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Jeri Theriault

After the Break-up


I take a two-hour train along the Elbe

past towns & factory smoke

to Dresden

where my ex-pat friends like to shop.

I buy green suede boots

then sit for a while

in the white light of the rebuilt

Frauenkirche where I read a pamphlet


these walls—new limestone mixed

with charred stone from the firebombing

of February 1945

same month my father crawled through

Iwo Jima’s black sand

toward the gun he finally

took & fired into haze & flesh

kept firing even after he was wounded.

He carried that grief & handed it down

so that today

in this remade city suddenly

my small losses melt into his

& into this sidewalk

as it is & as it was

into shimmering glass & collapsed

churches even into the remorse

of bombardiers who dropped silver

seeds that blossomed below

into people running

or unable to run children & grandpas

late shoppers & opera goers

so many of them lying now

unnamed in Heidefriedhof

Cemetery its walks engraved with slogans

a garden of words & stone

with commemorations each Feb. 15

never again they say we all say—

words I carry like souvenirs

of Korea or Vietnam Kosovo Iraq

or Afghanistan. Never again will we

sweep rubble aside

to make room for corpse-filled

trucks nor rebuild hospitals

with bones not in Bosnia or Angola

Syria or Nicaragua. The body

shudders remembering

& I await my return train as pigeons flutter

against the station’s dome full of echo

& solemnity

while the loudspeaker God-voice preaches

time & departure

& forgetting.

Mother Tongue

For two weeks I’ve been an island

of English at Gymnasium Arabska

teaching language for the first time

& suddenly hungry for the voice-hum

comfort of back home cafés.

In search of my native tongue

I find Líterárni Kavárna where English

is supposedly spoken. When I enter

two men are shouting passionate Czech

their table littered with beer mugs &

books the cigarette smoke so thick

I don’t notice at first

the woman sitting alone with her own

stacked books cigarettes & long blond hair.

The spines on her table—The Dead

& The Living Diving into the Wreck

All My Pretty Ones—such old friends

I can’t help leaning over to read

what she’s writing: There is a broken

circle a circle getting smaller

& smaller. I feel my life both broken

& whole grow smaller in this strange city

& then suddenly wider when she

looks up startled & English

floods my mouth dizzying

as the Frankovka we’re both drinking

Laura from Brooklyn & me from Maine.

She says the sexism here

still drives her up the wall even though

she’s been in Prague for ten years

& I admit how down in the dumps

I’ve been relieved

to sing the blues to someone

who understands. She invites me to her flat

on Bikupsova for cawfee sometime

& we smoke until the bartender

rattles his keys in the door

& we head in opposite directions

long past the last tram both of us

emptied of words for now & full.


Jeri Theriault’s recent awards include the 2023 Maine Arts Commission Literary Arts Fellowship, the 2023 Monson Arts Fellowship, and the 2022 NORward Prize (New Ohio Review). Her poems and reviews have appeared in The Rumpus, The Texas Review, The Atlanta Review, Plume, and many other publications. Her collections include Radost, My Red and Self-Portrait as Homestead. She lives in Maine.


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