Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Mainz, April"

 in memory of Karl Dietz

(1981)

Around the train station, all is order
and bewilderment, punctuality and haste.
The drivers pilot their hinged busses into the crowd
of stout German women and nervous U.S. soldiers.

It is April, and the sunlight is without warmth.
To account for the chill, one invents
a theory of weather, in which the wind
always blows from Berlin, from Poland, from Russia.
It is a short walk from this tense station
to the red sandstone cathedral
and the place where Gutenberg set up shop.

The buildings along the way are
unassuming, neither old nor new. They were built
when history paused for a moment,
as if history could do that.

You may notice a solitary, jagged wall--
a shard from an Allied bombing raid.
Schiller's statue faces a sparkling jewelry store.
The stone streets in the Altstadt
and the shoulders of the great cathedral
are a relief to uneasy visitors
and troubled Mainzers alike.
Or I imagine so.

Lore mumbles that the Allies preserved
Wiesbaden, across the river,
for Eisenhower’s headquarters.
In a frivolous moment, therefore, one might
think of the casino, the spas, the architecture,
and Brahms--and say, "The nineteenth century is over there."
Not true, obviously. There are only more flowers,
more parks, a less dogged procession of soldiers,
clerks, and managers. There is a big-hearted
colleague named Karl and his family.

Having a coffee indoors as the afternoon dies
too quickly, one thinks hard about the Cathedral,
Gutenberg's printing, the French fort, the river,
the bombing missions in which an uncle
may have taken part, the people bombed,
the people shipped to camps and ovens,
the people like me who were born afterward,
the people who will think of 1981
as a long time ago.

But nearly everyone seems to clutch
at this day in 1981, at every today, anxiously;
we are all in a rush to be on time--to
make the 17:25 bus, not the 17:52.
Punctuality becomes an end in itself.

Me, I seem anxious to get back to
the white stucco apartment
in Bretzenheim or to an office
in the glass-and-steel building
at Gutenberg University, where I teach
writing in English, American government,
and my own behavior, which
the German students mark.

A person is urged to think about
history, to have thoughts about
history, to opine. The truth is
I'm weary of trying to think
profound thoughts about
what happens, what happened.


copyright Hans Ostrom 1981/2014


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