Editor’s Note: We’re so excited and honored to be publishing this excerpt from Alexandria Peary’s long poem, “The Pforzheim Quartet,” which engages with history and memory through the use of extraordinary language, image, and sound. When we on the poetry team first encountered this excerpt, we were reminded of poet T.S. Eliot and composer Steve Reich, but Peary’s voice is all her own: Precise, incisive, intricate, and surprising. Her Pforzheim exists inside the drawer of a jewelry box, in the specificity of certain old-fashioned typefaces, in stanzas which are rooms and which are broken poetic relics. Scale is off somehow—everything is either too big or too small—monstrous like a bomb blast or diminutive like a breadbox or a gold staple. We get lost in this poem as in an archival box; we hear the names of towns chanted like a the mechanical sound of a train. This poem makes space for the enormity of the Holocaust and the bombing campaigns of the Second World War, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and for the tenderness and tininess of human fragility. It represents so much of what we at Consequence hope to do in illuminating war and geopolitical conflict through literature and art. We are proud to present the text of the poem along with an audio recording and video from the poet.

—Dr. Katherine Hollander, Poetry Editor

*The author is grateful for the support of the Pforzheim Stadtarchiv
as she conducted research for this poem.

“The stanzas are broken into.”


The stanzas are broken into,
Spindles and spires snapped off verse forms
-crosses turned into rebar
-stars made into spikes
From ornate buildings of sestinas and sonnet banks,
villanelle shops in the city of jewelry, in the Gold Stadt.

Over there is a cornice from a sonnet     [watchtower from a ballad
with a screencast knight / projected
                          in die der das rubble
-a couplet bakery   a Gothic quatrain to marry in
stanzas with turrets in tercets—
streets of syllables readable for five /// more days
as the young Hausfrau on Leopoldplatz              with the baby carriage
accelerates past on YouTube

through to the Headlines in Fraktur
switched to Antigua in 1941 because Fraktur “a Jewish script”
the graffiti on rubble removal wagons:
“Reserved for Party Members: Where are they?”
“Gold City Express” and “For Gӧring’s State Funeral.”


The stanzas are all broken into,
exhalations blown out from blasts
so the breadbox-sized slit in the air
raid shelter in the cellar can breathe.

The cross tipped over, a sad angel
ready to jump, Earlier, the Star of
David kicked in the stomach,
gut punched, bent over. Broken glass
Kristal of Night on the ground on Zerrenerstraße,
bronze stumbling stones in sidewalks.

The stanzas were broken between
7:50 pm (first bomb), 8:12 pm (last bomb)
31.4% (population killed) 83% (buildings
“A City Dies.” 26K views.

-a broken jewelry box on the ground
the train station in its top drawer
(watch makers or bomb makers?

I sit on the archive floor with the Addressbuch.
1939: Jewish residents not in separate section.
1940: Jüdlichen Einwohner in separate section.
1941: Jewish residents: none.

Sara Auguste Goldbaum, born 1.7.1854, Westliche 53
Hermann Israel Goldbaum, born 29.5.1864, Westliche 53
Otto Israel Günzburger, born 18.7.1874, Westliche 1
Emmy Sara Günzburger, born 30.4.1885, Westliche 1

I count fifty-three endings
to this Roman encampment (pforz)
to my mother’s home (heim

Adelsheim, Bad Bentheim, Bad Gandersheim, Bad Mergentheim, Bad Nauheim, Bad Windsheim, Bensheim, Bӧnnigheim, Bornheim, Brackenheim, Crailsheim, Dietenheim, Ettenheim, Flӧrsheim am Main, Forchheim, Griesheim, Gernsheim, Gundelsheim, Hildesheim, Hockenheim, Hofheim, Ingelheim am Rein, Kuppenheim, Lampertheim, Lauchheim, Mannheim, Mindelheim, Mühlheim, Neresheim, Nordenheim, Northeim, Oppenheim, Osteheim vor der Rhӧn, Pappenheim, Pohlheim, Puchheim, Pulheim, Raunheim, Reinheim, Rosenheim, Rutesheim, Rüdesheim, Sachensheim, Schopftheim, Schriesheim, Thahlheim/Erzgeb, Uffenheim, Viernheim, Weinheim, Weilheim an der Teck, and Wertheim, Pforzheim.

Oh, white craters


Detonator lines, a black and white section with yellow components

1. In the Gold Stadt, city of jewelry,
they put yellow stars on shirts
and stumbling stones in sidewalks.

2. Each of these lines is a detonator;
a gold needle stapled stars on shirts.

3. A fuse of whether he was a watchmaker,
radio operator, he delivered the mail,
a jeweler, or a bomb maker near the train station

4. that transported 183 yellow stars to Gurs.

5. Pforzheim, what’s inside your jewelry box?
Blasting caps, power supply, initiator, fuselage
14 carat grass snakes slither in the rubble.

6. When Wallberg, the rubble mountain,
is climbed and the city archive is poked

yellow jackets of my mother’s uncles stream out,
fascist and communist.

7. Prodigal granddaughter, I drop blasts
to rebuild Westliche Karl Friedrich Street.
It is exhausting to engineer this family.

8. A bouquet of death was dropped on the city
code named Yellowfin
mid-level on Churchill’s bombing list:

9. on February 23, 1945, 7:50 pm (first bomb),
8:12 pm (last bomb) 31.4% (population
killed) 83% (buildings

10. The landlady said a yellow flower,
Koenigskerze, covered the rubble
path to school—

Yellow angel still walks beside yellow demon.


The Poem of Rubble

i. Trümmerliteratur (literature of the rubble)

Rebar are growing
in the lot left empty
in a dictionary’s silence,
dual-language pocket
dictionary given to her
at the train station
by her older brother
she hasn’t seen in fifty years

but I have seen him,
and maybe this must be
what counts, a mile away,
Wallberg, mountain
of Pforzheim’s rubble
with five silver steles,
contains the ruins
like broken dishes
of your family               of many families

ii. Trümmerkinder (children of the rubble)

Between gaps built by war
twisted angel, kicked star
rebar are made from the metal of
Günter Eich’s valuable nail,
Heinrich Böll’s silent angel
like an angel on a ledge
like a little girl, a Trümmerkind
(meine Mutter) kicking her feet

over a shaft straight down
in the bombed building missing a wall.
She fell four stories,
her luck, that “she wasn’t killed.”

Once she and her playmates
found melted rubies, sapphires, emeralds
[it is the city of jewelry]
after the Inferno and then Bodies and Ruins
in Sebald’s On the Natural History

of Destruction.

No one notices the other angel balanced
on an epigram in a cornice
from the Weimar era, Rilke’s “Angels
(they say) don’t know whether
It is the living /  they are moving among,
or the dead.”[1]

iii. Trümmerfrauen (women of the rubble)

Rebar are an interpretation
of staples pulled from clouds.

Staples in clouds,
hyphens to reconstruct buildings

to reconnect people.
German-American, American-German.

Below a cloudless sky the rubble women work,
Trümmerfrauen, for a bowl of soup.

Rebar are vertical hyphens         a stubble of men
prisoners-of-war sitting on the open ground

April-September in The Golden Mile,
Remagen by the river,

re: Eich’s valuable nail.
The divorce rate in Germany in 1948

increased by 200%.
Rebar grow like weeds in what is broken  in un  opened    un   an swered let ter s

grow in cracks, fissures, ravines between words.
Rebar were “shortened sentences
and straightforward language

as a response to the misuse
of German by the Nazis.”

The subject matter fit
with former soldiers and P.O.W.’s

who could return to Germany,
“who must stand before the rubble

of their homeland and their possessions
as well as before the rubble

of their [sic] ideals and deal with it.”[2]



A bouquet of bombs for Pforzheim
February 1945. FUNERAL FLOWERS
Heavy Bombers Strike Centers
on Route to Italy, Said by Berlin
to Be Karlsruhe, Pforzheim

                           A bouquet of
                                bombs for Pforzheim

     From HG Bomber Command                                        WELL PLACED
                               To Air Ministry Whitehall                     AND STRONGLY BACKED UP. GROUP
        Intelligence Narrative of Operation                       DETAIL WAS IDENTIFIED
                                 Night 23/24th February                     WITHOUT DIFFICULTY AND BOMBING IS
      247/258 Lancasters of 1 group,                                     REPORTED TO
                        50/50 Lancasters of 6 Group,                      HAVE BEEN VERY GOOD. FIRES
7/13 Mosquitos and 52/53 Lancasters of 8                          STARTED EARLY
                             Group, and 1 Lancaster of 5 Group            IN THE ATTACK AND SPREAD RAPIDLY.
                                   (FILM UNIT)                                             BY THE END OF THE ATTACK
                             ATTACKED THE TOWN IN CLEAR             ALMOST THE ENTIRE TOWN NORTH OF
    WEATHER. MARKERS WERE.                                         THE RIVER
                            CONCENTRATED,                                       WAS A MASS OF FLAMES.

A bouquet of bombs for Pforzheim

A City Dies! Air war fare, terrifying and devastating, has returned 100 fold to Germany! RAF Lancasters unload everything from 500 pounders to Blockbusters on Pforzheim! Important industrial center! A city is literally being wiped out before your eyes! Explosions and fires are sucking the oxygen from the air! Nothing can live in this inferno!

utterly     vanished from the  surface     of the   earth,     
razed com         pletely to    theground,   smashedtobits
and    pieces.  No soul    left   here.  Pforzheim   ––you     
have been       wiped   from      the world     ‘s    atlas.       

alfred döblin, 1946.                 

“I left the basement with my mother. My mother was carrying my baby brother, who was limp. Tired, I sat down on a blackened corpse, thinking it a sack of potatoes.”[3]



Stamped on Passport

Witwe    Witwe   ermordet   Witwe  ermordet
Wallberg Wallberg Vesuvius Wallberg Vesu-


The der die das wall
der die das der die das
der die das der die das der der die das
die das der die das der die das



Eugen Dietz, German soldier imprisoned until 1949 in Siberian P.O.W. camp[4]

Ich wusste nicht, dass unsere Stadt zerstört worden war.
I did not know our city had been destroyed.
Ruth hatte sich entschlossen, mir in die Gefangenschaft
nichts über die Bombardierung der Stadt zu schreiben,
auch nichts über den Tod meines Bruders Paul.
Ruth had decided not to write about the bombing
of the city while I was in the prison camp.
She did not want to upset me. Also about my brother’s death.
Ich wusste nicht, dass unsere Stadt zerstört worden war.
I did not know our city had been destroyed.

The man who gave me a ride to Pforzheim
described the destruction of our city––a shock for me.
He said, “Pforzheim looks terrible.” This was 1949,
four years after the end of the war. The rubble
had been removed from the streets, but numerous houses
had still not been rebuilt. As we approached the outskirts
of the city, he said, “I will drive you farther.”
I said, “I would prefer to walk through the city on foot.”

So he dropped me off in the center of Pforzheim,
at Leopoldplatz, where I climbed out of the car
and marched in the direction of Brötzingen.
As I moved through the city, I saw left and right
whole houses were destroyed––now only rubble.
This was 1949, four years after the end of the war.
Everywhere I looked I saw buildings without windows.
Emotionally, I was destroyed. I moved slowly.
Tears were running down my face. I was at wit’s end.
I had experienced destruction before, but not this!

In Brötzingen there wasn’t a single human soul on the street.
Here, hardly a bomb had hit. I approached the town hall,
where the police station stood. I saw a police officer––he noticed me
at the same time. “What are you doing here?
You should not be on the streets so late at night!”
I said, “Excuse me, but I am coming straight from Russia.”
The police officer was surprised and changed his tone
immediately. He apologized, “Come inside
and drink a cup of coffee.” I followed him,
and he asked if a member of the guard could bring me home,
but I declined, “No, I would rather go home by foot.”

Ruth did not know that I would return that night.
I believe it was around two in the morning when I knocked on the door.


Rubble of Light

Jewelry Box, an interactive museum
Pull out the drawers. Pull out the lines of this poem.

In a four-story jewelry box near the railroad tracks,
in a velvet-lined drawer, Westliche Karl Friedrich Straße,
in a velvet-lined drawer, Ostliche Karl Friedrich Street.
The Enz, The Nagold, and The Würm woven into a bracelet.
The Enz, The Nagold, and The Würm woven into a bracelet.
Yellow Star, Yellow Star, Yellow Star, Yellow Star
In a four-story jewelry box on the railroad tracks.

-clasp and unclasp, clasp un-    -clasp and unclasp, clasp un-
Goldstadt Goldstadt Goldstadt Goldstadt Goldstadt
Yellow Star, Yellow Star, Yellow Star, Yellow Star
Herbert and Karl Weber age 8 Noor Inayat Khan age 30
Erika Narr 19 / Karl Burger 59 / Berta Bach 78 /
HIER WOHNTE Friedrich Maier Deportiert 1940 GURS. [5]
In a four-story jewelry box spilled across the tracks

sonnets and villanelle on a charm bracelet
miniature synagogue / on a wedding ring, en-graved: :
sandstone sonnets in narrow alleys of firestorm
earrings of a twisted bridge    necklace of missing walls              ]  ] ]    ]]]   ]
14 c. grass snake, sterling silver grass snake   Fraktur     –    &
slither around ankles,,, of children playing in the rubble
Atlas Chain Co. and chain immigration to the United States.

-clasp and unclasp, clasp un-    -clasp and unclasp, clasp un-
In a hope chest made from a WWI munition box,
In a hope chest made from a WWI munition box,
37,794 soldiers   ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,    are buried.
At 1500˚ Fahrenheit, crane–backhoe–rubble–train,–welded–on–a–sentence
Goldstadt Goldstadt Goldstadt Goldstadt Goldstadt
-clasp and unclasp, clasp un-    -clasp and unclasp, clasp un-

The Hinge of Fate

In the store front of the jeweler’s
a hungry girl is window shopping.

In the store front in the city of jewelry
engagement rings. A menorah.

Buildings poured from a velvet purse:
stanzas with turrets in tercets,

stanzas with cellars for breathing. Cuff links
to missing grandfathers, fathers, uncles.

A wheelbarrow. A crater. An Iron Cross.

Churchill, Stalin, Truman in trench coats,
figurines. A boxed set of book-of-the-month-club:

hinged hour, gathering the finest fate, closing the fate,
hour of triumph and ring of tragedy.

Tarnished railroad tracks to Gurs.
Hummels of children in the rubble.

Yellowed lace. A propped-up still life
titled “The Erinnerung” depicts the girl’s

dented milk can, a hand coffee grinder,
a wine-red pear, hard bread roll,

wedge of cheese that’s a wall covered in bullet holes.
The fountain pen I used to write this poem

purchased in gardens of rebar, empty lots growing rebar.

A set of crystal glasses, smashed.
Family in shards. Postcard from America,

shadow in the shape of a jet.
A hungry girl is window shopping.


Hummel of the Grandfather Soldier, Vintage, Manufactured in 1945

My German grandfather steps off the rubble in the sky,
pieces of buildings colored like countries in an out-of-date map
in a school room––avalanche of nations, principalities, empires,
Austro-Hungarian, Prussia, formerly unified countries, cities and rivers
renamed as he steps       from­­ piece to piece.       A kitchen wall
tumbles down, wiped from the world’s atlas in chalk.
He balances in tasseled loafers and long Wehrmacht coat,
smiles and lights a cigarette––descends from story
to story, excuse after excuse. We wait on the sidewalk,
holding our breath as though this is a trapeze act.
Will he make it this time? We hold our breath
for decades, a family-that-never-happens.
                                            Later, my grandfather emerges
from an unmarked door none of us noticed. He brushes his pants,
claps dust from his hands. I catch a glimpse of him, he moves away so fast
becoming an ellipsis.


Hummel, Girl Waiting for Her Father in the Window

We were poor. When I was four,
he started disappearing a week,
then three weeks, then months,
then once for a year. It was hard.
I had to work at thirteen.
Because my father left,
I had to give everything
to my mother.”

-Christa [Born in Pforzheim in 1946]

“It’s too late,” says the flat taste of the cooking ware, a strainer with bullet-like holes in its accent and the unpleasant metallic truth he nearly didn’t show up to take your mother to the airport for America. The woman holding the yellow umbrella in the museum calendar near the silent phone adds,

“It’s been too late since 1985.” Flip back: since 1964. Since 1991. 1939 and 1945. The ceramic girl with kerchief and the boy in lederhosen climbing the ceramic apple tree want to nod. The closest I’ve stood to my grandfather was at his grave in the Rhein Valley, his second family watching from the road, dust grapes.

None of you wrote back. We’re all too late. I have always been too late to the heart. Time to plant tears. On a shelf between rooms, jets are taking off over cut-crystal glasses, the Hummels are children who cannot wave.



Hummel Of The Immigrant’s Family

On a yellow couch that is a city
overseas in the off-limits living room
where only dotted line figures ever sit,
a mound of rubble replaces the snow
in the picture window, plastic daffodils
after a spring storm in Maine. On a doily
on a stack of Yellow Pages, a dial
phone is a daisy ringing in the Black Forest
throughout the 1980s, (area) code yellow
1. because yellow stars became bronze squares,
2. because the Gold City was nicknamed
Yellowfin on Churchill’s bombing list:

the coffee table book is about a city’s re-
construction after total destruction,
the words Kaffee trinken and spazierengehen
smoke spoken near an ashtray made from lava.
Lots of empty Sundays. Empty Mondays.
Empty Tues-Sat. Holidays. Birthdays.
What’s a grandfather? An “Oma”?
Dust the Hummels, cousins posed on a shelf.
Those are uncles? Wooden fruit in a wooden bowl.

iv. The dictionary entry for rebar:

Yes, you can break the journey.
Where are the first class carriages?
May I open (shut) the window?
Does this boat stop at Brighton?
Take my luggage to the steamer!
Do you have anything to declare?
Where is the Customs Office?
Please unlock your suitcase.
You have to pay duty on those stockings.
Only things for my personal use.
Can I break your journey?
You have to pay your duty.
Yes, you can break. You can declare
That you are broken. It’s personal.

July 2023, Neuenbürg, Germany: my mother and her brothers sit across from each other for the first time since 1963. I ask them to play a little game. I take the dual-language pocket dictionary from a Ziplock bag. I ask my mother and her older brother to open the dictionary without looking and put a finger on an entry. They exchange a look across the picnic table. My uncle shrugs. My uncle’s index finger falls on mix in the French occupation of Pforzheim but swiftly moves to English: [miks] mischen, mengen, marriage, Mischehe (f) be mixed up with, verwickelt sien. Future: Mischung (f). My mother’s finger lands on the English half of the dictionary, in the American sector, on stop. Halten; (ver)sperren; (ver-)hindern; (Blut) (Blood) stillen; (Zahlung) einstellen; stehenbleiben; aufhören; Halt. m. Pause f. Ende n. -gap Notbehelf m. Lückenbüßser. -Stopwatch Stoppuhr. f. On Stop. Stop.

The Rubble on the Desk

Every February 23, rubble of die der das bricks
in short piles as though a dump truck dropped off
a long sentence, left the gaps between gaps, M.I.A buildings,
collapsed people, you, who I’ll never know, already
organizing the mess: a vacuum is run for decades
between cellar craters, window cleaner and lemon-scented
                           wood polish in the breeze.

In the votive light, perennial rebar and twisted ß,
wooden crosses return in a wasteland monochrome
with a message, chalk on stone, Alle Leben,
Everyone here survived, though I have been listening
to the bones of voices in the city memorial.
A broom sweeps. A spire topples. “The Goldcity Express”

hauls a broken sentence to build a mountain range:
Monte Scherbelino, Teufelsberg, Herkulesberg, Olympiaberg.[6]
Those are mountains that rise. In fields of charcoal poppies.
Those are mountains in fields of charcoal sunflowers
––headlines jumbled w/ captions, overturned
temples, mosques, Times New Roman churches,
words are urns, love is wrapped in sheets and rugs,

twistofplaygroundequipment, upside-down hospital,
crushed shops, living room with a red sofa,
torched baby’s room. In a yellow flare of a house dress,
a woman smokes in the window of the ruins of the world.
Bakhmut and Alleppo, Hanoi and Coventry, Hiroshima
and Warsaw. Dresden and Gaza. Rubble of Family.

Rubble of Light. Rubble of Compassion.
We who have ruined our home in the world.

[1] Growing at the tip of twisted rebar: “To me, you see, Germany is a country frozen in the past, destroyed, a curiously extraterritorial place, inhabited by people whose faces are both lovely and dreadful…. Almost every day a beautiful woman wearing a ball gown made of grey parachute silk and a broad-brimmed hat trimmed with grey roses visits me. Hardly have I sat down in my armchair, tired from work, but I hear her steps outside on the pavement. She sweeps in at the gate, past the almond tree, and there she is, on the threshold of my workshop. Hastily she comes over to me, like a doctor afraid that she may be too late to save a sinking patient. She takes off her hat and her hair tumbles about her shoulders, she strips off her fencing gloves and tosses them onto this little table, and she bends down towards me. I close my eyes in a swoon—and how it goes on after that point, I do not know.” —W. G. Sebald, The Emigrants

[2] “The Effect of War on the German Family.” O. Jean Brandes. Social Forces. Vol 29, Issue 2, December 1950. English entry in Wikipedia for “Trümmerliteratur.”

[3] Pictorial History of the Second World War. Volume IV, The Sixth Year, photo caption for bombing of Muenchen-Gladbach, February 1945. The New York Times, earlier air raid of Pforzheim on December 9, 1942. Intelligence Narrative of Operation from Bomber Command to British Air Ministry, 1945. Universal Newsreels, narrated by Ed Herlihy, 1945. Interview on Zoom with my aunt.

[4] Den Zweiten Weltkrieg überleben: Die Geschichte eines deutschen Soldaten aus Pforzheim und seiner Familie,  2004. Helmut Vester and Ulrich Ludwig.

[5] The name of an accused British spy tortured in Pforzheim and executed at Dachau; the names of five of the disabled and ill residents from the Pforzheim area euthanized during the Nazi regime; the name of a Jewish resident on a Stöpperstein (stumbling stone), a bronze plaque in a sidewalk in the northern side of Pforzheim.

[6] Names of Schuttberg (mountains of bombing rubble) in Pforzheim, Berlin, Cologne, and Munich.

Alexandria Peary

Alexandria serves as Poet Laureate of New Hampshire. She is the author of nine books, most recently, Battle of Silicon Valley at Daybreak. Her work has received a 2020 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship, the Iowa Poetry Prize, and the Slope Editions Prize. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in the Yale Review, North American Review, Southern Humanities Review, New York Times, Gettysburg Review, and New American Writing. She is editor-in-chief at Under the Madness Magazine, a magazine edited by teens, publishing teens worldwide, and a professor at Salem State University where she teaches creative writing and mindful writing. She specializes in mindful writing, the topic of her 2019 TEDx talk, "How Mindfulness Can Transform the Way You Write."

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