Indianapolis Elegy

(after Rilke)

Speak to me from the realm of angels
in vernacular but come down to me
on these streets. Talk to me of loss

of innocence back in the days when
priests ruled the Roman Catholic world
and you witnessed the fall from above.

Come down here, my faraway friend.
Walk with me on these messy streets.
How could you so easily absent yourself

from my sacred protection? Did you not
feel the slightest compunction to intervene
when the Man of God had his way with boys

not yet risen to the power of the almighty No?
How did it feel to let go of your guardianship?
Was that you I heard whimpering on high?

Where were you when I needed your care?
When prayer aborted in my youthful mouth?
When I started to sing what I call the blues?

Could you not come on down to me now?
Is it too late for me to feel your angel love?
Can’t we learn to sing together in tongues?

Author’s Note: In the early 1970’s at Long Island University, my colleague Martin Greenberg, a distinguished translator of Goethe, Kleist, and Kafka, encouraged me to read German poetry as a way of learning the language of my ancestors. I took his advice and read Rilke. This led later to my dual-language book of translations,  Shadows on the Sundial: Selected Early Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (1990). The trigger for “Indianapolis Elegy,” however, was the first poem in the magnificent later Rilke collection Duino Elegies. I wrote this elegy after I had written the abuse poems that became Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing (2014).

Norbert Krapf is a former Indiana Poet Laureate whose thirteenth collection, Indiana Hill Country Poems, was published this year by Dos Madres Press. He is the winner of the Lucille Medwick Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Award for the body of his work, and a Creative Renewal Fellowship to combine poetry and the blues from the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Garrison Keillor has read his poems on The Writer’s Almanac, his poems have appeared on IndyGo buses, and a poem of his is included in a stained-glass window at the Indianapolis International Airport. He has released a poetry and jazz CD with Monika Herzig, Imagine, and collaborates with bluesman Gordon Bonham. For more info:

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