Published on Academy of American Poets (

A Unified Berlin

The Junior Minister waved a hand
                          toward the courtyard where, he said,

                                       Goering’s private lion used to live.

                         With him we climbed Parliament’s steps,

walls pockmarked still with bullet holes. 
                         In the conference room the Social Democrats

                                     passed trays of petit fours and coffee.

                         We were perhaps insufficient, he said.

His voice, uninflected: they shipped
                         my father to Stalingrad. Forty days

                                      and dead. In the room,

                         the transcriptionist, the translator,

and security stationed against
                         the wall. Some time passed.

                                     In East Germany, he said, at least

                         it was always terrible. Bad luck, he said,

to be on that side of the wall. Even
                         the apples were poison. We were

                                     to understand this was a little joke. 

                         He brought the teacup to his mouth,

but did not drink. His fingernails
                         were tapered and very clean.

                                     When you are the victim, he said,

it doesn’t matter who is killing you.


Copyright © 2019 by Ann Townsend. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘A Unified Berlin’ emerged from a Mellon Foundation-sponsored trip to Berlin and Nicosia, Cyprus, where a group of American writers and scholars explored two cities broken by war and other kinds of rupture. Our team met with politicians, artists, workers and activists and heard their stories. This is one man's story.”
—Ann Townsend


Ann Townsend

Ann Townsend is the author of Dear Delinquent (Sarabande Books, 2019) andThe Coronary Garden (Sarabande Books, 2005).

Date Published: 2019-03-08

Source URL: