Michael Salcman

Three Days in Germany

To Henri Poincaré art and science were much the same,

from all possible combinations we choose what to put in 

and what to leave out, picking a perfect flower from a wet 

bouquet. I wanted to call this report Three German Tales 

but they’re all one story.  It was raining the second day 

Professor and Madame went from Frankfurt to Heidelberg 

by train, a light drizzle falling against their first class windows.

Thirty years had passed since he last came here

in order to teach U.S. Army doctors about the brain.

Age had converted him from one end of the bed

to the other. On the street it was hard for his ankle

to walk the cobbles; everywhere else he looked for flat paving

stones but at the ruined castle in the side of the mountain

it was hard to step care-free. Clouds came

and stayed, the trees on the Philosopher’s Walk glowed green.

Near the mouth of the courtyard a plaque he couldn’t read—

probably said ‘here stood Goethe watching the moon dizzy

with love.’ And across the broken stones the Weinstube

restaurant where once he ate wild boar from the Black Forest

covered in almonds and ox-tail soup with passion.

 

ii

 

The day before the castle the Professor and his wife 

went to the Städel in Frankfurt, going floor to floor, stopped dead

by an unknown Flemish Master and a Bellini Madonna painted 

Venetian blue. It was his father’s birthday but no longer necessary 

to call. At last they stood before Tischbein’s famous portrait of Goethe 

reclining in the Roman compagna like a courtier, wearing

an enormous black hat, a pigeon-gray smock and two left-footed shoes.

Did the great brain forget to properly dress the morning he posed

or is it true poets are bent in a way only their painter can guess?

There the Professor stood dreaming of apfel beignets floating 

in crème anglais—powdered sugar and cinnamon crisped around 

the cold heart of the fruit. This fabled desert from his last visit 

thirty years ago, a treat invented in Heidelberg and never repeated,

mourned and searched for like that cake in Combray.

iii

 

The day after the castle, they walk along the Hauptstrasse

to the Hotel Ritter where people claim to have invented apfel beignets.

No one in the Professor’s family believes such a glory exists 

in a country not fabled for its cuisine but Madame insists

he shall taste it again. The waiter at the Ritter speaks of change

in the kitchen: they no longer make it, only apple strudel. 

It’s as if a great tenor had left the stage. On the train back

the couple sits in a private compartment with plush velour, 

parti-colored seats, and arm rests as thick as his thigh. 

The other four places remain unoccupied. There’s no service 

and all the announcements are in German. 

The train curves out in front of their eyes, inscribes a turn

with its great length; Madame sits as silent as Ingrid Bergman,

the Professor pretending he’s a spy like Cary Grant 

stares down the tracks where the gray trains still run on time. 

That evening the barman at their hotel talks the chef into making them

apfel beignets. The waiter’s French but dressed like a floor manager 

at Fortnum & Mason. Since London he’s lived in Frankfurt thirty years 

but will retire to an island on the Bay of Biscay where he can fish 

and drink red wine the rest of his days. The Professor takes a bite 

and nods to his wife. You can imagine the taste, exactly the same.

THE COURTSHIP OF WINDS

© 2015 by William Ray