I sit on the steps in the dark
we’ve grown used to and braid
Ingrid’s hair. There’s milk tonight,
and Rote Grütze—Grandfather shielded
the berries all July barehanded
as the bombs dropped east and west
of Dresden. It seems a paradise,
this unusual fruit, a pair of fireflies
at the window. Father listens to the radio
where Goebbels speaks of dragons,
mythology, and what is right.
I’ve only seen the Führer once, and wept.
I’ve taught my fingers to move in the dark,
to know what’s there and what could leap
from thresholds, Prager Strasse,
the blanket between my mother’s thighs.
I’ve been taught to forsake demons,
the Soviets, the secret Jews
down the block who hide their Talmud
in the trash among potato skins
and tins of powdered milk.
I fear nothing but Ingrid’s breathing
when she wakes before curfew
wanting coloring books and solitude.
Her hair recalls to me American cornfields
I’d seen in movies: Ohio, Nebraska…
I don’t remember, except the boys
wore purple shorts and played
trombones while their aproned mothers
waited at windows. Someday
I’ll take Ingrid there and see Errol Flynn
in California and touch his hair
when the war’s forgotten.
Sometimes I forget who the enemy is
and wear Mother’s mascara, remembering
Klaus who never kissed me.
How are we to know the difference
between the raven and the songbird,
the Kaiser’s world and ours? I comb
Ingrid’s bangs then stroll through Edeka
for cooking oil and raisins, flour
and oatmeal. I watch a woman in yellow
who could’ve been a bride
tear the flesh of her neck
with her fingernails and cry.
The metal shelves wink at us all
in triangles of sun, and nobody speaks.
The wind stirs forth its ghastliness.
We’re drinking tea and waiting for
a thunderstorm to swallow the blasts
swirling down from Chemnitz.
Ingrid keeps her dolls arrayed
on the living room floor and Father irons
his Reichmarks, pretending they’re enough
till winter. He says the war will end
when Stalin gives up Leningrad;
he says the Americans won’t die
for what they cannot have. I scrub
errant berries from Ingrid’s favorite dress
and draw black x’s on my notebook.
Each one’s a woman I might’ve been,
each a fury and a wish. Ingrid believes
in magic, but I know we’re going to die here
among stacks of old Christmas cards
and the Führer’s face on the calendar,
among the smells of enamel and cement
as the city redefines itself. Ingrid
sits at the kitchen table now,
a saint who’s lost the knowledge
of light and dark—she sits like a girl
in a postcard in the shadows of the valley
where the Elbe curves
Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His poems have appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at Dokuz Eylül University.