The American Romantic in Rhineland by Kory Wells

The American Romantic in Rhineland

We hiked the steep hill to a shell
of what once was. A castle
topped the cliff as if conjured

by wizard rather than medieval
masons. As we climbed
we became conquerors,

invaders—or more likely
servants, making hard way
from the village below.

If I’d lived then, what would my fate
have been? Fair lady, faceless
peasant—neither compares

to modern woman with air
conditioning, credit, a title
that begins chief. At the top

we walked through ghosts
of walls, faltered in dim light
to a sudden floorless expanse.

At every arrow slit I stopped
for the sun. I kept thinking
of all those centuries,

the people, their stench and stone
weary steps. I kept thinking
how constantly cold and damp.

But to witness the start
of something that lasts
a millennia. I’m sorry, America—

our own ruins don’t compare.
Empty shopping malls,
mountains of trash, abandoned

factories, junkyards—
these problems
are not ours alone, I know.

But on my street last year:
two houses razed
for bigger, more stylish.

This my privilege:
that I can afford to keep
living in such a place.

This is my being most white,
most American: That I can
want the past, even for a day.

That when we stood
at the stone parapet
overlooking the Rhine,

I dreamed of owning a hill.
Of owning a view.
Of building something

grander than nature
that nature would take back
slowly. Leaving walls

untethered. Stone arches
arrowing away from
an onslaught of vines.

A decay so long and stately,
it might redefine surrender.

Kory Wells is the author of Sugar Fix, poetry from Terrapin Books. Her writing has been featured on The Slowdown poetry podcast and appears in James Dickey Review, Ruminate, Stirring, The Southern Poetry Anthology, and elsewhere. A former poet laureate of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Kory nurtures connection and community through her writing and advocacy for the arts, democracy, afternoon naps, and other good causes. Read more of her work at

Image credit: Madame Antoinette Sherri’s Castle Ruins on Gulf Road in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire (photograph by Andy Chase/flickr)