So, Grandfather, this is your birthplace and the season,

the beginning of summer in the land of the Hun

I come in the middle of life, seeking your soul and mine

In old age, you simply smoked and smiled,

said nothing more to me than, “Villy!”

I have heard the stories of how Kaiser Bill marched

his soldiers across the mountains to claim your fields

I have heard how you stabled your ox and mule

on the mud floor of your drafty house to keep them alive

I have heard of your voyage hidden in the hold

of the rolling ship, of the vomiting, the thin soup,

the thief who left you near penniless only hours

before you docked in the new country

I have heard the story of your cousin John,

cut in half by a train in the stockyards of Kansas City,

how the men immersed his torso in a tub of ice and argued

politics until his eyes rolled sideways into his head

I have heard about the bread wagon you drove

house to house through the immigrant neighborhoods,

how the horse left his puddles steaming in the streets,

how the women cursed you when you ran out of bread

I have heard how the Irish grocer fed you laxative gum

as a joke, how you messed your pants at the dinner table,

how your children laughed you into a two day drunk

I have heard how grandmother hid under your bed when

the black man knocked on your door to deliver a load of coal

Grandfather, I only knew you when you had no teeth

But now I know you brought your revolution with you




Grandfather, since my first memory, I have been at war

When a hand reached down out of the sky,

lifted and dropped me into a real war,

I crawled on the jungle floor with my wrath, and right away,

I waged a war against war and the makers of war

I brought the war back with me and fought the peace

because you had drawn the battle lines long before

I knew anything about your ancient wars and warmongers

All I could say to the mothers of the dead was,

“Stand aside, I am one of those who lived”

But my war against war led me from one struggle to another

Whom did I struggle against, for what and why?

Was I fighting your war again and on what battleground?

Grandfather, I keep hearing there will be no more wars,

at least not for a generation, not until new skin

replaces old, not until rain washes blood from stone

But I keep firing into the darkness, my chin on the stock

My war against the world has just begun

Some say I am only shooting myself in the boot

I feel I am shooting myself in the heart




Grandfather, when I dream, I dream of windstorms,

the sudden swift scattering of leaf, brick and bone

Your son, my father, came spinning into your adopted land

protesting, fists doubled, his night howls so piercing

your neighbors turned on their lights

I never knew when his words or broad sided blows

would drop out of nowhere to strike me down

He scattered his children and his days and his convictions

so wildly, I was almost forty odd before I hit the ground

I tumbled through battered evenings and car wrecks

and mornings at school when my stomach twisted in fear

I waited for Kaiser Bill to come and burn down my house

I could feel his soldiers outside my door, the assassins,

probing the perimeter, testing for a weakness

Even now, I fortify myself against disaster

Grandfather, no one really knows when the next storm

rolls down from the hills, when the next army strikes

Even now, I can’t sit still long enough to watch a sunset



Grandfather, I wake early now and go walking

I search for that moment when the light first appears

I walk in those seconds of first light knowing the peace

that rises up from the scent of the earth,

the peace no man can steal

Some mornings the valleys swallow me in fog

Not until I reappear on the crest of the last hill,

not until I move up into the glow of the full light of dawn

do I know for certain that I have not disappeared forever

On one of those mornings, lost in the fog,

I climbed by chance into the swirl of a thunderstorm

At first, I panicked in the lightning and raw rain,

dodging the slimy bolts of cloud water

Halfway into the core of the storm I might have outran it,

but I turned back into it instead, leaping and laughing,

until I wondered why I had battled the sky for so long

Grandfather, on the morning I made peace with the rain,

I laughed and cried at the smallest of things




Grandfather, even as the tourist bus curves through the mountain

and brakes downward into your village,

I begin to learn about the anger of the dispossessed

In your country the spruces spring up into the thin air

in patterns of majestic lace, the patterns of my dreams

Waterfalls spill from the sides of the steep green hills

into rivers and streams that tumble into ghostly lakes

Wild boar crash the underbrush as did the unicorn

in the great, deep forests of our ancestral myths

I see the old men with their walking sticks along the road

And I know this is where you were meant to be, why

you sat tightlipped and fuming for sixty-five years

in a cheap wooden bungalow in someone else’s country

Your birthright and your heritage have disappeared

in the sediment of too many campaigns, too many winters

Seeing the cattle on the hillsides and the upright grain,

I know how you felt looking out at the river churning

under the bridge in the middle of your village

Standing here in the immense valley, you saw

what the river was, that it could both bring and take away

You saw that the river takes away a little at a time

And in time it would take away a little of you too

I feel the sadness you felt then

I feel the anger that imprisoned your words

At that age, your mustache as fine as newly sprouted grass,

you wore your lederhosen stiff and strong against your legs

Your new wife stayed home with her mother,

lonely and crying because you couldn’t feed her

You looked up at the mountains for the army of occupation

You vowed never, never to be enslaved

Grandfather, I know a little now about what has been lost

I stand where you stood

I stand by the terrible, rushing river

— Austria, 1989