Saturday, January 3, 2009

Four November 9ths

By Anne-Marie Levine

My family expected I would be born on Armistice Day,
November 11, and that would be one thing,
that would have been something to joke about
in those days. But I came into being two days earlier,
on November 9, in the evening, and that was another thing,
it was not a joke, and it was evidently not a thing
to be remembered or told,
because I was not made aware of the coincidence
of my birth until several months before my 50th birthday,
which coincided with, and was commemorated and announced as,
the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
So there I was, and even more than that here I am,
quite surprised, not to mention still unprepared,
and quite unable to avoid thinking about both at once.
The reminders since then have been constant and grim.
Coincidence: the visible traces of invisible principles.

And now my friend Gottfried Wagner,
who since the day he discovered the date
has never forgotten my birthday,
has informed me that there are four November 9ths
in history, that it is a very big day in the history of Germany
in this century. There is even a book written,
it is called The Four November 9ths.
I can’t read the book, it is written in German,
but I have done some research, and as far as I can tell

The first November 9 was 1918;
it was a revolution in which the Kaiser abdicated,
which culminated in the Proclamation of the Republic in Berlin
on November 9. The above-mentioned Armistice
between the Allies and Germany
followed on the 11th.

The second November 9 was 1923;
it was Hitler’s abortive “Beer Hall Putsch”
against the Bavarian government in Munich.
Hitler, who was at first imprisoned, eventually emerged
as the undisputed leader of the radical right.

The third November 9 was, as you know, My November 9th,

And on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down.

So there you are and here we are, on my birthday,
and all of this is to say what Gertrude Stein has already said,
what can I teach you about history -- history teaches.

It is not a simple matter, the birthday, or the telling.

Anne-Marie Levine was born in Belgium, raised in Beverly Hills, lives in New York City. A poet, scholar and visual artist who began to write while touring as a concert pianist, she's the author of three collections of poetry: Euphorbia, Bus Ride to a Blue Movie, and Oral History: A Monologue. Her work also appears in anthologies such as Poetry After 9/11 and Literature as Meaning (Penguin). She has published essays on Gertrude Stein's politics, on art and trauma, and on context, and has received grants from the NYFA, Puffin and Vogelstein Foundations for this work. She often performs solo theater pieces based on her poems and is currently at work on a commonplace book. Levine has had solo shows of her paintings most recently at Sarah Lawrence College and at The Cherry Art Center (CA), and her work will soon be on view (Feb. 3-28, 2009) at The Cornelia Street Café. Four November 9ths appeared in Poetry After 9/11 and Bus Ride to a Blue Movie. Please visit the author at her Web site,

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