The Briquette I Carry is Heavy

By Eva-Maria Sher

My mother wraps it in newspaper. When I unwrap it at school to help feed the potbellied stove, black comes off on my hands. My teacher wears black. My grandmother wears black.

My grandfather, my uncle, my aunt, my godmother wear black. I don’t wear black, I wear a scratchy blue dress that belonged to cousin Ulla. My shoes used to be David’s. They are too big. My mother puts cotton in the toes. I trip a lot. It is spring. Under the bushes between the brown leaves little blue flowers poke up. The pile of broken stones by the church grows green and yellow. The birds in the trees by our apartment sing. I sing too—in the children’s choir. We stand in the loft, near the big organ. Down below most everyone wears black. Or gray. When we sing and when the organ sounds, it feels golden. In school we sit in straight rows. Our chairs and desks are nailed to the floor. We aren’t supposed to wiggle. At recess we run and scream. At lunch we line up and wash our hands in tubs of strong-smelling water. We hold out our bowls for soup. Our teacher tells us to be thankful. Then we add, and we add, and we add in our heads. We shout out loud: “Zwei und zwei ist vier! Drei und drei ist sechs!” My father has one leg that does not work right. He uses a cane. I can tell when he comes up the stairs. Sometimes I hear him fall. I run, but cannot get him back up. My mother’s friend lost both her legs. I wish I could find them for her. Her new legs are stiff. They don’t work well. She wears a soft brown coat and sometimes lets me use her crutches. She smiles and at the same time sighs a little. A bluish line goes up her forehead. It throbs and makes me feel sad.

Göttingen, Germany, 1950


Born in Germany during World War II, Eva-Maria Sher published her first poem at age eight, emigrated to the United States at seventeen, studied literature and expressive arts, taught, married and raised a family, then picked up where she had left off fifty years earlier—but in a different language.

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