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2 Poems by Norbert Krapf

April 18, 2013 by Reader's Connection

dubois_thumb“To Obscure Men” and “German Fries” appear in Norbert Krapf’s first full-length collection Somewhere in Southern Indiana: Poems of Midwestern Origins (©1993).

The rights to these poems have reverted to the author, who has generously given his permission to reprint them.

For purposes of clarity, I should say that Daniel Buechlein is the bishop and archbishop being referred to in “German Fries.”

To Obscure Men

This is a belated letter
to lonely old men like
the uncle who taught us
how to hunt, the neighbor
who took us on our first
camping trip, or the friend
of our father who organized
the excursion to our first
big-league ball game in
Cincinnati or St. Louis.
This is an inadequate,
belated letter to old men
everywhere who, after we
grew up, moved away from
the town, and never wrote
back, sustained themselves
for a few years on bitter-
sweet memories of laboring
in factories, sweating on
county road gangs, or working
the earth on hand-me-down
farms . . . A long overdue,
unsuccessful letter to
unhappy old men who withered
away in parlors, hanged
themselves from two-by-four
rafters in garages, or shot
themselves in smokehouses
with the twelve gauges
they’d hunted with for fifty-
five years . . . An impossibly
late but nevertheless contrite
letter from those of us
who have just grown old
enough to begin to remember.


German Fries

An old man whose German name
means “little book” stands
at a gas stove in a house
in Jasper, Indiana.

The smell of onions sizzling
in bacon drippings between
slices of peppered potatoes
boiled in their skins
and chilled overnight
permeates the kitchen.

A wife who hobbles when
she walks sits in a rocker
near the table. Wife
and husband, mother
and father, seem sad.

Someone knocks on the door.
You can bet it’s no one
terribly important, just
a neighbor come to deliver
a small bulging envelope.
The neighbor’s German name
means “jelly-filled pastry”
and she seems even sadder
than the couple in the kitchen.

The woman hands the man
at the stove the envelope
and announces in a voice
too cheerful that donations
in the name of her late husband
for the Catholic charity
the two men had worked for
over several decades have
come to a good total.

You can believe it’s not
fried onions alone
that bring tears to the eyes
of the man at the stove.
He will miss my father,
as his wife will; as my mother,
their neighbor, and we
four children will.

And as the smell of German fries
fills that kitchen in the hills
of southern Indiana to the level
of small lives deeply lived

no one knows that in a few years
the wife in the rocker will die
and several years after that
the soft-spoken son
of the old couple in the kitchen
who has lived most of his life
in a monastery on a hill
will become Bishop of Memphis
and later Archbishop of Indianapolis
and a few minutes before
being invested will quote
to a reporter some simple words
of warning impressed upon him
by the woman in the rocker:

When you lead, don’t ever think
you’re better than those you lead.

If you understand this simple
scene you know the Archbishop
of Indianapolis will never be able
to overcome his urge to eat
German fries in the kitchen.


Map of Indiana, with Dubois County highlighted, is by Arkyan.


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