Summer ended powerfully—as if God
had snapped a branch from his mightiest oak
and thundered: “Enough.” The sky dimmed.
Cloaks appeared. The Elbe’s blue road
turned wild and gray, struck by a grim fury.
Everywhere one trudged, stone claimed
dominion, and set an implacable face
to the centuries—only to culminate
in this pleasing line of turrets and domes
along the rapidly darkening riverfront.
Wind fingered the crevices; timbered walls
stiffened as chill seeped up through our boots.
Cathedrals thrilled to their tasks: spires
bristling at twilight and the doors cranked wide
to spew out their gold.
High in the organ loft
we waited, my brother and I, skins burnished
by candlelight, instruments gleaming; watched
them enter—the weary, the obedient, the curious;
a ghostly scent of malted barley rising
from their thick woolens and flaxen hair.
They came for comfort, dragging
the cold in behind them; they came for light
then closed their eyes, the better to listen:
cello ploughing low while I skimmed
the thin ice above, teased the bright edges.
All winter we played, and they lingered—
through incense and gingerbread, from Advent
to Christkindl to New Year’s to Drei Könige
(a salute to Balthazar, the Dark King!)—
and when the listening was finished,
they stood up to gather their bundles,
the last candle guttered, and we stepped out
to a world rinsed of cares: A pale lemon light
shone over the river; on the far shore
I could see a faint radiance, a white path—
snowbells budding, shouldering up
through the muck for their first raw gulp
of pure ether—and I knew
it was time to take destiny