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Erika Michael

Rudolfiner Haus, Döbling

The Catholic sisters of the Rudolfiner Haus

Christened me, this new-born Döbling denizen,

into their faith and pinned an Edelweiss onto

my swaddling as they placed me in the arms

of my mama. That day Ha Kodesh Baruch Hu

granted me my Jewish sense of awe, moved me

to applaud my new world with cries, as newborns

do, and so, this unintentional converso, soul

saved before she knew souls were a thing, went

forth into a golden world of Klimt and Strauss,

with trips to Semmering for Alpine drift with

parents who, as dyed in the Loden Austrians,

were keen on it, and hiking in the Emperor’s

old hunting ground with feathered cap and

gentle white-hair terrier hound. Baptized once

more into the mythic lore of Danube blue,

I was dipped into that grayish river flowing in

three-quarter time to Sieczyński’s kitchy tune,

Wien Wien Nur Du Allein—Vienna, city of

my dreams, my body firmly held by my papa

who soon began to croon a sadder song—

Erika, Erika, wir fahren nach Amerika!

America, not some Shangri-La, but scary

Neverland, a cut n’ run from our treasured

home where no Jew might ever walk again

without a vibe of boots, where no baptismal

waters have flowed strong enough to cleanse

the stain of Anschluss that consumed the

better portion of a Volk who, arms thrust out,

tore off their shirts and bras with shouts of

Heil! in rabid greeting to the entry of earth’s

misbegotten prodigal. So when the strains of

Edelweiss are warbled by the Lederhosen set,

I think about the shouts of Juden raus and all

the well intended folk at Rudolfiner Haus.

It’s In My Bones—TA RAM PA PA

I Love to Waltz with My Mama

Mother said the Blue Danube was a muddy river—

mud hides bones, There’s a snapshot of me age two

sitting on a white limed ledge, my father beside me

to his waist in water. That was when the bonebreakers

came. We treaded brown current fearing to trample

unmarrowed bones. The river churns through me

like new wine from Grinzing—laps at apple-green

memories in three-quarter time, boils double-helix

eddies uncoiling Strauss at five in the afternoon

with swells of Habsburg coffeehouse Gemütlichkeit

Who were those neighbors? Friends who sprinkled us

with water in the yard when we were kids but learned

nothing about showers, who applauded uncle Martin

playing Faust on stage as he sold his soul for Marguerite,

but also clapped when Martin rolled to dodge impromptu

kicks and pummels as he shoveled Nazi horse shit off

the street, who greeted us Grüssgott each day but

squawked good riddance Jew as gangsters wheeled

our things away.

Returning to my Lannerstrasse home after the war,

I tried the bell—an old man shuffled to the door.

Do you know about the folks who lived here in those

former years? I asked. Oh them, he grinned sardonically

his green eyes peering to my core—they croaked

decades ago, ain’t none of ‘em alive no more


Erika Michael has a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Washington and has taught at Trinity University, San Antonio, Oregon State in Corvallis, and the University of Puget Sound. She has participated in workshops with Carolyn Forché, Thomas Lux, Linda Gregerson, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Tim Siebles, Major Jackson, and Jeffrey Levine. Her work has appeared in Poetica Magazine, Cascade, Drash: Northwest Mosaic, Mizmor l’David Anthology, Bracken Magazine, The Winter Anthology, The Institute for Advanced Study Letter, Belletrist Magazine, The Dewdrop, Aletheia Literary Quarterly, and elsewhere. In 2019 she was awarded first prize in the Ekphrastic Poetry Competition at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival.


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