop Award from Matrix magazine. She lives in Toronto.
Me and fourteen other girls. After months, years, of sawdust and ground acorn coffee, rancid margarine and biscuits that required a chisel, it almost seemed a gift.
I am disgusted now to admit I was one of his yellow-feathered things, but there it is. On that first day I shoved fresh vegetables into my mouth. Asparagus sceptres ennobled with hollandaise, sweet roasted peppers, lettuce,
rice, rich clear broths. No meat or fish. He was a vegetarian or pretended to be. It’s difficult to describe the solemnity of seeing each meal as your last. We cried with relief when our bowels moved bloodlessly.
But I was hardly a medieval court taster. I never even met him. We were kept in a separate room, a forced sorority. Forbidden from seeing our families, we slept on hard beds in a concrete bunker.
At night Anna and Irene analyzed lovers and brothers and other tyrants. Marlene and Ruth debated belladonna versus arsenic versus hemlock. Our cycles began to align. We laughed from time to time.
Ingrid did her best Lola-lola, a blue angel falling in love again while Ilse giggled, embarrassed, cheeks hot. Ursula swept our hair into aristocratic knots and swirls.
I can’t explain why all fifteen of us had to test his meals or why we were all women. Helga thought him handsome, deferential to our fragile bodies. Gertrud punched the wall until her bones went limp.
Equally important was that we be of upstanding German stock as though we weren’t just tasting his food, but digesting it too, his outsourced intestines.
We were lab rabbits twitching in our cages. Karin wondered if our shared diet made us more like him or he more like us. Hydrangeas with the same blue hue dictated by acidic soil. I still can’t eat E in top for Grießklöß chen suppe.
Frieda concocted bold escapes. Eleonore recited verses from the Book of Job. Lotte found her faith. Sonja lost hers. We wrote each other’s obituaries, full of lewd jokes and accolades.
It went on that way until one night when a soldier who was sweet on me dragged me from bed and pushed me through an open mouth in the fence. The Soviets got there soon after
and shot the other fourteen while the newlyweds dined on cyanide.
making a community of friends, however far-flung.
December 10, 1995
I’m very glad I wrote “Teaching Sexuality” when I did and that it can be recycled on the internet now. Though I don’t always agree with Gerald, I think of him as one of the few who can keep us honest, insisting that we look at what really is, to avoid nothing, to think through to some sort of sense. The dishonesty, hypocrisy, and vindictiveness aimed at him now simply enrage me, and he’s so damned vulnerable as a part-time instructor and a freelance writer.
You are absolutely right in saying that we have to take the definitions away from those simply out to rant and smear. What a bad name they give morality.
The only pleasure in it all is for you to be reunited with that fine bunch of people, older now, more experienced, working so well and quickly together. I wish my sideline weren’t so far away so that all of you could hear me cheering. And what an incredible amount of work you’ve got through in so short a time. You must be exhausted.
The book for Little Sister’s is being launched in Vancouver today. That dear bunch didn’t even invite me, knowing that I might feel pressured to get into town for it. Instead they sent me a copy of the book and a bottle of single malt scotch. The royalties go to the Little Sister’s Fund.
I’ve now had a chance to reread “The Body Politic and Visions of Community.” I do think it’s a wonderful essay which should have a wide readership. A history of the paper becomes a history of ideas. We see where we’ve been and where we might be going. We see the recurring problems which may always be with us for each generation to grapple with in its
own context. We see the great dangers of both exclusion and silence. And through it all our great strength has been language through which we can express our growing understanding of ourselves and each other. That’s why Gerald has been so important for us, his ancient mariner insistence that we stop and listen to where he’s coming from no matter how delayed we may be upon our own business. That’s why it is so important we find the ways to defend him now, not allow
the media to distort his position to convince the public that even a discussion of sexuality in children is child abuse. The fear and shame and moral outrage focused on him are the same weapons used on children in the name of protecting them from the evils of sexuality. The choice should not be between selling children into sexual slavery and keeping them in terrified ignorance of their bodies. We have to listen to ourselves long enough to know how to teach them to become
sexual adults, knowledgeable and responsible, and the only way we can accomplish that is to keep challenging those who would silence us.
It’s interesting how often inclusion becomes the solution in your history, not always because a conscious decision is made. Sometimes it is an event like the protest against the bath raids which simply demonstrates that we are in it together. I feel a wonderful energy in your voice and a clarity of purpose.
Talking with a friend the other day on the ferry, I said I didn’t really miss writing, only sometimes didn’t know what to do with the habit of speculation about human motivation and emotion. Sometimes I think, too, I wrote through some of my own feelings which now I carry around with me as heavy, useless baggage, perhaps not having developed other more ordinary skills at living rather than writing through them. Perhaps sometimes I simply escaped into writing, letting the intensity of that concentration shut out the troubles of the day. I’m certainly less good tempered than I used to be, but I suspect that is part of aging, patience wearing as inevitably thin as the skin does.
I’m sometimes nearly overcome with pity for Helen’s poor frail flesh, the dozen times a day she nearly falls, the moments of confusion and failed memory which make staying with a conversation more and more difficult, her deafness adding to the difficulty. I’m not angry at Helen but angry at age about which I can do nothing. I’ve been angry since my father’s death in ways that embarrass and shame me because I find it so hard to control and so irrational and unacceptable. I’m used to healthier angers I can put to use. How have I come to the age of applying for a pension without such basic skills as accepting with some grace what is inevitable? I’m relatively patient and stoical about my own physical failings. Why hasn’t that taught me the same attitude for Helen? And that’s not something you can muse with me about because Helen looks forward to your letters as much as I do. I sometimes suspect that what I can’t endure is fear and mask it in impatience.
Winter is a harder time for distracting pleasures. No bodies at the pool to give my eye casual pleasure as I look out my study window, only the pool under its weight of winter leaves, and the last killing frost took the late blooms from the garden. There is an abundance and variety of berries, dark purple, bright red, white, to feed the winter birds and soon decorate our houses for the holidays. But the best thing about this time of year is that we are less than two weeks away from the shortest day, and even on Christmas day the hours of light will be lengthening toward spring.
From Morton: A Cross-country Rail Journey by David Collier. Collier is the award-winning author and artist of several graphic novels, including Hamilton
Illustrated and The Frank Ritza Papers. He lives in Hamilton, ON.