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At the Rainbach


for Barbara


From December’s dark

you speak of a childhood

half-timbered and riverine,

the house where the Neckar

swifts without a murmur—

through groves of mirabelle  

and cherry, past the stone barn

where your father’s ghost

still mists above a last, dusty

case of Himbeergeist and Obstler,

the spirits he distilled

and corked in cobalt bottles,

then signed in Sütterlin silver.


Diese Substanz, you say,

and I know you mean

the substance of summers

when dogs roamed

and swam from sandbars,

climbed ashore and shook

themselves into showers—

a thousand droplets

that sparkled and cooled

your sunburnt legs.     


Diese Substanz, you plead,

and I know you mean

the memory of milk clabbered

in metal pails, your mother’s

housedress hanging in a battered

Schrank, the meadow

where you and your sister

raked hay and gathered nettles.


I know. You’re the only one left

who dwelt in this place,

the last who claims its soil

by scent—the only one

who finds her midnight way

through the empty, unlit house.


Out front, the garden cleaves

to winter—a sea of brittle

thistle, a slumber of Löwenzahn

limp and rooted under snow.


Come spring, it will beg

for tending. Somehow,


you must let it go.

Finalist, 2018 Rumi Prize for Poetry.

Appears in Arts & Letters, Issue 38,

Spring 2019.

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