Force

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For my mother’s father

When my mother says she misses you, she sees you at the top of the hill that leads her home. She sees you tall, one arm waving, the other plaster-cast, stiff-angled from your shoulder, cast in who knows what, whatever remains of a falling-apart, a running-away, a being-carted-off in trucks and trains.

When my mother says she misses you, her backside is burning, because the pastor’s sister grabbed her from the line of children filing out from Sunday mass, grabbed and spanked her in front of the entire village gawking and gabbing on the churchyard green. I know you hit my mother, too, whenever she did whatever she did, but, by God, no pastor’s sister was going to hit your child, not for picking up the tiny purse she dropped mid-mass, not in front of everyone, not for some made-up infraction against a made-up God with made-up rules, not now, not ever, not ever again.

When my mother says she misses you, she sees you snatch your uniform jacket from the back of the chair, sling it over your bad shoulder with your one good hand, head out the door and down the hill to where the pastor just sat down to soup post holy mass. She sees you yank the bell-cord of the parsonage, bang on the door until the pastor’s sister opens up, she sees you push the sister to the side, push through her protests, storm the dining room, where the pastor is tucked behind the table, napkin tucked into his shirt, about to tuck away the Sunday feast that you and your children can’t afford. You pull him up, you pin him up, one arm’s enough, you push him up against that wall and you tell him what you cannot tell the Russians or the French, who retreated and retreated and in the end did make you run: “If you or your sister touch my child again,” you yell, “any of my children,” you shake him by the shirt to settle in the point, “if you as much as brush against her, I will be back and I will beat you until you’re dead.”

When my mother says she misses you, she is five and you are thirty-three, and tall, and back from the eastern front, but hardly ever home, hitching rides on horse-carts, hay wagons and trucks, back and forth from the hospital, to see your family between long surgeries. You come, you stand and stare at Hitler’s image made from a plaster-cast, the Führer’s face above the stove, above sparse meals, in the tiny make-shift room, in the tiny house that isn’t yours, an effigy as hard and as breakable as what holds up your shattered arm.

Tell me:     How am I to live inside this world of flames?

Tell me:     How am I to trust:    My anger?

My goodness?

The fiercest parts of love?


Photo used under CC.




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About Author

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Catharina Coenen is a first-generation German immigrant to the northwestern “chimney” of Pennsylvania, where she teaches biology at Allegheny College. Much of her creative work addresses transgenerational effects of war. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The American Scholar, The Southampton Review Online, Superstition Review, Appalachian Heritage, The Christian Science Monitor, the Nonfiction Food anthology (Woodhall Press), and elsewhere. Her poetry has appeared in the Spectral Lines anthology (Alternating Current Press) and is forthcoming in The Coil and Split Rock Review.

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