Winner of the 14th annual Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize
Judge: Charles Wright
Two poems from Katherine Hollander’s My German Dictionary
followed by a note on the author
I couldn’t be a good Jew, so I tried
to be a good historian. I couldn’t be
a good historian, so I wrote poems.
I couldn’t write about the Shoah, so
I wrote about the Somme. My heart
is not a pocket watch. I wrote swans
snails, stars, and mud. I couldn’t sleep,
so I tried sleepwalking. I couldn’t
sleepwalk, so I just dreamed. Oh
doctor-father, oak-owl, grandfather clock:
Why didn’t you help godpapa? Why didn’t you help
me? Nuremburg, Nuremburg, my old hometown.
Tell me, however should I find such a country?
I didn’t love a nation, I loved an idea.
I don’t trust policemen, I don’t look
at stray dogs, I don’t trust clocks. I am
unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The good
traveling coat has a fox-fur collar
and a fat gold tassel at the shoulder.
Pull on it, and out from the wide sleeve, a little
cedar ladder nudges ready to take you away.
No city can compete
with this city, capital
of ghastliness, beauty,
and dawn. White sky,
the streetlamps turning
out like diamonds
going dark. A wet kitten
drinks milk on a windowsill.
The drowned girl makes her long way
down the river, under bridges.
Her eyes are looking at
the moon. To her fingers
come the fish, like swallows.
The night’s bodies tend
morgueward. A war-hero,
legless, sharpens pencils
readied like a clutch of arrows.
Mothers are ironing. Children
are sleeping in rooms papered
with money, patterns of leader-
faces, wheat-sheaves and stars.
The sun is rising. The street
cleaner comes, as ever.
Katherine Hollander is a poet and historian. Her poetry, criticism, and scholarship have appeared in Literary Imagination, Pleiades, Hunger Mountain, Tupelo Quarterly, The Brecht Yearbook, New German Critique, and elsewhere. She is presently Faculty Fellow in modern European history at Colby College and a guest reader for Sugar House Review.