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from PROUD MONSTER: SKETCHES / Ian MacMillan THE UKRAINE, FALL 1941 - About Face THE THREE OF US were drunk as usual, on spirits confiscated from the executed. First there was Matthes, whom I thought of as "the poet" because he fancied himself an intellectual and this his stint in Einsatzgruppe C an adventure for a man of refined tastes. During our conversations he would jot notes in a leatherbound journal. Then there was Köhler, recently new to our drinking group, a large man who spoke rarely and was given to black moods. Then myself, an Unterscharfuehrer like Köhler. This evening I watched Kohler in his moody indulgence, gazing into his schnapps while Matthes talked on about literature in the new Reich. I knew what was troubling Köhler. Our function, normally, was to oversee and do administrative work connected with the liquidation of village populations in the Ukraine, and this was done by Waffen SS, executing people in threes into tank ditches using small bore rifles and PPK's in the backs of necks. Because of a troop shortage Köhler had found himself in the position of shooting these Jews himself, and had whispered to me after the first long day, "my finger is sore—my finger is sore! The tension, I think. But we killed thousands today!" Then I said, "Eight hundred and six." He blinked, surprised at this number. After two days of this detail he retreated into silence, and began drinking more. But tonight the tediousness of the poet's speech exasperated Köhler out of his silence. The poet was looking up from his notebook, saying, "—so this is why double meanings seem to me degenerate, yet I can't resist—" "Necks!" Köhler snapped, heaving himself forward in his chair, "write something intelligent for me about necks, you who see double—your, your deeper vision, your abstractions! Tell me about necks!" In the evening gloom of our billets, a peasant house in a liquidated village, there was a silence through which the poet grinned at Köhler with goodhumored contempt. "If you are wondering why the neck," I said, "it is that the place of entry one inch below the occipital point of the skull ensures that the bullet will not ricochet, and that there will be a minimum of pain to the patient—I mean—" The Missouri Review · 87 "Patient!" the poet roared. "Patient! Maas, you're a genius! May I steal that from you?" He lifted his glass to me, laughter taking his speech away. "An error," I said. "The liquor, it—" But the poet couldn't stop laughing, until tears filled his eyes and he spilled some of his drink over his knuckles. Kohler's anger had now turned into a kind of benevolent disagreement . "Necks have personalities," he whispered, placing his hand on the poet's arm. "Walking to the pit, their hands covering their private parts, they are faceless." Then his eyes became bright. "But when they turn to the pit, and I aim at that spot, I see a special face, one with more expression!" The poet stared at him, thinking. Köhler whispered, "Red ones with those deep, horizontal creases, farmers' necks I believe. Then necks which are tubular, whose vertical muscles have no definition, so the target is in that fine point of hair? Or boys with soft down, sometimes as blonde as Heydrich's? Moles, scars, errors in grooming. You see, when they look down, the angle accentuates it, like an upturned face!" Köhler nodded excitedly, making it seem obvious that the poet should agree with his discovery. "Look!" Köhler said, turning his chair. "Look! My neck is long, my entry point a deeper hollow under—" "Stop," I said. "I used a mirror," he whispered, his eyes bright with growing lunacy. "I studied it in a mirror. What do you think, oh spinner of abstractions?" But the poet seemed not to be listening to him. He stared at some point in the middle distance between Köhler and myself, his face pale and without expression. EASTERN POLAND, SPRING 1943 - Blessed Mongrel WHAT BOTHERS GRAN now, silent and thoughtful as we walk on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 87-94
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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