The Briquette I Carry is Heavy

My mother wraps it in newspaper. When I unwrap it at school to help feed the pot-bellied stove, black comes off on my hands. My teacher always wears black. My grandmother wears black. My grandfather, my uncle, my aunt, my godmother wear black. I don’t wear black, I wear a scratchy blue dress that belonged to cousin Ulla. My shoes used to be David’s. They are too big. My mother puts cotton in the toes. I trip a lot. It’s spring. Under the bushes between the brown leaves, little blue flowers poke up. The pile of broken stones by the church grows green and yellow. The birds in the trees by our apartment sing. I sing too—in the children’s choir. We stand in the loft, by the big organ. Down below most everyone wears black. Or gray. When we sing and when the organ sounds, it feels golden. In school we sit in straight rows. Our chairs and desks are nailed to the floor. We aren’t supposed to wiggle. At recess we run and scream. At lunch we line up and wash our hands in tubs of strong-smelling water. We hold out our bowls for soup. Our teacher tells us to be thankful. Then we add, and we add, and we add in our heads. We shout out loud together: “Zwei und zwei ist vier! Drei und drei ist sechs!” After school I can always tell when my father comes up the stairs. He uses a cane. Sometimes I hear him fall. I run, but I can’t get him back up. My mother’s friend lost both of her legs. The new legs are stiff. She wears a soft brown coat and sometimes lets me use her crutches. She smiles and at the same time sighs a little. A bluish line goes up her forehead. It throbs and makes me feel sad.

*Originally published in Forge.

Eva-Maria Sher was born in Germany at the end of World War II,  she created poems almost as soon as she could spell. After emigrating to the United States at seventeen, she studied literature and expressive arts, taught, married, and raised a family. Once the children left for college, she picked up where she had left off years earlier, writing in the language of her adopted country. She lives in Medina, Washington with her husband Ron, enjoys painting, music and gardening, and has recently adopted a Leonberger puppy named Minnie.

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