Then I picture myself among the airmen and mechanics,
The construction of a Zeppelin was an amazing undertaking, evocative both in terms of the scale of the thing and of its structure—the making of a complete skeleton over which a metallic skin would be stretched. In several of my poems, I bring up the interplay between our memories and our records. It’s interesting to me that photography has now existed long enough that there is often extensive documentation of times that we treat as bygone and mysterious, as they are when considered in terms of human memory and experience. For example, in “Song: City, Mirror, Moon”, the second last poem in Zeppelin: “the coffee table book, Lost Landmarks of the City“. We quickly forget vanished buildings from the greatest cities, however monumental or important, to the point where the book that collects photographs of such places is a genre unto itself. In Crown and Ribs, the narrator of the poem “I’ve Found a Real City”, challenged as to his knowledge of the city (literally Chicago), claims in the end to know “everything”:
There are photographs of everything, every state of the city,
every vanished structure, photographs of the devastation the morning
after the city’s legendary calamity.
This poem is patterned in part after Milosz’s poem, “A Legend”:
Who knows the beginning? We live in this city
Without caring about its past
But we end up caring about the past, wishing to return to it, only to find, unlike those who went before us, that a growing portion of our past is there, detailed in a form, photography, that we acknowledge as a factual record. When I wrote about picturing myself among the airmen and mechanics, it was a creative, fanciful thought, as if such an experience was inaccessible except to imagination. Since then, partly through my search for that photo that first gave rise to this poem, I’ve found that we have easy access to a tremendous record of images of Zeppelins under construction, often eerily beautiful images. The images in the slideshow below are taken from an amazing page on the USS Akron at the French site La boite verte.
Of course, there’s more than one way to make a Zeppelin.