Anna Steegmann







Spring Song


The most important about a painting is its title

I read the title before I notice the painting

I love words, sentences, paragraphs,

the smell of paper,

not paint, brushes, and easels,

the smell of oil, acrylic, and tempera


You can’t do better than

Leise zieht durch mein Gemüht liebliches Geläute

the tender German of the 1800s

the beauty of Heinrich Heine’s lyrics

the melancholy German in a Mendelsohn-Bartholdy song


German is on Hans Hofmann’s brain

as he’s painting

huge green, blue, purple, and red squares

in his Provincetown studio


He’s thinking about Weißenburg

his mother Franziska who loved Heinrich Heine

how she recited Frühlingsbotschaft

how she sang the Lorelei song

with little Hans on her lap


His imagination is on fire

I add a few skinny yellow and blue squares, he thinks

and does just that

a few lime green dots here and there

I’ll make the background orange and red

He does just that


Komm essen, dinner’s ready, his wife Miz shouts

Hans Hofmann smells the pork roast,

He can almost taste

the juicy plums buried inside the meat

his mouth is watering


I hope she made Knödel too, he thinks

He’s a Bavarian and exceptionally fond of potato dumplings

He craves potato dumplings

He’s famished

But he has to finish the painting


Leise zieht durch mein Gemüht liebliches Geläute 

That’s it, he thinks

the first line of Mama‘s favorite Heine poem

the perfect title for this painting

picture perfect


He steps back

proud of his work

he adds his signature and the year

Hans Hofmann, 1961

He’s confident that he can sell the work to Mrs. Cowles


There’s nothing leise

nothing lieblich in this painting

nothing soft and lovely

no sweet chimes filling the soul, he thinks


This work is



Mrs. Cowles will like it

He gives himself a round of applause

I’ll put my kind of spring in her step, he thinks.




The painting:




Heinrich Heine



Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt

Liebliches Geläute.

Klinge, kleines Frühlingslied.

Kling hinaus ins Weite.


Kling hinaus, bis an das Haus,

Wo die Veilchen sprießen.

Wenn du eine Rose schaust,

Sag, ich laß sie grüßen.






Sweet chimes are softly

filling my soul;

Ring, little springtime-song

Ring out far and wide.


Ring until you reach the house,

where the violets bloom;

If you see a rose,

give her my greetings




My Parents


My parents are not my parents yet this Sunday in May of 1953. In  Langenlonsheim, the small village where my mother grew up, the photographer has positioned the wedding party in front of her childhood home. The half-timbered house, typical for the region, looks as if it sprung from a Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale. The wedding guests all wear their Sunday church clothes. The flower girl in her white communion dress is yawning. Two boys in short pants, white knee-highs and sandals, look expectantly at the camera. My father’s parents and siblings stand at attention, their faces strained, their bodies tense.


My father does not face the camera directly. He doesn’t smile. Hiding his right arm, he steadies himself on his cane. He doesn’t want to appear like an amputee, doesn’t want his wooden leg to show. For once, he wants to be a regular man, a proud groom in his Sunday best, white bow tie and white gloves. He forces a wintry smile through clamped lips. Maybe that’s all he can marshal on this day that is to be the happiest in his life. The dark circles under his eyes hint at the sorrow that has become his constant companion. At nineteen, he was hit by a grenade during fierce fighting with Soviet soldiers. His future life, his future happiness wiped out in an instant. He would never be able to shake off this sorrow; he would succumb to it and be destroyed by it at an early age.

My mother’s parents, her brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles are full of smiles: sly smiles, shy smiles, bright smiles and even radiant smiles. Without a doubt, they are happy for my mother. My mother is not radiant with joy but her face shows a hint of a smile. It is her big day. She looks lovely in her long white dress, the veil and tiara made of flowers. She had to wait ten years for this day. Theirs was a long engagement.

They met in the spa town of Bad Kreuznach when all the hotels and sanatoriums housed soldiers wounded in the war. My father often sat outside in the spa gardens with two or three fellow amputees when my mother crossed the park at the end of her 14-hour shift. One day she allowed him to engage her in a conversation. I imagine my father pointing out the lovely spring weather. Maybe he said, “This beats freezing to death at the eastern front any day.” Maybe he invited her to a concert if the concert hall wasn’t bombed out yet. He wanted to be alone with her; he wanted to find out if she would make a good future wife. He needed a wife because he was a cripple and he was lonely. His future life as a farmer had been stamped out before it even began. He had watched the farm animals mount each other all his life and felt strong sexual urges. Maybe he masturbated at night imagining her in a black slip with a red lace trim.


For years, she had had visions of leaving the two elderly sisters that employed her as a maid. They were cruel; they never let her forget that she was an uneducated girl from the lower class, a girl that would have to slave for people like them for the rest of her life. There was one escape route: marriage. It wasn’t easy. Millions of young German men had lost their lives fighting for the Fatherland. Only half of the boys from her graduating eighth grade class had come back to Langenlonsheim. She was determined to find a man, one that could support her and her future children. She would no longer be serving Johanna and Elmentraud Besenreiter, the spoiled rich daughters of the largest vintner in the region. She would be the mistress of her own house, have her own children.

I wonder what’s on her mind. Is she afraid of the wedding night, having sex with this man his own mother called a cripple? Is she afraid of seeing him naked for the first time? What about the stump of his amputated leg, his body covered with black hair like a gorilla? Would that make intercourse revolting? Does she know what to do and how to do it? Does she contemplate her mother’s words, the only advice about sex she was given, “A woman doesn’t get anything out of it anyhow.”

Does she love him? Does she want to spend the rest of her life with him? Does she desire him? Or does she settle for a marriage of convenience?  Did my mother hold out during those ten years of engagement for a better man, one not crippled, to come along? Did she marry him for the food? Did he lure her with smoked ham, pork sausages, best butter from his parent’s farm during those ten years?

She would leave the rolling hills and vineyards of Langenlonsheim behind for Sevelen, a village on the Lower Rhine. There were no rolling hills, no vineyards on the Lower Rhine, only perpetually gray and rainy skies and wheat fields, straight as if the borders had been drawn with a ruler. They stretched as far as the eyes could see.  The poplars at the bank of the Rhine River stood at attention like soldiers. She would live in my father’s village, among his people. She did not understand their dialect, their habits, and their way of life. My father’s family did not take pleasure in visiting their neighbors to share a glass of vine. There was no laughter, no light-hearted banter at the dinner table. They had been loyal to the Emperor and they had been loyal to Adolf Hitler. They feared God, they worked hard, but they did not enjoy life. They put sugar cubes into the white vine she brought as a gift from her village. The wine tasted sour to them.

Was a sour life awaiting her?












I am a bilingual writer with two passports and two homelands. Based in New York City, I also have a home in Görlitz, Germany.

I was raised on the lower Rhine in Germany. Reading and writing helped me to understand my world. My father volunteered for Hitler’s Wehrmacht at seventeen and lost his leg two years later. His depression and phantom pains cast a dark shadow over my life and that of my family. I studied social work in Berlin and graduated in 1979.

In New York since 1980, I eked out a living by cleaning the apartments of elderly Jewish ladies, working as a go-go dancer, and acting in theater and film.

I trained as a psychotherapist and worked as a school counselor before I fulfilled my lifelong desire to study Creative Writing. Since 2006, I have been working as a freelance writer, translator, and writing instructor at City College New York and the International Summer Academy Venice, Italy.

My work has appeared in The New York Times, Epiphany, Dimension2, Absinthe Literary Review,, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and several anthologies of the Wising Up Press.

In German,I have been published in Salbader, Rheinische Post, TextArt, Sächsische Zeitung, Trans-Lit2 and taz. I collaborated on the screenplay of New York Memories, directed by Rosa von Praunheim, and have translated three non-fiction books from German to English for W.W. Norton and wrote the script for the radio feature A letter from Harlem.

My essay « Mein Harlem » was selected ‘Notable Essay of 2007’ for The Best American Essays 2008.

Articles similaires