If Once You Were German


Published in The Gordian Review

and in We Knew No Mortality

If Once You Were German

If once you were German, you are now my piece of history.

You floated in the streets of Berlin before it became a nouveau-riche haven,

and you threw hollowed out bricks

into real glass windows

and broke the rules.

You tell me how fragile your childhood experience

how happily you called out to Father Christmas from the porch stoop
as Father Schweizer crept sideways with

his tar-black boots and cheap presents.

You wrinkle your eyebrows, your whole face wrinkles,

pursing up like a very sage walrus with yellowed tusks and soft skin,

and you say it again, how fragile your childhood,

when you walked onstage and dropped the armful of plates.

If once you were my heroine, you are now fine China on a shelf

not an exotic land none of us have ever seen—

inside a lacquered cabinet, unable to collect dust, as is natural.

I wonder what it would be like to polish your broken tusks, lather up that pruned face,

and take you out for one more whirl about the town, hot-and-scanty, we!

Would you remember me

as my Volkswagen turned about the familiar streets where once

in dreams you sauntered?

Once you were historical, but now we are a history

as we float through the streets of Godland: one hand on a cane, one hand on the earth.