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Sarah Hermes Griesbach

Florian, Now Gray

La Cuerda Floja by

On the living room wall hangs a picture of my husband as a boy, looking much like his grown son and the child we have together. He is unaware of his rumpled shirt, his facial expression, his upset collar. He sits obediently posed, eyes forward, open face, teeth still new, hair sheared close, ears at attention on a gray day in his quiet apartment overlooking the Rhein.

That boy, gone now, nostalgia has made flat as the canvas he’s painted on. Sunny child happily studying all day long. Beloved boy, thriving off chocolates in a post-war world.

I see him framed like foreign movies, wearing short trousers, walking distractedly through sooty streets, getting into a mod little car, stepping on a train, riding the ferry. A boy burdened with a sissy name, sitting with maps and French textbooks, desk light on. This is the story he taught us to see.

Scratchy Past

Raised by a mother who forbade waste of paper and fabric, my husband keeps rolls of penance at the toilet. Balding towels: 1 for you, 2 for the guests. Behold! The excesses of others, their disregard for frugality, their casual use of luxury. He is not running a hotel. After all “Is the service not as expected?”

Young people are usually the worst offenders, exhibiting absent-minded extravagance. My mother-in-law came of age in Nazi Germany, spared from the Hitler Youth by the efforts of her father, the flourless baker. She, therefore, withheld from social interaction with adolescent peers. A sore memory settled between cement dust and fallen brick.

Today, my husband, her son, saves the pennies that others spend on triple quilted double ply to fill the bellies of those long gone, who forever collect coal from railroad track for meager heat and for a nebulous future that waits around corners, ever mindful of the tragedy succumbed to by those accustomed to soft things.

Germans and Us

German children love snails. German playgrounds sound with sing-song voices lilting lightly. German children’s feet barely touch the floor as they prance across perfectly modern apartments.

My American kids never took to waiting for our host’s cue before taking first bites. We pound across wood drum floors, torturing kindly neighbors who pretend not to hear the grating voices of squabbling siblings.

Germans send us thoughtful gifts: photo calendars documenting birds of Antarctica taken by a biology teacher who uses his Gymnasium holidays to tour the wide wild world. Their world.

Germans send us their children: teens gifted with poise, grace and charm, speaking school-taught British English on topics political, sociological, and literary. Where is acne? awkwardness? angst?
Their word.


About the writer:
Sarah Hermes Griesbach is the executive editor of All the Art, the Visual Art Quarterly of St. Louis; a museum educator at the St. Louis Art Museum; and a lifelong reader and writer of poetry. Griesbach has been published in All the Art, The St. Louis Beacon, on the St. Louis Public Radio Website, in Temporary Art Review, Alive Magazine, The Open Notebook and Neurology (as an authority on art, not medicine). Her academic papers Historical Function of the Fictional Work of H. J. C von Grimmelshausen and Essad Bey Benign Imperialists: Ethnographic (mis)Representation by German Painter-Adventurers, 1840-1890, are also available.

Image: La Cuerda Floja by Frank Chinea Inguanzo (contemporary). Oil on canvas. 48 x 60 inches. 2005. By permission.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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