When the winter chrysanthemums go
there's nothing to write about
     but radishes.

Matsuo Basho
(1644-1694)

 

 

 


Brücke nach Wien (Bridge to Vienna)
Image © 2001 Jon Bohrn

Vienna, December 1999

I watched 
the winter light die from the bridge,
the sky a sinking empire's battleship,
ice floes' jagged edges
clink their cold toast
to a stilled Danube.

Johann Strauss
would have committed
himself to Wagnerian depression
on a night just like this;
streetlights sputter
matchstick desperation
relinquishing desperate light,
shadow-glaciers crawl
the alleys in deafness:
Beethoven's lament -
Vienna chilled in encroachment
of a Russian winter.

I stand, stiff gloves on cold iron,
snowdrifts slither the streets,
ghosts coalesce 
in the city's soot,
strangers' stares
shuffling into the 
snow-muffled distance, 
disappearance achieved.
Day dies like the century,
like the empire
once taught to the teachers' teachers
in their youth.

I couldn't find
my old friends here, 
their dimly remembered faces
didn't match
the lifelessness of their eyes
or their stooped forms,
and in darkness
that reminds
of my father's black uniform,
hopes of memories fail, anyway.

A stranger returned,
my winged feet trail rubble
of the Ringstrasse and the Hofburg,
Emporer Franz Josef's ghost evicted,
the righteous flight
of angels on cathedral ceilings
forcibly interrupted
by the harsh flight of metal,
our century's reconcilement 
of God and brutality
leaving too little.

My grandfather repainted 
the frescoes after the war, 
the nation's decade-long scaffolds
are history too now.
I imagine his hand 
must have shivered like mine,
painting on cold nights like this.

© Jon Bohrn (2001)

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