Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of 
Press 53
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
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Issue 79, October  2015
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
May Day, West Berlin, 1971
by Bill Griffin

followed by q&a
Third Place: Poetry

At Theodor Heuss Platz the red flags bloom
like blood, not poppies: what do we students care
for Heuss, eight years dead, or any other Bundespräsident
to come? And what do I care, eighteen, Wolf Bierman’s
new poems in my back pocket, Leica across my shoulder,
marching with Klaus while back home in Spandau his father 
curses such verdammte ignorance, grabs our collars, tries
to tell us one more time of those years after the war, 
in the pot two potatoes, seven around the table, 
“more eyes looking in than out.”

The young march forward, the old march back.
The time has come, Comrades, let us raise the chorus,
Auf zum letzten Gefecht! Arise to the final battle for rights
we aren’t aware we’ve lost. Today the only thing I’ve liberated
is a liter of warm Schultheiß with my Marxist brothers
while approving the liberation of our Leninist sisters
from cotton, lycra, all oppression of the bosom.
Could we ever imagine, eighteen years from now,
Die Internationale from the throats of our East Berlin sisters
and brothers will wrench the stones from this Wall?  

The singing dies. These days I’m looking into my own
hungry pot, empty of whatever I might have found to march for,
to fight for. Don’t mock me, Daughter, here are the photos,
yes the Levis, the impossible hair, hurling words like stones,
Fascist, at any who dared to disagree. No entry at all
in the Englisch/Deutsch dictionary for doubt. Today 
I doubt everything. Can there be any liberation for me
at sixty, lockstep career, bald capitalist, songs forgotten? 

We watched, oh yes, while they trampled the Wall 
but when we looked away walls sprang up again in Ukraine,
in Gaza, at Westboro Baptist in Topeka, in elections
to the highest bidder, for mothers with three jobs 
and hungry children. More eyes looking out than in.
Pray, Girl, the pot’s not empty. March forward.
I’m counting on you to tear down everything 
I’ve left you. Listen. I might yet teach you to sing.

Bill Griffin is a family physician in rural North Carolina. His poems have appeared in many regional and national journals including Tar River Poetry, Poem, NC Literary Review, and Southern Poetry Review. In 2010 the choral suite The Wanderer’s Carols, lyrics by Bill, music by Mark Daniel Merritt, premiered at Biltmore House in Asheville NC for Christmas. Bill has published four chapbooks, including Snake Den Ridge, A Bestiary (March Street Press 2008), each poem illustrated by his wife, Linda French Griffin. Bill features Carolina poets at his blog


Q: What inspired this poem?
A: I spent my senior year in high school (1970-71) as an exchange student in West Berlin, living with a family whose home was about a mile or two from the Wall. Total cultural immersion. My host brother fancied himself a Red (which turned his WWII soldier father pretty damned red) and he took me to numerous political rallies and events. I can still sing the refrain to The International auf Deutsch.

Q: What writers or books do you consider influences?
A: For craft and the use of language – Fred Chappell. For minute observations of connectedness – Mary Oliver. For fun – Billy Collins. And lately in choice of subject, approach, and search for meaning I am most influenced by the process-relational philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (especially as elucidated by Robert Mesle).

Q: What is the most important writing advice you e received? Is it reflected in this poem?
A: Find your own voice and imagine yourself speaking to someone. In creating this poem I definitely imagined myself from start to finish speaking to my adult daughter. I’ll be interested to share it with her, because I’ve never told her all my stories from those years.

Q: Where do you write? 
A: On the back porch in the morning before my wife wakes up. In the car with the radio off. In bed in the middle of the night - is sleep deprivation the inspiration or the affliction? (And the final common pathway is a circa 2002 version of WordPerfect - works damn good and I ain’t upgrading to no Word, Mr. Gates.)