German Apple Strudel

by Shelby Kruger


“You must be careful 

so the dough doesn’t rip,” he says.

“In the Milwaukee house, we would stretch

it out to cover the whole dining table.”


Then it was braided and baked,

long enough so all ten mouths

could have a piece of the fruit

wrapped in crust and crystalline sugar.


Of ten apples my grandfather 

is the last of three,

thick skinned and rosy 

with a beacon gleam.


He grins at a distant weather forecast, 

says, “It’s 22° all the way in Saint Paul.”

Not cold for the boy who trudged uphill 

both ways in six feet of snow.


He means, “Are you sure you want to leave?”

I pretend that 2000 miles isn’t daunting,

imagine dough stretching, rolling out across 

state lines as we blanket a buttered pan.


That evening I unwrap military grade 

snowshoes from Colorado. I pull

the woven straps around my feet 

as a raspy chuckle fills the living room. 


Later I remind him where middle C is,

and he plays a line of Jingle Bells, slowly.

I watch the wrinkles stretch and unfurl 

from his crooked, spotted knuckles.


He lifts his hands on sleigh, recalls

how he would hide alone

in the closet, clutching the cat,

when the Milwaukee house got loud.


When the shouting stopped

he would emerge, and translate

the newspaper for great grandfather

from English to German.


My mother will sometimes say 

“Grandpa is a shower, not a teller.” 

You watch from a distance, then

remember and replicate later.


I can’t picture him afraid, as he tells 

me where to sprinkle the raisins, 

points with a shaking finger to the tiny ants

secure in their sweet flour shell.


I ask if he still eats his apple cores

seeds and all, as I have secretly learned

to do, too. He answers “I used to,

when I was young and stupid.”


A seed sticks in my gap tooth,

stupid cyanide smile,

while he weaves the dough 

in and out of itself.


Then I lick the frosting spoon, 

like my mother was never allowed, 

while we sit together and wait 

for the oven timer’s ring.

back to University & College Poetry Prizes