Walter Hess

How I Left Germany

I left by curse and stone
and rail.
I left by apron, and by bruised grass stems.
I left by clay magenta tennis courts
framed by willow branches.

I left by angels stamped as
Christmas cookies,
by voices unison in
furrowed organ lofts greeting,
greeting Sabbath at the door.

I left as Judah, Daniel,
Moses: cursing Edom


   the boy saw:

The moon in a slot of sky
between the roofs of two houses.

Metal cobbles like shiny
backs of beetles – pieces of armor in a

A yellow leaf shaped like
a heart or the tip of a spear flew
up against the steel-gray sky.

A house that showed a corner
of shattered masonry;
thin mud colored bricks.

The hands held feeling like
the orange light of a candle in a narrow

On the white walls of a house
black lines.

Behind the calcimined walls
pictures of fish swallowing
their tails.

The blank faces of the houses and the
cylindrical trees.

This was 1937 or 1938.


Children’s Drawings

the colors of Terecin
have eyes that never sleep
contain blue thorn and wire thorn
red sun of Moloch fire

the colors of Terecin
have eyes that never sleep
blue thorn and wire thorn
that pierce the pupil

the colors of Terecin
have eyes that never sleep
red sun of Moloch and Haephestus fire
slashing open
the nictitating membranes of the brain
and all the networks of forgetting

To Nazim Hikmet

It was either you or Li Po.
    another earth
This is
                another sky
No likeness
        To that human earth below?
I flipped a mental coin: you won….
Because to day and in this
Shabby new millennium
I need another kind of hero.

Last Summer, late, we were at Darthmouth.
Saw the great Orozco murals,
With Christ, great worker Christ,
Axe in mid air,
Cutting down His wooden cross.
I thought of you and eighteen years in prison
Because you loved the world
Because you loved the word
Because you loved the fact
Because you loved.

In 1940, at age 8, Walter Hess immigrated to the US from Germany. He studied at CCNY (1952); UCLA (1955-56), Graduate Film Program, MA, CCNY Writing Program, 2003. Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Mima Amakim, Jewish Currents, and translations from the German in Metamorphosis. He was awarded a prize from The Academy of American Poets in 2002. He received the Nyman Foundation, prize a selection from his memoir, The Broken Snare. A book of poetry, Jew’s Harp from Pleasure Boat Press, came out in the fall of 2010. Most recently he is the author of a memoir A Refugee’s Journey, 2018.