The Distance Between Craters

photo: roses for wehrmacht

It was the year it became written in our classbooks, how He
held his arm aloft in sieg salute and marveled at its strength.
The school day had been blue, the sun still glowed in Gertrude's hair,
but as we waited together for our parents' black Benzes
Horst's blond face was a scowl of gray, as if willing storm
to rise above the platz. There, he said angrily, pointing
to a walking man, head down, there is a Jew.
See his nose like a tuber that is the god of rutting
pigs, his complexion the swarth and warts
of a toadstool. Kiki slav! He follows that Faith
and Beauty! Watch me as I slap him! Horst ran, but toward a tall girl
with long braids and ankle-length gown. He yelled warnings
of the ugly peril close upon her, but the man was gone. She only smiled
and patted her little soldier before entering alone the local ministry.
I had seen Gertrude and Horst in the afternoons behind our houses,
his short legs striding across the yards, she pausing
to kneel at bluebells in warm soil before
he doubled back to give her head a whack for dalliance.

photo: night raiders poster

Stung tears like those were in her eyes as Horst trudged his return.
You see, I wanted to plead, surely you see, Gertrude, don't you?
But Horst arrived full of scorn and said, You fraulein, you know nothing,
you read all the primers' words, not just the glorious phrases in red,
you struggle over the arithmetic of the modern bomber and the
eighteen hundred incendiaries. If a plane flies at four hundred kilometers
per hour and drops one each second, how long is the bomb path?
How far apart are the craters? Perhaps Horst had a
power I did not know, for clouds now loured on the horizon
and the aroma of coming rain brushed the air. I wished
for my father's car to arrive; I feared storm, the sharp and jagged esses
of lightningbolts, the panzer-rumble of thunder. She was
too old for you, Horst, Gertrude said tenderly, her eyes rubbed
clear. We are still children. He whirled on her, his arm
poised high again, but now to strike, as if he held his Jungvolk dagger.
There are no children anymore, he screamed. We are slender and swift
like the greyhound, our skin has toughened to leather, we have worked
our muscle to Krupp steel. The german earth is our anvil. The flutters
of hood flags caught his eye, and Horst strode toward his family's long
vehicle. Tonight, he called back proudly, glaring at us, tonight while
you play with dolls in your kitchens and tune your volksempfangers
to folk waltzes, I and my father will be the swastika's wheels.
We will stride the Unter den Liden to the mighty Brandenburg Gate
proclaiming triumph, we will travel silent the sacred Wilhelmstrasse,
we will stand erect and eager before His chancellery as the black rain
pours and white lightning plunges all around us, fearless, because for us
the darkness has no terror. For, come at last, we are the night.