American Indians · good words · think about it

Impossible to laugh

Hey, Look, the Abyss!

Years ago, in Germany, my wife and I waited
For a train to visit Dachau. So morbid, so strange
To be a tourist of genocide, especially as descendants
Of the Native American genocide. So morbid,

So strange to take a fucking train to Dachau, as if
It were part of the show. And, damn, how I laughed
And laughed when the train, due to arrive at 11:25 a.m.,
Arrived at exactly 11:25 a.m. “In Germany,” I said

To my wife, “the trains should never arrive on time.”
I have previously written a poem about being a tourist
Of genocide—about visiting Dachau—but I wonder
How the experience has changed. I imagine the tourists

Now take solemn selfies in Dachau. Though a few idiots
Must take smiling snapshots, too, as in, “Look at me!
I think genocide is an amusement park!” Hell, maybe
Genocide, dripping with objectification and commerce, is

An amusement park. And now I have to again laugh
At the oxymoronic concept of “German amusement.”
Talk about a tough crowd. I spent a week in Munich
And Berlin failing to make Germans laugh. I know

There are funny people in Germany but I never met
Any of them. In a theatre with 300 Germans, I joked
About my fear of prompt trains to Dachau and nobody
Laughed, though one man stood and said, “Geronimo

And his Apache people were put on terrible trains
In Arizona and many died on the long journey
To Florida.” And I said, “Yes, but it’s the United States,
So I know those genocide trains were running late.”

Nobody laughed! And, okay, maybe the joke isn’t funny.
Maybe it’s too morbid and strange. Maybe Germany takes
Genocide, and the fear of genocide happening again,
So seriously that it is impossible to laugh. Okay, okay,

I understand that, but didn’t the Germans genocide
The funniest people on the planet? And now, maybe,
Some of you are thinking, “Sherman, you are trading
In racial stereotypes. Not all Jewish people are funny.”

And to that, I say, “Milton Fucking Berle.” I say, “Joan
Fucking Rivers.” I say, “I think it might be permissible
To accuse Jewish people of inventing funny.” And now
I remember Billy Crystal emceeing a fundraiser

For the Museum of Tolerance, and advising the crowd
To “never ask a Jew to be part of a pyramid scheme.”
We all laughed. Billy Crystal laughed at his own joke.
“Sorry,” he said. “That was new. I mean, the pyramids

Are old. But the joke is new.” Funny, funny. I know
There are scientific reasons why humans laugh in the face
Of tragedy. But science isn’t funny! Funny isn’t reasonable!
Funny takes a shit on your welcome mat! So now I think

Of the German comedian, Jan Bohmermann, who mocked
The President of Turkey
on German television with a funny poem
About “repressing minorities, kicking Kurds, and slapping
Christians.” First of all, you’re thinking, “German comedian?

Really?” Secondly, you’re thinking, “Funny poem?
Really?” And, really, I cannot tell you if Bohmermann
Or his poem is funny. But I can tell you that he is now
Being prosecuted in Germany for mocking “a representative

Of a foreign state.” The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel,
Had to give permission for Bohmermann to be prosecuted,
In a German fucking court, for mocking the President
Of Turkey, who was deeply offended by the funny poem.

Can you imagine Obama giving permission for me
To be prosecuted inside the United States for mocking
Angela Merkel and the President of Turkey
Inside this poem? Well, I can imagine Cruz or Trump

Prosecuting me for mocking Cruz or Trump
But I am talking about Germany and Turkey.
I am talking about Angela Merkel,
Who is kissing the ass of the Turkish President

So he might close his borders and stem the flow
Of Syrian refugees into the European Union.
What the fuck can I say about any of this horrific shit?
I’m powerless, as are all of you. But it does remind me

Of my time in Germany, as I kept thinking, “Germany
Is so paranoid about the Holocaust because they know,
Consciously and/or subconsciously, that they would do it
Again. And again. And again. And again. Depending

On the random spin of world events. Depending
On expediency.” And now, here, I must point out
That genocide is always happening somewhere
In this amusement park called Earth. I think

Of Primo Levi. I think of Geronimo. I think
Of Syrians, Tutsi, Bosnians, Croatians, Maori—
Of the indigenous people from everywhere.
Too many victims to fully name and count.

So many, so many. I think of the Armenians
Genocided by the Turks. I think of how Turkey
Officially denies that they genocided Armenians.
Hell, you can be imprisoned in Turkey

For believing that Turkey genocided Armenians,
For stating that belief out loud.
And now I recall my evening
with a white American liberal woman—

The dinner with me was a fundraiser prize
For a local Gay Film Festival. That liberal American
Brought three friends to the dinner. And I also
Brought a friend as potential armor

Against strangers. But it was a lovely evening,
With great food and great company and great politics.
We talked about the continual oppression
Of gay people. And the white liberal woman, a straight ally

Like me, lamented the genocidal history
Of the United States. And I said, “Well, the USA denies
It genocided us Native Americans. In the same way
Turkey denies it genocided the Armenians.”

And the white liberal American woman, suddenly
Enraged, cursed at me for vilifying Turkish people
And canonizing Armenians. She screamed
About the beauty and grace of Turkish people

And Turkish culture. And I said, “I have no doubts
About the beauty and grace of Turkish people.
I’m absolutely positive that Turkish people are
Beautiful and graceful. But I’m also absolutely positive

That, throughout human history, all manner
Of beautiful and graceful people have actively
Or passively participated in the genocide
Of other beautiful and graceful people.”

Of course, that dinner ended soon after
Our argument. But I remained disturbed
For weeks. I couldn’t understand why
A liberal American would defend Turkey

And its human rights history. And then I learned
That white American woman had married
And divorced a Turkish man. It was a good
Divorce. She and her ex-husband happily

Co-parented their half-Turkish children.
And then I understood. She defended Turkey
Because of love. And isn’t that how it goes?
We think genocide happens because of hate.

And I suppose that’s how genocide begins.
But genocide persists because of love.
Because genocidal people are so convinced
Of their own beauty and grace.

Because genocidal people are so tender
To one another that they couldn’t possibly
Be wrong about their cruelty to others.
Because genocidal people have mothers

And fathers who love them. Because
Genocidal people look in the mirror
And see their ordinary faces. Because
The ordinary don’t commit genocide.

Because it’s only the epic monsters
Who commit genocide. But that’s not true.
Who are the monsters? Well, shit, it’s me
And you. And you. And you. And you. And you.

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