I. American Dreams
An American Dream  1
The Houses of Roslyn, Long Island  2
Walking with Walt Whitman & William Cullen Bryant  3
Setauket, Stony Brook, Port Jefferson  4
Robert Bly Reads at Stony Brook  5
In a Pine Grove at Dusk  6
In the Back Seat of a Fast-Moving Car  7
The Would-be Taxidermist  8
Fishing for Childhood  9
The Best Game?  10
The Failure  11
Shifting Light 12
Speaking Woods  13
Meeting Mari Evans at Marsh  14
Letter from a Star above Southern Indiana  16

II. On a Hill Near the Rhine
The Western Union Man  21
To Become a Priest  22
Crossing the Rhine  23
On the Highest Hill 24
What the Telegram Says 25
Letter from a Buddy  26
No More Wars  27
What the Opa Says  28
A Panoramic View  29
The Owl Bookends  30

III. The Sunday Before Thanksgiving
The Sunday Before Thanksgiving  35
Turkey Dinner and Bingo  36
In the Promised Land  37
Born above a Saloon  38
The Story of the Wreck  39
In the Vessel of Oak  40
Benediction in Fine Rain  41
The Dark Side  42
The Village Elder  43
The “Record” Book  44

IV. Dots and the Pink Rose
Little Girl Dots  49
Daily Life on the Farm  50
The Flood of 1937   51
Sundays in St. Henry  52
A Pink Rose and the Opening of the Calumet  53
An Indianapolis Wedding 54
American Dream House  55
Dots at the Wheel Alone  56
A Nightmare in the Belly  57
Dots’ Legacy  58

V. Behind the Kafka Curtain
Bohemian Wine Glasses  63
Approaching the West German Border  64
Children’s Art at Customs  65
Phone Booth in a Czech Village  66
Nocturnal Tour of the Countryside  67
Biker Gang and Communist Police  68
Dancing Toward Prague  69
An Illegal Night in a Volvo Wagon  70
The Story of Franz and Max 71
Greg’s Weird Story  72
A More or Less Happy Ending  73

VI. Old Language, New World
New Language  77
Missing Old Earth  78
The Sound of the Old Bells  79
Entreaty to Be Remembered  80
Those Left Behind  81
New Prayer  82
Legacy  83
Those Who Leave  84
Good Stories  85
About Here  86

VII. The Minnesota Minstrel in Manahatta
Welcome to NYC  91
Highway 61   92
Texas Hothand  93
Sometimes a Whole Band  94
Busy Being Born  95
A Mouth Harp  96
Ringmaster, Center Stage  97
Just Because I’m Seventy  98
Roots, Man, Roots  99
When I Play My Guitar  100

An American Dream

Sometimes when I’m sitting on the patio of this old house on
Long Island, staring into the wooded hillside as rush-hour traffic
swishes behind my back, I wonder if I have not dreamed the
history of my family. Looking at the strip of woods slanting
between the apartment complex at the top of the hill behind and
Main Street in front of the house, I ask myself if my rural
childhood—those days of hunting, hauling hay, and camping in
the hills of southern Indiana—could not have taken place in a
dream. Did my Bavarian ancestors leave their cobbled streets,
cross the Atlantic Ocean on a crowded ship, and journey all the
way to the southern Indiana wilderness in the middle of the
nineteenth century? Was my father born in a room above a
saloon operated by my great-grandfather, and did he move into
the town where I was born and work for a quarter of a century in
a chair factory? Could I have imagined the thick German accents
of the aunts and uncles I seem to remember from my childhood?
Those elderly people I fly home to visit in the familiar house in
the woods, are they my parents? When I write poems and
stories, do I dream these people and their history? Sitting here
on a Long Island along the East Coast of America, staring into
the woods, am I dreaming myself?

from Section I, American Dreams

What the Opa Says

Half an hour later, I park in front of a modern house where a
family works in their vegetable garden. “Oh, yes,” the wife says.
“The Opa was here that day.” Her husband, who was wounded
along the Moselle, goes to fetch the old man. When the
grandfather realizes I want to know about the fighting here in
March of 1945, he begins to talk so fast it is difficult to follow his
German. First he and his son think my uncle must have died in
the tank battle in the field on the other side of their house. “We
were all evacuated and sheltered in a bunker in the mountain
over there,” he says, pointing to a woods. He adds that he was
terrified of the SS, who bullied him and wanted to know why he
wasn’t fighting even though he was limping around with a cane.
When I explain that my uncle was in the infantry, the two confer
and agree he could have died anywhere in the area, the fighting
was so heavy. From a stack of official correspondence in my
satchel, I pull out a letter from the buddy and read that they set
up the machine gun “on a hill.” “Ah,” they say together. “If he
died on a hill, it had to be that one over there, by the stone
quarry.” I look where they are pointing and watch a truck
hauling a load of rock throwing up dust along a narrow road on a
big hill. “I was so glad when the Americans came,” the Opa says.

from Section II. On a Hill Near the Rhine

Born above a Saloon

Born in a room above a saloon in a house that no longer stands,
in a village now almost deserted. Watched teamsters hauling
freight from the now defunct railroad station at Johnsville pull in
for a beer and a nickel dinner—”all you can eat!”—heaped on a
plate by his Prussian grandmother. Learned to drink beer on the
lap of the mustachioed man his grandmother once threw out of
the saloon, because he had “den Arsch voll,” but later took as
her second husband. Stoked and fed the fire of his father’s
steam-engine sawmill, snuggled a bucket of sausage next to the
fire to keep it warm till noon, and watched the screaming saw rip
the timber for the new village church. Wept when he had to stop
school after eight years because the nearest high school was so
far away and his father decided, “We can’t afford a horse.”
Played the fiddle Saturday nights at barn dances for a few bits
and some free beers. Took impish delight in irritating his
business partner, a brother, by multiplying three-digit numbers
in his head quick as a blitz. Holding a gigantic pretzel to his
mouth at a picnic table in the English Garden in Munich, the
only trip he ever took back to the old country where his
grandfather was born, he broke into a grin so big he couldn’t
squelch it even though he saw me raising the camera.

from  Section III. The Sunday Before Thanksgiving

A Pink Rose and the Opening of the Calumet

Dorothy and Arthur dated until they needed some time apart,
when Clarence received permission from his brother to take her
out. The new couple had their first date in 1941, the night the
Calumet Lake Pavilion opened in Jasper, Indiana. When
Clarence arrived in his Chevy to pick her up, she was wearing a
pink and blue flowered satin dress. He handed her a pink rose.
They spent the night dancing, with friends, on the hardwood
floor suspended above lake water, until 12:30 a.m. Years later,
their son, unaware that his parents had their first date the night
the Calumet opened, went there on Saturday nights with friends.
A band from Louisville played rockabilly, which his friends and
the girls in his class loved—the guys in the band always got their
first picks of which girls to take home. The oldest son of
Dorothy and Clarence always knew he would not marry anyone
from his hometown. When he moved away to New York, he
carried with him the history of his parents, even though he didn’t
understand it all. When he started to write poems and prose,
however, he came closer. A Chevrolet, a pink and blue flowered
satin dress, and slow dancing to the music on a hardwood floor
above lake water, beneath the stars. A couple who fell in love and
started a family in a small Midwestern town not far from
Kentucky. A young man in search of his future, a half pint of
whiskey or sloe gin in his sport coat pocket at Saturday night
dances. He needed to get away, but after he left he discovered he
could come back home by picking up the pen. The story of the
girls and the boys in the band. A pink rose. History. Memory in
the making. The story of a life, multiple lives of different
generations, opening like petals in the pink rose his father once
gave to his mother.

from Section IV. Dots and the Pink Rose

Greg’s Weird Story

One day I tell the children a story as we walk up the subway steps
to the Bureau of Customs Police and look up at the gray Czech
sky. Once upon a time there was a man named Gregor. Guess
what happened to him when he woke up! Tell us, Dad. Well, he
felt really sluggish, even worse than usual. Just couldn’t move in
his bed. Why, Dad? He felt around his body and discovered it
had changed. How, Daddy, how? Would you believe he’d turned
into a humungous bug? Oh yuck! Yeah, he could just barely turn
himself over in bed and flop onto the floor. You mean he was a
big, sort of like a human cockroach? Oh how gross! Yeah, and
he was late, late for his job, and that upset him. You see, he
supported the whole family: his mom, his dad, his sister. That’s
not fair, Dad. Right, he was late for work, he didn’t want to get
fired, he was a good worker, but things were out of his control.
Poor old Greg! Know what happened when they knocked on his
door to tell him to put a move on ‘cause he was late? What? Dad,
tell us. That he had no voice. He could not talk. He had no
human voice. He was trapped inside his bug shell. Couldn’t get
out, sort of like us trapped here in this country. Hey, Dad, my
son says the next morning as we get off the subway and walk up
the steps, tell us that story about Greg again. Tell us what
happened to Greg. That was a good one. Really weird, strange. I
liked it. Funny but sad. Kinda cool.Who wrote that story? Did
you make it up? Tell it again, Dad!

from V. Beyond the Kafka Curtain


A hundred years in one place and a home we can call ours. All
the elders buried in good soil they called their own with stones
that announce their names and dates and birth place and words
from the Bible to commemorate their lives. Houses with good
roofs, trees to give shade, and gardens in the back yards. A
church near the center of town with a stone tower you can see
from every street and alley. Bells that toll for every death. A
sense of belonging and a need to preserve our story for those
who follow. Give us a pen that will tell others who we were, why
we came here, and how we worked together to make this good
life. Let this pen show that a man or woman need not be famous
to live well and be loved or do great deeds to be remembered.
Show that a small life can be deeply lived leaving a legacy that
sustains and nourishes.

from Section VI. Old Language, New World

When I Play My Guitar

Sometimes when I play my guitar and sing, my shadow grows so
long in the night I rise higher than the tallest building in
Manhattan and I split the full moon in two! More light, more
light, as a German poet once said on his deathbed! Poets, poets,
they speak in my song! They are always a welcome foundation in
the house I build with my song. Some would say I gave poetry
back its old home in my ever-evolving song. My friends know
that Allen G / sings with me! Call me Mr. Music and Poetry
Man. Only a fool would deny it’s best to live in the largest
republic of heart and spirit we can create. I heard there was this
Indiana Poet Laureate was in a “Hoosier Dylan” show that
includes my buddy Johnny Prine’s lead guitarist Jason Wilber.
Well, I heard this guy has some poems about me in a book,
Songs in Sepia and Black and White. I may read it one day or
night, on the sly! I heard he lived around NYC for thirty-four
years, overlapped some with me my second time ’round there,
came to Gotham a youngster from the Midwest, like somebody I
know! He even stole one of his poetry collection titles from a
song of mine, The Country I Come From [is called the Midwest.].
Well, good thieves pay homage when they steal good lines, in
poetry or song. Ain’t nothin’ better than a literary thief with
good taste!

from VII. The Minnesota Minstrel in Manahhata

All poems © 2013 Norbert Krapf