Mennonite Poetry Home | Leonard Neufeldt




This other language, so close
to the old Low German you and I understand,
slow-walked sheltered parts of ourselves
across wet-spotted washboard
cobblestones, through the obelisk’s
pencil shade of other times, across
Amsterdam’s Dam Square, swept
clean as always by slow-throttle motorized
brooms. So much mattered here
ages ago about merchants,
God’s will and what we are made of.
Dissenters confessed or refused to,
Arminians, Jews and Anabaptists,
until concerned Calvinists
had whipped unmitigated free will
into hiding just in time for ancestors
to leave in the dark of centuries ago,
to let the Old Church and Royal Palace
inure the future here,
although the clock tower tolls the present
hour and Queen Juliana left the palace
and royal rule to others decades ago,
the queen who declared your uncle a rescuer
of refugees and exiles, and a knight.
There are people we know who try to be
someone else or an equivalent
when they meet each other, but he retired
to a house modest as the green hills
of Pennsylvania, in a village
where streets that begin also end,
like your visits with him

The palace bell tower still commands
air and earth for a moment’s reckoning
or needless concern, like your suddenness:
I wonder when our passports expire.
We fingered them out of deep cargo pockets,
yet both of us knew these small blue
comforts have pages and years left,
unlike a refugee we met here,
his fear outfitted with envy, spent
English words and expired visa

The difference between a passport
and this chap’s visa,
you murmured,
is the pain still keening long after
futile study of a foreign language
at night for a place in another world.
And then another language for another place
as my father did before he simply fled
when he still could

I couldn’t settle every one of your
word-by-strange-words reliving
more than mere losses, but I nodded;
I’d grown up between some of them,
and I want to know about your shirt-and-tie
father’s journalistic years in Canada.
Whether any of them called heaven to witness
their own kind of free will no matter
how fateful the news arraigning days
bitten thin by attention as he proofread
once again past midnight his introduction
to the next batch of letters from refugees
he would publish tomorrow
or the day after without excuse,
without comfort




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