Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Poem

I wrote the following poem to thank my parents and all of my relatives who suffered in World War II. Some like my parents survived and others didn't.

Thanksgiving Day Poem

My people were all Polish people,
the ones who survived to look
in my eyes and touch my fingers
and those who didn’t, dying instead

of fever or hunger or a bullet
in the face, dying maybe thinking
of how their deaths were balanced
by my birth or one of the other

stories the Poles tell themselves
to give themselves the strength
to crawl out of their own graves.

Not all of them had this strength
but enough did, so that I’m here
and you’re here reading this poem
about them. What kept them going?

Maybe something in the souls
of people who start with nothing
and end with nothing, and in between
live from one handful of nothing
to the next handful of nothing.

They keep going--through the terror
in the snow and the misery
in the rain--till some guy pierces
their stomachs with a bayonet

or some sickness grips them, and still
they keep going, even when there
aren’t any rungs on the ladder
even when there aren’t any ladders.


My book Lightning and Ashes contains much of my parents' story of the war years and their lives after they came to the US as Displaced Persons.


Anonymous said...

This poem of yours, John, reminds me all over again of what it is I love the most about what a true, honest, and economically-written poem can do -- because of its understated eloquence -- move me to tears and make me glad I'm part of the human community despite all the suffering humans generate. Thank you. I now have a sense of thanksgiving.

Kathleen said...

Thank you for this.

Geo-B said...

Very moving, and good to have you with us.

Joe Manfredini said...

In a word, John, (and when do ever just get a word from me…) powerful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, John. My brother sleeps in the next room, breathing in and out despite all he's been through. I'll look forward to sharing this with him tomorrow.

Take care.


Zuzanna said...

family love is what rungs and ladders are made out of. it can be found even in the darkest, most abandoned places. what a touching poem. thank you :-)

Anonymous said...

Jon, this poem says it all doesn't it? It is one of my favorites of yours.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Christina Pacosz

Anonymous said...


Reflect yes but never call retreat.
It's called the human spirit.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, John, for the reminder that people do just what you said in the last two lines. We keep going, even after there are no more ladders to climb, we keep climbing.

A good thing to remember right now with the mess the US is in. As Ma Joad said in the film of Grapes of Wrath, we're the people, we keep going.

Something to really be thankful for.

Lisa Childress

Anonymous said...

Thank you, John, for this poem and for your entire book of poems, Lightning and Ashes, which I have been reading slowly, slowly--one or two poems at a time--deeply moving.

And thank you too for your own generous spirit--your parents' gift to the rest of us.

Robin Davidson

Urkat said...

"If you ain't got nothin', you ain't got nothin' to lose." Bob Dylan

oriana said...

I love the poem and the photo. Yes, it's the human spirit even without family love, but together with family love, it's so astonishingly powerful.

One of my relatives, a member of the Resistance (as was my mother and several others) died in Auschwitz after being tortured by the Nazis. His last words were, "I didn't betray anyone." Oriana

John Guzlowski said...

Oriana, thank you for telling me about your relative. The misery of the war years in Poland is almost unbelievable, yet here we are.

Danusha Goska said...

Robert Ellsberg said my writing reminds him of Etty Hillesum. Thought I'd better educate myself about Etty Hillesum, read some stuff by her. She says, somewhere, how even when everything sucks, you have to keep going, because you are part of the big story, and you acting out your part with dignity and virtue, or maybe just persistence, is a gift to the next one down the road, even if you neve meet that person. I've had similar thoughts. I am part of this, and if I quit now, I'm letting someone else down, even someone else I've never met. Who knows.

Scott Brooks said...


Scott Brooks said...


oriana said...

After re-reading the poem, I was thinking that there is a two-fold miracle here: that so many survived what seems impossible to survive, and that we, the descendants, contain all those incredibly people within us. After all, we are not just an isolated self; we are a continuation of our ancestors, of their stories.