(transl: Grounds for Model Graves)
The truth is, I don’t know if the graves were fake.
It’s what I remember hearing. Perhaps I mistook
Muster for Mutter. The truth? I was jet lagged
and disoriented. I’m always disoriented in cemeteries
especially at dusk. And there was that split second
my mind wandered back to that high school trip to Dachau
when I stood in front of the ovens and wondered
if they were real. My 16-year-old self almost wishing
I had missed something, that it never really happened,
that we were never that hateful. But of course it did.
And of course we were. A few seconds is all it takes
to miss an entire sentence in German. Even the most fluent
gloss over phrases, fill blanks with context clues.
Someone I once knew taught an entire class on a novel
he had never read. It was the students’ favorite course.
Most of them did not read it either, trusting instead
what others told them about the plot. It’s not that I don’t
trust my memory, like how the size of a childhood home
grows larger each year. Or the massive cliff in Sweden
where we stripped off our clothes and dove into
the lake at midnight, the sun just beginning to set.
I’m sure it wasn’t as high as I remember. Something now
akin to the Matterhorn’s north face. What I know is I
was there, in that cemetery. That I discussed the graves
with my friends. That it was dusk in August in Leipzig.
That the plots were sufficiently out of place to force us
to stop in the gravel path. To read the plaques and,
for a second, ponder what actually lay buried underneath.
Greg Nicholl is a freelance editor whose poetry has appeared in Ecotone, New Ohio Review, Nimrod, North American Review, River Styx, Smartish Pace, Sugar House Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2021 River Styx International Poetry Contest selected by Adrian Matejka and was a finalist for the 2022 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry from Nimrod and the 2021 Patricia Cleary Miller Award for Poetry from New Letters. www.gregnicholl.com