Self-Portrait as a Half-Deserted Town in Germany

By Greg Nicholl

Featured Art: The Sacrificial Lambs by Brooke Ripley

The stores have closed early even though
it is the middle of the week.
The cathedral begs forgiveness, promises
to open tomorrow. No reason is given.
At an intersection, two women
ask for directions to the town square.
They only venture a couple of feet
before they consult their phones, are given
the same instructions: Walk down that street.
It’s not like it is a large town.
If this were a Western, there’d be tumbleweeds.
Despite recent warnings of a thunderstorm,
it hasn’t rained in over a month.
Six years ago a 300-year-old bridge
washed away for good. There have been
three floods in seventeen years. The two women
are still looking for the town center, stop
in the middle of the street to look west,
then east. And it’s clear they’ll never find
the center even though all they need to do
is look up. In the square, employees
from a supermarket chain are camped out
in booths. They carry trays of cubed cheese
and melon that smells like cold cuts.
It is too hot for cheese. The city is building
a new wall to fight future flooding.
Does it matter that the shiny metal gates
rest against centuries-old stone?
Back in the town square, a mime on stilts
waves coupons in the faces of passersby,
bends down to gauge their response.
No one accepts the coupons. The supermarket
employees suddenly appear at every side street,
each dressed in a matching red shirt,
ambushing anyone who dares get close,
calling after them: Excuse me. Excuse me.


Greg Nicholl is a freelance editor whose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Barrow Street, Nimrod, North American Review, River Styx, Sugar House Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2021 River Styx International Poetry Contest selected by Adrian Matejka and was a finalist for the 2022 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry from Nimrod and the 2021 Patricia Cleary Miller Award for Poetry from New Letters.

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