I didn’t really like Frau Stadler,
the local guide our college paid
to show us Austrian history. She
walked too fast. She said und zwar
too often. Like other structures that
survived the Second World War,
Frau kept a strong façade. But once,
between important sites, she let us sit
in a Konditorei. It wouldn’t hurt, she said:
a piece of Obsttorte, a couple Krapfen.
She’d been our age, and even skinnier,
when US troops rolled into Salzburg.
How wonderful, the demokratische
ideals! The soldiers’ chocolate bars!
So later, when her daughter asked to go
a year abroad, Frau didn’t hesitate. The
place was Bettendorf, in Iowa.
Frau liked the Austrian sound of that.
The year passed quickly, full of happy letters.
But ach–to fly home in such baggy clothes?
Frau didn’t knock, that first night back,
before she walked into the bathroom.
Saw, naked in the tub, her daughter’s
rounded shoulders, belly rolls: fatted
by America. So much I’ve forgotten—
but I can’t unsee Frau Stadler’s nose.
Sometimes it’s on my face. Yesterday
as I mowed shirtless past the glass doors
of my walkout basement, white and
chubby as a grub, it wrinkled up.
As if she didn’t really like me, either.
*German: Cultural Exchange
A Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee, Sean Kelbley is as an elementary school counselor in southeastern Ohio. He lives on a former state experimental farm in a house he and his husband built. Sean’s poetry appears or is forthcoming at One, Rattle, Rise Up Review, Sheila-Na-Gig online, Still:The Journal, Sugar House Review, and other wonderful places.