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No one born too far from Niedersachsen, said Oma,
ever quite captures their sing-song intonation.
Characterized by subtleties, like an umlauted vowel,
all non-native imitations sound inevitably as ******
as would a cry of “ello, guv’nah!” in a London coffee shop.

Her Plattdeutsch instincts neutered
by decades abroad, married to a son of Milwaukee,
her permanent, dormant longing for Salzgitter awakes only
to trigger hunger pangs of irreconcilable nostalgia
at the passing whiff of a Germantown bakery.

She taught me the word “sehnsucht” over lukewarm coffee
and a pause in our conversation: a compound word
that no well-intentioned English translation
could render faithfully.
It isn’t the same as just longing, she sighed— longing is curable.
Sehnsucht holds the fragments
of an imperfect world and laments
that they are patternless. How the soul
yearns vaguely for a home
remembered only in the residual ache
of incomplete childhood fancies;
futile as the ruins
of an ancient, annihilated people.
How life’s staccato joys soothe
a heart sore from the world,
yet the existential hunger, gnawing
from the malnourished stomach
of the bruised human psyche, remains—
insatiable, eternal.

Long enough ago, a reasonably-priced bus ride away
from the red-roofed apartment in which she babbled her first words,
a kindly old man in a pharmacy asked her
about her peculiar, exotic accent. Once inevitably prompted
with the question of where she was from, she responded only
that she was a tourist off the beaten track.

And when I pointed out, to my immediate regret,
that she gets the same question back here in Ohio,
I realized then that, not once, has she ever referred to the way
the people of her pined-for hometown spoke
as though she had ever belonged to it.
You finally roll over,
after downing the remainder
of the wine you said you’d share with me
and lay the bottle to rest
beside the bed, in a graveyard of clutter
I periodically nag you to tidy up

so now
I can finally assure myself
with more than tenuous trust
that you will not confirm
your gazing over my shoulder
at my laptop screen
with that irritating ******* chuckle
when you see whatever I’m
privately trying to enjoy for myself

now it would make more sense
that I’m doing anything
other than typing, typing
furiously about how I can’t articulate
why I’ve admitted you
into my bed. Why
we mutually burn through seasons
of wasted time on Netflix, and
instinctively, someone’s head
falls within the soft hollow
of another’s shoulder, yet I cringe
the moment you reach over
to make the embrace

and why
when the remnants
of the drunken, desperate stumbling
to my then celibate bed
that spawned
what we can’t seem to finish
have long dissipated, do we
insist on carrying our dead within us

and why
once you turn back and see me,
do you retreat to the living room
to strum hopelessly on the
Les Paul you spent too much money on
and had shipped to my apartment
because you barely spend any time at yours,
as I type this
groggy and reaching
for what’s as reachable as mist

with only a room
between us, separately
we decode the repercussions
of being haphazard nomads
somehow assigned
to civilization.
She’ll wander back to you again,
but drawn by the string
of ineffable instinct—kissing the sand
of your beaches still damp
by the routine of her departure.
Yet as she recedes,
you already ache her homecoming
as though longing for an estranged relative.

You count the years
by the bitterest point
of every winter, and
value your harvests
against the cruelty of the drought—
and even when she rearranges herself
nightly, by increments you’ve already calculated
by meticulous observation,
somehow good fortune owes you eternity,
even as it crumbles under the weight
of its own impermanence.

You’ve never dealt well with entropy;
all that came before you, which also happens
to survive you—an honorary god.
Stranded on earth,
you monitor your greying scalp as grimly
as you decry a darkening sky above you succumbing
to the certainty of winter, but
even she is ebbing, too.
You curse her departure like an abandoned child,
but she had never sinned against you—
that was your idea.

You mourn the day she repossesses
with mortal anguish,
yet you still find a way to forgive her
when she sends Dawn
to shine his light between the trees.
“Nature wins eventually,” mused my uncle David
as we drove past an overgrown lot
on a barren street, where a struggling Motel 6
had long crumbled under the weight of entropy.

Defying the ghosts of a business
drowned in the unforgiving current
of Dayton’s economy, among
the leasing sign marking their graves,
patternless flora prevailed
Charlie crumpled up the script
that his mother left him as a note on the banister;
an ode to matronly passive-aggression
scrawled in haphazard cursive
on the back of a Meijer receipt when she was drunk.

While conducting a routine bedroom sweep
for any arbitrary evidence
to convict her son, yet again,
as the eternal family scapegoat,
Marilyn was far from pleased
to find his final disregard
of her bankrupt maternal instinct
clouded by inherited alcoholism
wadded up in his wastebasket.

Jaded by plot conventions, dodging foreshadow,
we scrapped our narratives and hopped in his car.
Untethered by destination, we drove through the rain
in the last hours to waste of a Sunday night.
Stopped at an intersection in an unfamiliar town,
he turned to me with an expectant smile:

“Where to now?”

With no surrounding traffic to rush our decision,
I glanced in both directions.

“Let’s turn left.”
“Where’s that lead?”

I squinted in the dark.
*“Wherever the hell we’re going.”
In your ’97 Mercury, that grumbles
like an arthritic old mare
at every cautious nudge
of her gas pedal, evoking the utterance
of “easy now, girl” at least twice a commute,
we’ll journey haphazardly
to wherever I-675 spits us back out.

With whiny indie music
harping cumbersome lyrics
aided by passion-silly guitar solos
blaring on ****** speakers, we’ll savor
the names of every exit
we pass by in defiance; accelerating through
sensible opportunities
to get gas somewhere and
turn back to obligation. Midwestern gypsies,
urban nomads, academically-disoriented
college students—whatever we are, reveling
in the aimless misadventures
of going ******* nowhere.

They raised us to pursue infinity,
we grew to embrace the absurd;
we press our handprints in the sand
and thank the gentle tide
for letting her shoreline’s scars
fade painlessly.
Only as they lie
flat with defeat
on a rain-slicked sidewalk
will we remember how dearly
we loved the autumn leaves.

The trees stand half-naked,
sparsely adorned with
red and orange emblems
of mortality, dropping like
the gradual sands
of an hourglass. They
stare down desperately
at the passersby,
warning us
of the impending winter.

“Remember me,” they plea,
branches gesturing
toward a greying sky—
resisting entropy
like every creature
who finally realized
his impermanence.
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