What Survives Them, by David Meischen
What Survives Them
The child who died lives on, preserved
in pigments by her father. Remembered. Re-
embodied. The child and her lamb, the rattan stroller
nestling her doll. One hundred and thirty years later I gaze
at her red-ribboned hat orphaned on the grass, transmuted into
pixels, into light made visible as colour. And back to the lamb, pale
hand at its collar, striped frock, pale face—an image of an image
of a child no longer breathing, her parents seated nearby, stiff
in mourning clothes, their love no proof against a burst
appendix, her name a whisper in the lilac shade. Effie.
My great-grandmother left no painting
of her youngest. Oma kept Ewald Morgenroth’s room
instead, ashtray and pipe on a shelf set into the headboard,
uniforms hanging in the closet. Pressed. Waiting. I stood inside
this still life once, dust and silence coating every surface, Oma
gone to her grave, the old house leaning in on itself. A trunk
biding in the attic, her husband’s wedding shirt folded there.
A Valentine card signed to my grandfather when he was a boy.
Julius Arthur Bruns is on my mind
this afternoon, my grandmother’s beloved
brother. He peers from the one surviving photo,
a round-faced little boy, youngest of five, flanked
by Willie and Anton, clearly brothers—dark eyes, dark hair,
dark suits, silky bows tied loosely at the collar. Beside them,
stair-stepped all in white, Lillie and Adele, sombre as their brothers.
Johann Wilhelm Bruns was not yet fifty when he stood here with them--
curly hair, thick moustache, no hint of gray. He’d buried a wife
in Niedersachsen, crossed the Atlantic with daughters Anna,
Frieda, Helene. Married again, fathered the five gathered
here. Buried their mother. Assembled them today,
a father mourning inevitable loss: little Julius,
hands loosely fisted, holding on, his faulty
appendix keeping its secret. For now.
Like Effie, Julius does not smile.
Like his mother, he has no claim on lasting.
A Pushcart honoree, with a personal essay in Pushcart Prize XLII, David Meischen is the author of Anyone’s Son, winner of the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL). David has twice received the Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story from TIL, most recently for “Crossing at the Light,” lead story in The Distance Between Here and Elsewhere: Three Stories (Storylandia, Summer 2020). His work has appeared in The Common, Copper Nickel, The Evansville Review, Salamander, Southern Poetry Review, The Southern Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and elsewhere. A former juror for the Kimmel Harding Nelson center for the arts, David completed a 2018 writing residency at Jentel Arts. Co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press, he lives in Albuquerque, NM with his husband—also his co-publisher and co-editor—Scott Wiggerman.
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