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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 10, Number 3, September 2016

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Michele Root-Bernstein
East Lansing, Michigan, USA


Pyrography

My father left behind many goods of a personal nature. To my youngest brother the German World War I helmet, to my oldest brother the Danish license plate from the ’63 VW, to my middle brother the big Coca-Cola wall clock—or maybe just the memory of it hanging in the root cellar of the old Wethersfield home. My sister took Dad’s photo albums, his Chinese chop, and two paint-by-the-number affairs that nipped his artistic impulses in the bud. Among boxes of letters and a basket of labelled rocks picked up wherever, I received a small wooden saucer with a castle landscape burned into one side and a message burned into the other:

“Thinking back of Europe
do remember Bertchen
from tiny LUXEMBOURG
who liked to share
your lonely soldier days.
27.5.45"

Dad used the saucer in his study to hold his coffee cup. As a kid, I would turn the plate over and trace the words with my finger. Who was she, this Bertchen? Nobody, a girl. Someone he knew for a brief while, just after the war had come to an end and he had not yet been sent back home to finish college, to meet my mother, to be my dad, and—Put it back now, I can't be holding my coffee forever.

Only now, as the saucer sits on my desk, do I etch another subtext into the wood. Somewhere in the world, I will it, there is an old woman nearing her 90th birthday, who sometimes remembers a dark-eyed young man with a boyish smile, stepping into the shop where she sells souvenirs of Letzeburg, teasing her in passably good French as they walk the boulevard, stealing a kiss by the river at the far end of town. When her mother steps out for some bread and cheese to go with the wine he sets upon the table, he presses her up against the kitchen wall, she feels the scratch of his uniform—or maybe just the wish of it against her skin.

daffodils at dusk
an impression of yellow
in the crow’s last call

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