Art Poetry

13 Ways of Looking at My Second Mother

“Her life has been one long atonement.”

after Wallace Stevens
(for Elisabeth Eisele Rohrer)

By Mary Rohrer-Dann

Lina whirls in the autumn winds.
Her father scolds, You would laugh
if bombs were falling on your head.
She knows Hitler offends God.
Why does laughter offend Him?

  1. Some Saturday nights, while the family sleeps,
    she sits astride her youngest brother’s bike,
    and they ride to the next town where they dance
    in triumphant, mutinous bliss.

She cuts off her hip-length braids
at hairdressing school, covers her head
with a blue wool cap, walks home
to her father’s broad hand
hard across her face.

Her mother pleads, Don’t do it,
don’t do it, but, twenty-one, she boards
the ship anyway, her mother’s words
circling closer and closer down the years.

  1. To protect from icy gales, her mother sews
    her a coat from a U.S. Army blanket.
    The day before she leaves, a cousin brings
    a hand-me-down, still-stylish, store-bought coat.
    She hides the gladness piercing her.

In Philadelphia, a local hairdresser
notes her skill with scissors, offers
an apprenticeship, help with earning
her license. But the aunt who sponsors her
works as a maid, insists she do the same.

She marries, becomes a widow two weeks
before her daughter is born. Two years later,
she marries my widowed father, becomes
stepmother to his four little girls. With
patience, heart, tenacity, she becomes
our mother. Even mine.

  1. A silver-blue Chevy II station wagon
    packed with kids, baskets of apples,
    paper funnels of roasted nuts.
    The sky opens. Water circles,
    rising past the door handles.
    My mother sings to us.

The red velveteen skirt cascades
across my mother’s sewing machine.
Her treadle roars long past midnight.
Tomorrow, I think, I will be beautiful.

Which will I encounter?
The beauty of my mother’s inflections,
or her razored innuendos?
Her kinship in dreaming beyond home,
Or her bitterness for all that slipped her grasp?

  1. The river is moving,
    shadows crossing to and fro.
    But my mother no longer flies.

Her life has been one long atonement.
For defying her pious, iron-willed father.
Leaving her mother behind.
For two sisters she could not save—
dead by their own hands.
Her riven, immigrant’s heart.

It is evening all afternoon.
Winter all summer long.
My mother wants to go home—
to walk across the Atlantic,
through eight decades, to Germany.

Mary Rohrer-Dann is a writer, painter, and teacher living in central Pennsylvania. Her stories and poems have recently appeared in Literary Yard, The Drabble, Vita Brevis, Flashes of Brilliance, Literary Heist, Streetlight Press and Biscuit Root Drive (forthcoming). Two narrative poem projects, La Scaffetta and Accidents of Being, were adapted to stage by Tempest Productions, Inc. and produced in NYC; State College, Penn; and Philadelphia.

Image: “Candy Dreams,” 2019, Molly Knobloch, acrylic paint and oil pastel on canvas, 40” x 30”

Molly Knobloch is an artist and designer based in East Austin. A creative from day one, she found her love of painting at Tulane University in New Orleans. She works with acrylic paint, oil pastel, pencil and more to create pieces layered with energy and movement that allow viewer to enter and explore.

Molly will be showing work at CraftHER Market in Austin on Sunday, April 12 and at the West Austin Studio Tour (WEST) in Austin at the Commune Annex on May 9–10 and 16–17