I thought it sounded strong, impressive, Germanic,
to say: “I have to go to German now.” I imagined
my friends all staring admiringly at my back
as I walked industriously down the tessellating hallway
to German, my posture slightly straighter, my rucksack
slightly heavier with Dieter and Petra inside dialoging
about Bratwurst and Goethe and Turkish guest workers.
I could recite “Der Erlkoenig” by heart, and my r’s
were perfect drum rolls. Nancy Baum sat in the seat in front of me
and pretended not to hear when I whispered: Ich liebe dich
into her umlaut—that pair of moles on her left earlobe.
I thought it sounded romantic, Germanic, productive
as a cough. Frau Spier thought so too, for she asked me
to repeat it for the benefit of the whole class. Nancy’s
earlobes blushed then, and her umlaut looked
like two watermelon seeds. Later that semester
I translated one of Rilke’s sonnets to Orpheus,
the one about the tree and the ear. My translation
employed an umlaut where no previous translator
had ever thought to. I thought it was brilliant, subtle,
Orphic. I published it in our high school lit mag
and waited. I waited twenty years. Then, suddenly,
there she was in front of me again, with her back to me
at the reunion, lifting a mixed drink to her lips with a slender
ringless hand at the bar, the umlaut right where I’d left it.
I whispered: Ich liebe dich, and she turned around, the wall
finally down, smiling a smile as wide as East and West.
©2012 This work is the property of the author.