Friday, December 6, 2013

My Father's Birthday


My dad was born on Dec. 11, 1920 in Poland. By the time he was five years old, he was an orphan living on his uncle's small farm north of Poznan. In 1941, he was captured by the Nazis and taken to Germany. He spent four years in a concentration camp there. After the war, he spent another six years in refugee camps.

When he came to America finally, he had nothing with him but his family and the lessons he learned as a boy in Poland and Germany.

Here is a part of a poem about what it was like for him when he came to America. It's called "Looking for Work in America." It's from my book about him and my mom, Lightning and Ashes. 


He knew death the way a blind man
knows his mother’s voice. He had walked
through villages in Poland and Germany

where only the old were left to search
for oats in the fields or beg the soldiers
for a cup of milk. He knew the dead,

the way they smelled and their dark full faces,
the clack of their teeth when they were desperate
to tell you of their lives. Once he watched

a woman in the moments before she died
take a stick and try to write her name
in the mud where she lay. He’d buried

children too, and he knew he could do any kind
of work a man could ask him to do.
He knew there was only work or death.

He could dig up beets and drag fallen trees
without bread or hope. The war taught him how.
He came to the States with this and his tools,

hands that had worked bricks and frozen mud
and knew the language the shit bosses spoke.

Here's a link to Garrison Keillor reading my poem "What My Father Believed."  Just click here

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Piotr Florczyk on The Crooked Mirror : A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation

One of the most criticized essays I ever wrote for this blog was entitled "All Holocausted Out: What I Think of Non-Jews Using the Word Holocaust."  The essay was about whether or not I could rightly describe my parents' experiences in the slave labor and concentrations camps of Nazi Germany as being a part of the Holocaust.  A number of readers felt strongly that I had no right to appropriate that term to talk about what happened to my parents.  These readers felt the Holocaust is a term that should only be applied to what happened to the Jews. 
I wasn't surprised by the reaction to my essay.  I've been following discussions by Jews and Poles about the Holocaust and World War II for years, and I knew that there were strong views on both sides about what happened during the war and about how those things that happened are perceived.  
I was grateful when Piotr Florczyk sent me a link to his L. A. Review of Books review of Louise Steinman's memoir on Polish-Jewish relations because it helped clarify for me what the controversy was and offered a way, hopefully, out of it.  
Here's his essay:
A Way Forward: Louise Steinman's "The Crooked Mirror"
TO CALL THE POLISH-JEWISH RELATIONSHIP complicated would be an understatement, and to label it uneasy or acrimonious seems both inadequate and unfair. But we must use words  — aside from “long” — to describe the common history of the two peoples, which goes back to at least the 12th century. There was a time when Polish royals welcomed and encouraged Jews to settle in their land, which is one reason why Poland had been home to the largest and most vital Jewish community in all of Europe as recently as 100 years ago. What remains of that rich culture is of course paltry; the Nazis destroyed an 800-year-old community in six years. World War II spelled the end for 90 percent of Poland’s prewar Jewish community, among them some of humanity’s best and most promising scientists, academics, politicians, musicians, artists, and writers. While many acknowledge the profound crisis that has hung like a black cloud over Polish-Jewish relations since that time, few have provided any insight into how best to break the impasse.
It is the shape of Polish-Jewish relations in the present that concerns Louise Steinman. In the search for the remnants of her own family, she cannot help but trace and address the many unresolved issues that still stand in the way of a sustained dialogue between Poles and Jews, a dialogue that would at last put them on the path toward true reconciliation. Steinman’s book,The Crooked Mirror, will no doubt be part of that reconciliation.

Some people are forced to bear witness; others volunteer, as in the case of the journalist or relief worker. And others, like Steinman, are called back to witness something that can only be glimpsed by solemn digging. These kinds of witnesses offer their labor, their connection to others on a similar quest, and their profound feeling to the dead; what else can we do now that so few of the living witnesses remain?
“The Jews may have once been part of Poland’s body and soul, but they’d been excised, cast out,” writes Steinman. As a granddaughter of Polish-born parents, Steinman grew up feeling an animosity toward all things Polish deep within her family. Her mother could barely utter the name of the country. Rebecca, Steinman’s grandmother on her father’s side, told stories in heavily accented English about being smuggled into Poland from Ukraine in 1921 during that country’s civil war. But from the maternal side, radio silence. “Even as a child and without knowing why,” writes Steinman, “the absence of family history on my maternal side was a gap, an ache.” And so while she continued to live her life in Los Angeles, Steinman took up a second life as a historian on a series of journeys into Poland, a historian whose guiding questions were intensely personal and sometimes unclear even to her.

In her introductory chapter Steinman reminds us that “an estimated 80 percent of American Jews are of Polish-Jewish descent,” and she goes on to point out that most of them exude more animosity toward Poland than toward Germany, believing, erroneously, that the Nazis had set up their death camps in Poland because they could count on the locals to help them exterminate the Jews. Those Polish-Jews who survived the Holocaust only to be chased out of the country by their former neighbors wanted nothing to do with Poland; their experiences and the stories they told contributed to the image of Poles as most vile anti-Semites. Only the most intrepid, in both communities, have tried to find what unites rather than divides them.
It is Steinman’s Zen rabbi in Los Angeles who encourages her to get involved in establishing a dialogue between Poles and Jews. At first, she does not see this as her calling, but in the course of nine trips over a decade, she discovers a deep-seated affinity for Poles and the country as a whole. Much of this awakening stems from her working with Polish guides and translators in their 20s and 30s. These are the new ambassadors to Poland, so much more open and tolerant than their parents and grandparents. On her first visit, Steinman attends a Bearing Witness Retreat, held in the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she participates in workshops with others from Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, France and Israel, most of them the children and grandchildren of survivors. One night they listened to the stories of a Polish actor who had worked as a slave laborer at the camp when he was 19. When the man characterized the Jews in the camp as more passive than the non-Jewish Poles, he angered many of the visitors. Immediately the group was plunged into the quandary of the book –– how to find a way to talk about the thorniest of subjects.
The language Steinman employs in this lyrical yet magisterial book testifies to the depths to which she’s gone, as both a researcher and someone marked by the Holocaust, to ask for and offer forgiveness and understanding. Recounting multiple trips to Radomsko, a provincial town in south-central Poland, in search of her family’s roots, she elucidates the more important points of general Polish history, including the three partitions at the end of the eighteenth century, after which the country disappeared from the map for 123 years, as well as the fact that “of all the countries in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, Poland was subjected to the most severe and sadistic repression.” Indeed for any Pole during World War II saving the life of a Jew meant risking the lives of everyone in his or her family. Yet among the nationalities bestowed with the title of “the Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Center for Holocaust Research, Poles constitute the largest group. Some have tried to downplay the fact, pointing out the relatively small number of honored Poles, given the country’s total population and the size of its Jewish minority before the war, but Steinman refuses to play the statistics game, turning instead to a metaphor and asking “why does one person reject the view through the crooked mirror and another accept the distortion?” The answer lies at our fingertips, Steinman seems to suggest, yet remains stubbornly out of reach.  
 The convoluted, not to mention bloody, history of much of Central and Eastern Europe, including its peoples’ narratives of victimhood and resistance, is the key to understanding the deep-seated prejudices that divide the two communities. As part of her strategy to learn more about it, Steinman attended a kind of working retreat at Wannsee, outside of Berlin, where in early 1942 the Nazis had met to outline their plans for the Final Solution. The goal of the more recent gathering, organized by One by One, an organization founded in the 1990s by descendants of “survivors, perpetrators, bystanders, and resisters,” is to explore the legacy of the Holocaust and Hitler’s regime. The “conspiracy of silence” that prevailed in both West and East Germany after the war had also been in force in Poland, Steinman learns. This isn’t to suggest that Poles did not wage a heroic battle against both German and Soviet occupiers, which they did, and she says so; rather, what was absent from the postwar narrative is what had happened to the country’s Jewish citizens during and after the war. It was primarily the Nazis who had slaughtered them, of course, but there were also thousands of incidents in which local Poles, mainly peasants living in the countryside, killed Jews or otherwise contributed to the already miserable prospects they faced by either leading the Germans to their hideouts or barring them from returning to their homes after the war. While some of the perpetrators were tried and sentenced after the war, these shameful facts had been downplayed, and thus never entered the country’s postwar narrative, most of which continues to center around the Poles’ valiant struggle against their occupiers.
All this began to change after Jan Gross’s Neighbors was published in 2000. The book, written by a Polish-American historian, documents the killing of 600 Jews in the village of Jedwabne, on July 10, 1941; the victims were herded into a barn that was then set on fire. Gross made public that “the atrocity was perpetrated by the Jews’ Polish neighbors, not German soldiers, as had been previously assumed.” The ensuing dialogue in Poland has been compared to a “huge national psychotherapy session.” Writing in his 2007 bestseller Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz, from which Steinman quotes, Gross offers a two-pronged explanation for why Poles turned on their neighbors: the Poles were betrayed by the Soviets — who arrested and deported thousands of Poles during the war, and in the aftermath of the war executed Poland’s Home Army heroes. The Jews returning from the camps were betrayed by Polish neighbors who appropriated their homes, property, and jobs. “A combination of greed and guilt made the sight of the returning Jews so threatening to their Polish neighbors,” writes Gross. At the ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the Jedwabne massacre, in July 2001, the then Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski apologized “in the name of those Poles whose conscience is moved by that crime.”

Steinman compares the Poles’ response to Jedwabne to the massacre at My Lai, and our own country’s search for truth, while addressing the issue of collective punishment experienced by civilian populations of all armed conflicts as well as the selective amnesia that follows. In order to break taboos and open a dialogue, Steinman reaches out to the Poles she meets, and in no time discovers how much it pains some of them, including her guide and translator, that Jewish visitors to Poland focus only on the Holocaust rather than the centuries-long history of the Jews in the country. She responds — perhaps unaware that she’s echoing the Poles’ own oft-repeated summary of what had happened to them during World War II — that “those five years were not like any other five years,” to which her guide replies, “without those 800 years of Jewish life in Poland, you cannot understand what was lost in those five.”
Soon Steinman and another American Jew — who is herself struggling to come to terms with her own horrific family history and who becomes Steinman’s companion for many of the trips in and around Poland — meet with four university students. The issues that arise between them have been standard fare as points of contention. For instance, the young Poles rightly claim that there’s no shortage of events and organizations celebrating Jewish culture in Poland, citing as an example the hugely popular annual Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków, ”which is often criticized by Jews because it’s mostly attended by non-Jewish Poles.” One of the students contends that the main obstacle on the road to reconciliation is the fact that Jews perceive all Poles in an overwhelmingly negative light. Quoting the writer Eva Hoffman, whose own family left Poland after the government-led 1968 anti-Semitic purges, Steinman suggests that “the varied tonalities of feeling and opinion that must have existed in the long centuries of Polish-Jewish coexistence have been lost in the absence of actual contact.”
Ironically, there is perhaps no greater issue at present dividing the two communities than the March of the Living. Organized by Israeli government, these trips to Poland, during which young Jews visit the former concentration camps and ghettos, had until recently been off-limits to Poles, including Polish Jews living in Poland. What’s more, according to one Polish Jew living in Warsaw whom Steinman quotes, not only were the Israelis discouraged from meeting the locals, they came equipped with orientation fliers that stated something to the effect of “You shall see the local inhabitants. You shall hate them for their part in the atrocity. But you will pity them for their miserable living conditions.” While the fliers have been rewritten and the hateful language removed, the misunderstanding persists. The young Israelis see Poles as the embodiment of anti-Semitism, while Poles see the Israelis as ignorant of Poland’s culture and history in general.
A trip to Kolomyja, in today’s Ukraine, does not bring closure or relief for Steinman’s friend whose father was born in the town — in fact, it further magnifies the woman’s pain and desolation. Steinman’s repeated trips to Radomsko, her family’s long-ago home, turn out more fruitful. She meets many Poles, whom she calls “memory workers,” people involved in cultivating the memory of Jews — “not because they’re philo-Semitic but because they’re philo-Polish.” Touring the Radomsko Region Historical Museum, Steinman is initially dismayed that the exhibit commemorating the region’s Jews amounts to “just one glass case,” but then she’s reminded that before the case there was nothing, that the handful of artifacts is a sign that things have changed. Seeing school kids act in a Purim play, she comes to believe that the children perform as a way to “salvage an essential part of their own history.” Quoting the Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès, who, writing about Jewish heritage, eschewed continuity in favor of the phrase “permanent rupture,” Steinman writes, “I was the rupture. I was the continuity.” Indeed, she is both, and the same can be said about like-minded Poles; they “will never hear ‘thank you’ from the dead” for their work, but they need to hear it from us.
Coming to Poland against the wishes of their relatives, people like Steinman should be applauded for their willingness to face their own “unexamined prejudices.” Meeting the Other, understanding what has shaped his or her views, isn’t easy. Not all such journeys and encounters have positive outcomes, but many do. In Radomsko Steinman cuts the ceremonial ribbon at the opening of a new Radomsko Cultural Center, thus getting acknowledged as one of their own, a Radomsker. In L’viv, following a heartbreaking trip to Kolomyja, a Ukrainian woman embraces Steinman’s friend and whispers, “Welcome home.” At the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków, a photograph taken in a small village — in which a grove of trees in the middle of a plowed field marks the site of the Jewish cemetery — leads Steinman to conclude that “the presence of the past is kept alive by the observance of absence.” Some Poles may not be comfortable talking openly about what had happened to their Jewish neighbors, but they do remember it, and more and more are willing now to face what happened if only among themselves.

Appropriately, the variegated story told by Steinman has two endings. One leads the author back to her native Los Angeles, where she meets a distant relative who remembers the pre-war Radomsko. This woman “embodied all the dizzying polarities and contradictions of the historical debate between Jews and Poles. She’d been rescued by brave Christian Poles who risked their lives — and the lives of their families — to hide her. At war’s end, she’d been chased out of her home at gunpoint by venal profiteers.” The second ending leads Steinman back to Radomsko, where, in 2008, she takes part in dedicating a monument at the site of the Great Synagogue, commemorating the town’s Jewish community and the liquidation of its ghetto. It is this collective memory, as Steinman writes, quoting the Radomsk Yizkor, that links us to “the time when a Polish Catholic painted the zodiac on the ceiling of Radomsko’s Great Synagogue and a Polish Jewish tinsmith designed the spires of the town’s cathedral.” We are left to ponder the image of an elderly man, a Pole who rescued a Jew and has only recently been honored by Yad Vashem, standing side-by-side on a train platform with that Jew’s son. Steinman writes, “they had only met for the first time the day before, and yet they already knew each other so well.” One might add that while they share the past, it’s really looking forward to the future that unites them.
This overdue book couldn’t have been easy to write. Heartfelt, poignant, redemptive, and brave, it offers proof that Poles and Jews can lead a constructive dialogue. Poland is not free of anti-Semitism — perpetrated by people from all walks of life, but mainly those who missed out on political and economic opportunities brought about by the country’s transition to democracy and accession to the European Union, many of whom subscribe to the thinly-veiled xenophobic messages of Radio Maryja, a religious and socially conservative broadcasting service led by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk. For their part, many Jews continue to cling to various stereotypes of Poles, even though they have never actually met a Pole. Poland’s burgeoning Jewish community itself contradicts the message that in Poland “you come to visit death … then you travel back to Israel to see resurrection.” With remarkable generosity and an unwavering sense of purpose Louise Steinman writes about the people she meets and the places she visits in Warsaw, Kraków, Radomsko, Vilnius, Lublin, Sejny, Paris, Kolomyja, and L’viv, finding that things are in fact changing for the better. For those still unconvinced, this book is the proof and the way forward.

This review originally appeared in the L A Review of Books.  

Louise Steinman's The Crooked Mirror is available from Amazon.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Country of War: A Poem

This is a poem to be read while thinking about going to war to stop a war. 

The Country of War

War comes down
like a hammer, 
heavy and hard,
flattening the earth 

scorching it
as though a hot iron 
had been taken to it,

killing the soft things: 
children and horses
love and hope

killing the good 
of the earth,
the coolness 
of its creeks,
the look of trees 
their leaves 
in late March 
or early April.

You smell 
this country
before you see it.


The above poem is an early draft of a much longer poem that eventually was called "Landscape with Dead Horses."  It appears in my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues.    

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interview with Rattle Magazine

Recently, I was interview by Rattle's Megan Green.   The interview also appears at the Rattle site.  Just click here.  I thought I would post it here also.  
The following interview was conducted over email by Rattle editor Megan Green and John Guzlowski, author of Lightning and Ashes, a collection of poems that bear witness to his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany.
John GuzlowskiBorn in a refugee camp after World War II, JohnGuzlowski came with his family to the United States as a Displaced Person in 1951. His parents had been slave laborers in Nazi Germany. Growing up in the immigrant and refugee neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, he met hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead comrades and women who had walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians. His poetry, fiction, and essays try to remember them and their voices.
His poems also remember his parents, who survived their slave labor experiences in Nazi Germany. A number of these poems appear in his booksLanguage of Mules, Lightning and Ashes (Steel Toe Books), and Third Winter of War: Buchenwal (Finishing Line Press).
Winner of the Illinois Arts Award for Poetry, short-listed for the Bakeless Award, and nominated for four Pushcart Prizes, John Guzlowski is a Professor Emeritus at Eastern Illinois University, and currently lives in Danville, Virginia.
GREEN: In the epilogue, you write that you began thinking about your parents’ history when you were in graduate school. How old were you when you wrote the first of the poems in Lightning and Ashes? Were you able to speak with your parents about their stories as you wrote the book, or did you write about their experiences mostly from memory?
GUZLOWSKI: I didn’t start writing about my parents until I was 31 years old. Before that, I didn’t want to have any contact with them and their lives and what my mother used to call “that camp shit.” I grew up in a neighborhood in Chicago full of survivors and refugees, and as a kid growing up I felt hobbled by all that sorrow and all that difference, all that apartness. We were called DPs and that stood officially for Displaced Persons (people allowed into the US under the Displaced Persons act of 1947), but in the streets we were told repeatedly that DP stood for “dirty pigs” and “dirty Polacks.” I didn’t want to be a DP, a displaced person; I just wanted to be an anonymous American kid, a placed person.
School helped me get away from all of that DP world. In college and grad school, I turned to books and literature, a world where there were no survivors, no refugees. During all those college years, I seldom thought about the lives my parents had lived during the war. At least not until the very end of my college career.
I was a year short of finishing my dissertation on postmodern fiction when I wrote my first poem about my parents. I guess you could say that I had to be “placed” before I allowed myself to be “displaced.” I had to overcome their world, before I could enter it.
But even then, it was a slow process. It took me another 25 years to write the poems that became my book Lightning and Ashes.
GREEN: And where did those poems come from?
The first poem I wrote about my parents was “Dreams of Warsaw, September 1939,” and it gives a sense of where the poems come from. Here’s the second stanza:
Somewhere my parents
are still survivors
living unhurried lives
of unhurried memories:
the unclean sweep of a bayonet
through a young girl’s breast,
a body drooping over a rail fence,
the charred lips of the captain of lancers
whispering and steaming
“Where are the horses
where are the horses?”
GREEN: There are many mediums through which one might document the experiences in this book. Why did you choose poetry?
GUZLOWSKI: I hate to sound pretentious, but I think poetry chose me. There wasn’t a lot of choosing going around when I wrote that first poem about my parents. It just sort of happened. I was sitting at a desk working on an essay I was writing for a class, and the next thing I know I’ve written a poem. And then a year later, it happened again, and there’s a second poem, and then again, and there’s a third poem, and 20 years later I have 20 poems, and my mom sees Language and Mules, the chapbook I wrote about her and my dad, and she starts talking about her experiences and I start taking notes and seven years later I’ve written Lightning and Ashes.
Looking back on it, I can honestly say I’m happy poetry chose me to tell the story of my parents in a series of poems. The poems allowed me the possibility of conveying some of that sense of fragmentation that you get in trying to capture and convey memories. Take for instance the poems in Part III of Lightning and Ashes, “What the War Was Like.” There are two poems about the Nazis coming into a village and killing people, then a poem about neighbors who collaborated with the Nazis, then a poem about my mom being taken by boxcar to Germany, then a poem about my dad being taken to Germany, then my mom’s grief, then my dad’s hunger, then the castration of one of his friends, then my mom looking at herself and realizing that she’s worthless–and all of that flashes across the page quickly and terribly like lightning, one flash after another after another. No explanations, no summaries, just one terrible thing after another.
Maybe that’s the way it felt to me when my dad first started telling me these stories when I was a kid. I know that’s the way it felt when my mom picked up his stories 50 years later and gave me her version of the stories. One terrible thing after another, one flash of lightning after another.
I remember one of the last conversations she and I had about the war. She was 83 years old and dying of all the things she was dying from, and we were sitting in her living room in the evening and she was telling me about the war. This time, she was telling me about what it was like just before liberation. She was telling me what the German soldiers were doing to the girls in the camps. One terrible thing after another. And I looked up and saw that she was about to tell me something so terrible that it would just about be the worst thing I’ve ever heard, the last flash and stroke of lightning, and I said, “Mom, I don’t want to hear it.” And she said, “I’m going to tell you. You want to know what it was like, and I’m going to tell you.” And I said, “Please don’t tell me.” And she said, “I’m going to tell you,” and I said, “If you do, I’ll leave and not come back. I’ll stand up and leave and you won’t see me again.” And she said, “Okay, you’re 58 years old and still a baby, so I won’t tell you.”
GREEN: The line “hope is the cancer no drug can cure” from “My Father Dying” struck me, because it so contradicts the way most of us define hope—as a sort of karmic wish that will aid in bringing us what we want, rather than the role it serves in the book as a foolish and fruitless burden. It interests me that our society, while overtly acknowledging the horrors of the Holocaust, seems to take a sugarcoated view of it: our films about it often temper the overwhelming suffering with “the strength of the human spirit”; we tend to toss around words like “hope” and “courage” when we talk about it. Your book, however, is unflinchingly raw and honest, refusing to do the cheap work of shining artificial light on darkness. Do you agree that the American view of the experience of the Holocaust is overly redemptive? Was it a conscious decision to write about such horrific events in an unapologetic way?
GUZLOWSKI: I was brought up on those redemptive books and movies about the Holocaust and the world of survivors that was depicted in films like Exodus, Diary of Anne Frank, Life is Beautiful, and Schindler’s List. I remember watching Schindler’s Listwith my mother and asking her at the end of the movie what she thought. She looked at me as if I were an idiot and said, “They can’t make movies about what really happened.”
I’m sure hope and courage were important in the camps, but probably what was most important was luck. I asked both of my parents how they were able to survive the war, and they both said they didn’t know. My father didn’t know why he didn’t die when so many of his friends did. He once told a story about being hauled out of his barracks with hundreds of other prisoners for a roll call. It was a January night, snowing and below zero, and the men were in rags. The guards started doing a roll call, and as they read the names men began to drop from the cold, falling to their knees. A man here and another there and then more. When the guards finished the roll, there were dozens of dead prisoners in front of the barracks. But they didn’t let the men go back in the barracks. Instead, the guards started the roll again, and more men collapsed. That roll call went on for 6 hours. At the end, garbage trucks came to pick up the dead. My father didn’t know what kept him alive.
What I’m trying to do in the poems is stay true to my parents’ experiences. My mother was especially unsentimental about what happened to her. As a girl, she had seen her family killed, and then she went on to suffer for two and a half years as a slave laborer in Nazi Germany. After the war, she lived for 6 years in refugee camps, camps where they had mass graves for the babies that were born to the women following the war, women whose bodies weren’t strong enough to carry their pregnancies to fruition. I think it’s hard to believe in hope and courage when you have that kind of experience.
I hope you don’t mind but here’s a poem I wrote about my sense of what my mom believed:
My mother learned that sex is bad,
Men are worthless, it is always cold
And there is never enough to eat.
She learned that if you are stupid
With your hands you will not survive
The winter even if you survive the fall.
She learned that only the young survive
The camps. The old are left in piles
Like worthless paper, and babies
Are scarce like chickens and bread.
She learned that the world is a broken place
Where no birds sing, and even angels
Cannot bear the sorrows God gives them.
She learned that you don’t pray
Your enemies will not torment you.
You only pray that they will not kill you.
Of course, not everyone had the experiences my mom had. Some, I’m sure, survived through hope and courage. I’ve met and spoken to a lot of survivors over the years. What it’s taught me is that different people looked at what happened differently and tried to make sense of it differently.
GREEN: You mention that you were not especially interested in your parents’ lives as a child. Why did that change when you became a young adult? Did something trigger that interest or did it just naturally come with the maturity and distance that growing up bring?
GUZLOWSKI: As I mentioned in answering that first question, I needed to get some distance from my parents and their experiences. I described it earlier as being “hobbled.” There was all of that sorrow that my parents carried around. I started running away from that as soon as I could, and for much of my life I continued to run. As I started moving into my early teens, I didn’t want anything to do with my parents and their past. I thought of it as all of that “Polack” or immigrant past. It was sad/terrible and also so old world, so old-fashioned. I had parents who couldn’t speak English, couldn’t talk about baseball or movies, didn’t know anything about Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, couldn’t spend a night without fighting with each other in Polish, the language of misery, poverty, and alienation. I wanted to spend as little time as possible thinking about my parents and what my mother sometimes called “that camp shit.”
I think aging had something to do with the change in my attitudes. I started feeling something like “homesickness” for my own past and my parents’ past. I had been away from my parents’ home for almost 10 years when I wrote that first poem about them, “Dreams of Warsaw.” Writing it brought them close to me. And for all the years I worked on the poems that went into Lightning and Ashes that was one of the feelings that I always felt writing about my parents. That sense of closeness—writing the poems and talking to my parents about them. And now that they are both gone, I love reading the poems in front of a group because the poems bring my parents back to me, their voices, if only for a moment.
GREEN: You do justice to the power of the content of these poems by keeping the language simple, unembellished—where it would be tempting to be verbose and dramatic, the writing is conservative and unaffected. The narrative appears to speak for itself, which is a feat that requires great skill and discipline as a poet. How is the experience of writing poems that tell a true story, particularly when that story is largely comprised of other people’s histories? It seems to me almost comparable to translation, in that it must require certain creative limitations and a willingness to keep one’s own identity out of the focus.
GUZLOWSKI: Thank you.
The voice of the poems came pretty naturally. In talking about my parents’ lives, I’ve tried to use the language that I first heard their stories in, language free of emotions. When my mother and father told me many of the stories that became my poems, they spoke in plain language, straightforward language. They didn’t try to emphasize the emotional aspect of their experience; rather, they told their stories in a matter of fact way. This happened, they’d say, and then this happened: “The soldier kicked her, and then he shot her, and then he moved on to the next room.” I’ve also tried to make the poems story like, strong in narrative drive to convey the way they were first told to me.
Another thing about the voice of the poems that’s important to me is that I’ve tried to incorporate my parents’ actual voices into the poems. A number of the poems contain some of the language they told those stories in. The first poem in the Lightning and Ashes collection, “My Mother Reads My Poem ‘Cattle Train to Magdeburg,’” is pretty much written as she spoke it. I’ve cut out some of the things she said, polished others in that poem, but the poem has her voice.
The poem “My Mother’s Optimism” is another example of using my parents’ voices. The story of my mother’s cancers and her recovery that the poem includes is given a sense of reality, for me, because I included in the poem things my mom actually said. Here’s the end of the first stanza for example:
“Listen, Doctor, I don’t have to tell you
Your job. If it’s cancer it’s cancer.
If you got to cut it out, you got to.”
When my sister Donna read the collection, the first thing she commented on was how much she could hear our parents in it. To me, that was the greatest compliment she could pay. I wanted the poems to be about my parents, not about me talking about my parents.
I once gave a poetry reading, and during the Q & A afterward, a student asked me why I didn’t write about myself. It seemed like an odd question to me because the poems weren’t about me, didn’t pretend to be about me and my story.
GREEN: Are you working on any writing projects right now that you can tell us about?
GUZLOWSKI: I’m still writing poems about my parents, but I’m a slow poet. There’s a poem or two a year. Three of them appeared in War, Literature and the Arts, a journal produced at the Air Force Academy. You can read them at the journal’s website. Here’s the link.  Probably, there will be more poems too. I took notes of the conversations I had with my mom toward the end of her life, and sometimes I open those notebooks and find an image or a line of dialogue that wants to become a poem. I’m just finishing up a poem about how my mom and dad met at the end of the war.
I’m also working on two novels. One of them is called Suitcase Charlie, and it’s a crime procedural about a serial killer working in the survivor and immigrant neighborhood in Chicago that I grew up in. The other is called This Rough Magic, and it’s a fictional portrait of one of the Nazi soldiers who killed my grandmother, my aunt, and my aunt’s baby. The novel picks him up at the end of the war when he’s retreating from Russia and finally coming to feel guilt for the terrible things he’s done. I finished this novel two years ago and am happy to say that I finally found a publisher interested in it. Cervena Barva Press will have it out in 2015.
I wish my mother and father were still around to tell me what I got wrong in the novel.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sept 1, 1939: Landscape with Dead Horses

74 years ago on September 1. 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. Their blitzkrieg, their lightning war, came from the air and the sea and the sky. By Sept 28, Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, gave up. By October 7, the last Polish resistance inside Poland ended.  In the six years that followed, more than five million Poles died.

A couple years ago, I received an email from a friend passing on some links to US Army films of the invasion of Poland that were compiled from captured German films. I thought I would share these films of what the Blitzkrieg was like. They are in 3 parts (each about six minutes); and if you click on the part you want to see, you will be taken to the appropriate site.

Invasion of Poland, Part I

Invasion of Poland, Part II

Invasion of Poland, Part III

The world had not seen anything like it, and it was the prelude to a lot of things the world had never seen before: the Final Solution, Total War, the concentration camps, the atomic bomb, the fire bombing of civilian populations, and brutality on a level that most people still don't want to think about almost 70 years later.

When the Germans attacked on that September 1, My dad was 19 and working on his uncle's farm with his brother Roman. Their parents had died when the boys were young, and their uncle and aunt took them in and taught them how to farm, how to prepare the soil in the fall and plant the seeds in the spring. My mom was 17 and living with her parents and her sisters and brothers in a forest west of Lvov in eastern Poland.

The summer had been hot and dry, and both of my parents, like so many other Poles, were looking forward to the fall and the beginning of milder weather.

The war turned my parents' lives upside down. Nothing they planned or anticipated could have prepared them for what happened.

By the end of the war, they were both slave laborers in Nazi Germany, their homes destroyed, their families dead or scattered, their country taken over by the Soviet Union.

I've written a number of poems about the first days of the war and what happened to Poland, but none of those poems ever captured, I felt, the struggle of the Polish people to throw off the Nazi invasion.

A couple of years ago, I tried again to describe what my parents and the Poles of their generation felt. Here's the poem:

Landscape with Dead Horses


War comes down like a hammer, heavy and hard
flattening the earth and killing the soft things:
horses and children, flowers and hope, love
and the smell of the farmers’earth, the coolness
of the creek, the look of trees as they uncurl
their leaves in late March and early April.
You smell the horses before you see them.


Horses groan, their heads nailed to the ground
their bodies rocking crazily, groaning
like men trying to lift their heads for one
last breath, to breathe, to force cold air
into their shredded, burning lungs.
For these horses and the men who rode them,
this world will never again be the world
God made; and still they dare to raise their heads,
to force the air into their shredded lungs.


Look at this horse. Its head torn from its body
by a shell. So much blood will teach you more
about the world than all the books in it.
This horse’s head will remake the world for you—
teach even God a lesson about the stones
that wait to rise in our hearts, cold and hard.


In the end Hitler sat in his cold bunker
and asked his generals about his own horses,
“Where are they?” He asked, “Where are my horses?”
And no one dared to tell him, “They are dead
in the fields with the Poles and their horses,
bloated with death and burning with our corpses.”


This poem originally appeared in War, Literature, and the Arts along with several other poems I wrote about Poland and the war. Here's a link to those poems. Click here.

By the way, in that same issue of WLA, there are also poems about war by Polish-American writers John Minczeski and Lisa Siedlarz.

The photograph of re-enactors in 1939 uniforms was taken by Mr. Mazowieckie at a re-enactment of the Bzura River Battle.

Friday, July 12, 2013

My Mother and Her Neighbors

I received an article this morning about a commemoration ceremony that was held in Warsaw yesterday.

Crowds of Poles gathered to remember the tens of thousands of Poles who were killed between 1943 and 1944 by Ukrainian Nationalists working with their German Nazi colleagues.  July 11 was the day of the worst killing, a day when the Nationalists attacked 100 or so villages.  That was seventy years ago.

My mother's family was killing during this period by her Ukrainian neighbors.  Her mother was murdered, her sister was raped and killed, her sister's baby kicked to death.  My mother, a girl of 19 at the time, was able to survive by breaking through a window and running into a forest to hide.  She was found a couple days later and taken to a slave labor camp in Germany.  She spent the next 2 years in those camps.

My mom and my dad went back to her village in 1988 to see if she could find the graves of her mom and sister and the sister's baby.  There were no graves.  The men who did the killing didn't take the time to dig graves and put up crosses or markers.

During that trip, my mom made it to her old house, the one where the killing took place.  She knocked on the door and when someone answered her knocking, she introduced herself and told them that she had lived in this house when she was a girl, before the killings.

The person who answered the door, a Ukrainian fellow about my mom's age, said that he had been living in the house all his life and he didn't know her and didn't know what she was talking about.

My mom left and never went back.

I haven't written a lot about my mom and her Ukrainian neighbors, but I have written two poems.

The first is called "My Mother was 19," and it's about the day the Nazis and her Ukrainian neighbors came to her house and did their killing.

The second poem is "My Mother's Neighbors."  It's from my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues about my parents, and it tells about what the killers did after they left my mom's house.

My Mother was 19

Soldiers from nowhere
came to my mom’s farm
killed her sister Genja’s baby
with their heels
shot her momma too

One time in the neck
then for kicks in the face
lots of times

They saw my mother
they didn’t care
she was a virgin
dressed in a blue dress
with tiny white flowers

They raped her
so she couldn’t stand up
couldn’t lie down
couldn’t talk

They broke her teeth
when they shoved
the blue dress
in her mouth

If they had a camera
they would’ve taken her picture
and sent it to her

That’s the kind they were

Let me tell you:
God doesn’t give
you any favors

He doesn’t say
now you’ve seen
this bad thing
and tomorrow you’ll see
this good thing
and when you see it
you’ll be smiling

That’s bullshit


My Mother’s Neighbors

Their clothes are wet and cold with the blood
of the baby and the women they helped the Germans
kill in the barn.  But they won’t remember that.

They’ll only remember this walk home, the snow
falling fast around them, muting the clicking trees
and silencing the birds.  They will remember

their slow talk, the old men going on about
how the potatoes they gathered this year
could never match the weight of last year’s harvest

the young men trying to hide their joy 
by whispering about the village girls
and what they have seen beneath their dresses.

Later they will all be home.  Already their wives
And mothers watch for them at the windows,

Afraid the snow will catch them far from home.


If you want to read more about the commemoration in Warsaw, here's a link to the article:  Poles Honor Victims.  

I've posted a lot of blogs about my mom over the years.  This is a recent one about remembering her on the anniversary of her death: Remembering My Mom.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What My Father Ate: A Father's Day Post

My father spent more than 4 years in Buchenwald Concentration Camp as a Polish slave laborer. He was captured in a round up when he went to his village north of Poznan to buy some rope. When he was taken by the Nazis, he was a kid, just 19 years old.

A lot of times when he talked about his experiences, he couldn't help telling me about how hungry he was for those four years. He said that most days he got about 500 calories of food. Once when he complained about the food, the Nazi guard hit him across the head with a club. From that day on, my dad was blind in one eye.

When the Americans liberated the camp, he weighed 75 pounds. My mother said that when she saw him stumble into her camp at the end of a death march, he was skinny, like two shoelaces tied together.  And he was one of the lucky ones. A lot of the guys in his camp didn't make it.

Once I asked him what it was like that first meeting with my mom, he smiled and said, "First, we had something to eat, and then we got married."


I've written a lot of poems about how hungry he was during those four year. The following is one of them. It's called "What He Ate." It appears in my book Lightning and Ashes. Here's a youtube of me reading the poem. I'm posting a copy of the poem itself after the video.

What My Father Ate

He ate what he couldn’t eat,
what his mother taught him not to:
brown grass, small chips of wood, the dirt
beneath his gray dark fingernails.

He ate the leaves off trees. He ate bark.
He ate the flies that tormented
the mules working in the fields.
He ate what would kill a man

in the normal course of his life:
leather buttons, cloth caps, anything
small enough to get into his mouth.
He ate roots. He ate newspaper.

In his slow clumsy hunger
he did what the birds did, picked
for oats or corn or any kind of seed
in the dry dung left by the cows.

And when there was nothing to eat
he’d search the ground for pebbles
and they would loosen his saliva
and he would swallow that.

And the other men did the same.


If you want to read more about my dad, I recommend the poem "What My Father Believed."  Garrison Keillor read it on his radio program a couple of years ago.  Here's the link, just click on it: What My Father Believed.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day Poem

Mother’s Day Poem

I remember my mother, her old house,
the miracle of her love, her fingers
on my cheek brushing away the night,
the world coming home for breakfast,
her eyes asking if I’d been on the road
for long and was the traffic heavy.

Nothing speaks of love like her kindness,
not the birds swirling in the mountains
nor starlight in the trees.  Nothing speaks
of hope like her silent prayers for me
in the morning before school or the bread
and soup she placed before me at night.

Some people seek comfort in a priest,
the way he washes his hands in holy water,
raises his chin to drink the wine.  But it’s mothers
who divide the loaves and fishes, collect
the crumbs, sweep the floor, and find lost coins.
One day they’ll call us home for the last supper. 


To read more about my mom and her life please click on the following:  a blog I did called "Remembering My Mother."  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Nightmare's End--One Soldier's Story

My wife's Uncle Buddy was one of the GIs who liberated the many concentration camps in Nazi Germany.  Several years ago he was interviewed by documentarians making a film about the liberation of the camps.

Here's a part of his statement:


Here's another post I did about Uncle Buddy and his war time experience.  Click here.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Language and Loss

My friend the writer Christina Sanantonio and I have been having a conversation about writing about loss.  It’s a conversation that started right after the suicide of the novelist David Foster Wallace. I posted two blogs about his death and the deaths of writers in general and what they mean to us, and Christina wrote me a long letter about how we use or don’t use language to talk about loss.  She said that, after her brother died unexpectedly, she felt that the language available to her was inadequate to express what she felt about his death.  Here’s a part of what she wrote:

I felt such a great expanse of void between the sense of reality that my grief had laid bare and the experiences of others who had not known despair that I felt I was living in a parallel universe -- alone. The weight and loneliness of my small burden was enough to keep me tottering, and often looking longingly into inky voids. I found myself thrust into a universe where few could speak my language, the complex and limited language of loss.

         In trying to explain this feeling, she went on to wrote about Primo Levi, the Holocaust survivor and writer who, like David Foster Wallace, apparently took his own life.  Primo Levi talked about the frustration of trying to write about loss and suffering, especially the loss and suffering so many experienced in the Nazi camps.  He felt sometimes, Christina wrote, that we needed a new language, a language of the lager, a language of the concentration camps.   Common words for “cold, pain, hunger,” according to Primo Levi, could not convey what the people experienced in the camps.  Reflecting on what Primo Levi wrote about the inadequacy of language and what she herself experienced following her brother’s death, Christina wrote that “We ache for a language that doesn’t exist.”
What Christina wrote about her loss and about Levi’s sense of the failure of language touched me.  I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to find words to describe what my parents went through in the concentration and slave labor camps in Germany during World War II and what those experiences made me feel.  Since I was a child, I had heard the stories my father told about what happened to him and my mother.  He told me about how he was picked up during a round-up in his village in Poland, and how he was sent to Germany and spent four years in the concentration camps there.  He told me how my mother was captured by the Germans when they came to her house; how they killed her mother, her sister and her sister’s baby; how my mother survived the killing by breaking through a window and hiding in the woods near her home; and how finally the Germans captured her and took her to Germany as a slave.  My father told me how, in the years my parents spent under the Nazis, they both saw terrible things.  They saw the normal pain and suffering of being prisoners under the Nazis, and they saw floggings, hangings, stonings, shootings, castrations, and rapes.   In one of my poems, “Looking for Work in America,” I wrote that my father “knew death the way a blind man/knows his mother’s voice.”  The same was true for my mother.
           For the last thirty years, I’ve tried to find words to describe my parents’ experiences.  In my poems and my lectures about my parents, I write or talk about the things I heard about, but no matter how powerful the original event described by my mother or father I seldom feel that I can really describe it, explain it, bring it out of the past.  I can’t bring it out of memory into this life.  Despite my best efforts, I’m finally left pushing around some words, trying to find some way to convey what I felt as a child hearing my parents’ story for the first time.  Sometimes, I think I have almost succeeded, most of the time I know I’m not even close. 
         One of the things I’ve tried to do to bring my parents’ experiences out of memory is to use the sort of language they used.   People who read my poems or hear me speak remark on the simplicity of my language and the story-like quality of my poems.  What I’m trying to do is to capture the way I first heard the stories.  My parents had very little education. My father was an orphan and a farm boy in rural Poland; he never went to school.  Even as an adult in America, he could barely write his name.  If he were asked to write his name on a check or a Christmas card, he would become embarrassed.  My mother had a little bit more education.  She spent about two years off and on in a rural school in eastern Poland.  She could write her name, do sums, read a prayer book or a newspaper.  I’ve tried to use the sort of language that my parents’ used.  It was a language free of emotions. When my parents told me many of the stories that became my poems, they spoke in plain, straightforward language. They didn’t try to emphasize the emotional aspect of their experience; rather, they told their stories in a matter-of-fact way. This happened, they’d say, and then this happened:  The soldier kicked her, and then he shot her, and then he moved on to the next room. I’ve also tried to make the poems story-like, strong in narrative drive to convey the way they were first told to me.
         For me the poems that work best are the ones with my parents’ actual language.  Those words, for me, are the real thing.  In one of my poems, my mother says to me, “If they give you bread, you eat it.  If they beat you, you run”; in another poem, my dad tells me what he said to the German guards who beat him and tormented him, “Please, sirs, never tell your children what you’ve done to me today.”  There are bits and pieces of their words scattered through my poems, and when I read those words out loud my parents are there with me.  My parents’ words are a kind of magic for me. 
But how does one convey this magic to other people? 
I think sometimes that all I can do is read my poems out loud and show people how the poems effect me.  I guess what happens then is that my words become like my parents’ words.  I become my father and mother for that moment in the poem.  Sometimes this touches people, conveys the magic to them.
I’ve seen this happen in some of the poetry readings I’ve given.  I was recently giving a reading/lecture, and when I got done, I took questions.  There were some of the usual questions about where in Poland my parents came from and why I wrote poems rather than memoirs.  Then, a person in the back stood up and didn’t say anything.  He looked like he wanted to say something, but he just stood there.  I don’t know if the person even had a question.  Maybe he just wanted to show how much he felt my parents’ lives, or maybe the loss I talked about somehow reminded him of a loss he experienced and couldn’t talk about and still can’t talk about.  For me, that was a moment filled with magic.  My parents’ experiences had somehow survived my translation of them into the word of my poems, and by another miracle, the poems had spoken to another person and touched him with their loss.  A miracle.
 For me one of the central images of the Bible is the image of the Tower of Babel.  It represents in my eyes the moment when humanity became trapped in language that would not communicate what we needed to communicate.   What happened at Babel was a second fall from grace.  Our lives became chained to a language that doesn’t convey what we feel or what we mean.  Although we have this deep need to say what we feel, we often can’t explain it to ourselves or to other people.  
Sometimes our words fail us, and sometimes other people fail us.  They can’t bring themselves to listen to our stories of loss.  It’s hard to take on that burden.  To show you this, I want to tell two stories.  The first is about my father in the concentration camp at Buchenwald.  The second is about my mother and me and a poem I wrote about her experiences. 
 My father used to tell a story about a friend of his in the camps who made love to a woman and contracted VD.  He came to my father and asked him what should he do.  My father looked him in the eye and said, “Go to the river and drown yourself.”  His friend thought he was joking, and he went to another friend who told him, “Tell the Germans what you did.”  He did and they killed the woman; and then they beat him and castrated him and killed him.  Fifty years later, when my father was telling me this story, he still didn’t know what he could have said to his friend to save him from what happened.
And thirty years after writing my first poems about my parents, I’m still not sure I get their experiences right no matter how much I try.  One of the first poems I wrote about my mother is called “Cattle Train to Magdeburg.”  When I wrote it in 1978, I was trying to capture what had happened to her when the Nazis first put in the boxcars and sent transported her from her home in eastern Poland to Magdeburg, Germany, a clearing center for slave laborers sent to Germany.  My sense of what had happened was based in part on what my parents had told me about that experience and what I imagined the experience was like. 
Here’s the poem:

Cattle Train To Magdeburg

She still remembers

The long train to Magdeburg
the box cars
bleached gray
by Baltic winters

The rivers and the cities
she had never seen before
and would never see again:
the sacred Vistula
the smoke haunted ruins of Warsaw
the Warta, where horse flesh
met steel and fell

The leather fists
of pale boys
boys her own age
perhaps seventeen
perhaps nineteen
but different
convinced of their godhood
by the cross they wore
different from the one
she knew in Lvov

The long twilight journey
to Magdeburg
four days that became six years
six years that became forty

And always a train of box cars
bleached to Baltic gray.

This poem was first published in Charles Fishman’s anthology Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust in the early 1990’s.  When I showed it to my father, he couldn’t read it because he couldn’t read English, and when I showed it to my mother, she wouldn’t read it. That was all in the past, she said. She didn’t want to think about the war and what her life was like in the camps. 
In 2002, a Polish version of Language of Mules, my first collection of poems about my parents, was published, and I showed a copy to my mother. Since my father had died, she’d become more willing to talk about her experiences in Germany. So she took the book and opened it up; the first poem she saw was “Cattle Train to Magdeburg.” She read it straight through and told me what she thought. She said, “That wasn’t the way it was at all,” and then she started telling me what I got wrong in her story about being taken to the concentration camps in Germany.  This was wrong and that wasn’t like that.  She wanted me to know all the things I got wrong.  Despite my best effort to find language to describe her experience, I had failed her and failed her experience.  As I suggested earlier, sometimes our words fail us, and sometimes we fail other people, the ones who want to share their words of loss with us.
My mother’s response to my poem led me to write another poem.  It’s called “My Mother Reads ‘Cattle Train to Magdeburg.’” It’s the Prologue to my recent collection of poems about my parents, Lightning and Ashes.  The language in this poem is pretty much the way my mother gave her reaction to my poem.  After she finished speaking, I took up a legal pad and wrote what I remember her saying.  Here’s the poem:

My Mother Reads "Cattle Train to Magdeburg"

She reads it through and says
“That’s not how it was.
I couldn’t see anything
except when they stopped
the boxcars and opened the doors

And I didn’t see
any of those rivers,
and if I did, I didn’t know
their names. No one said,
‘Look, look this river
is the Warta, and there
that’s the Vistula.’

What I remember
is the bodies being
pushed out—sometimes
women would kick them out
with their feet.

Now it sounds terrible.

You think we were bad women
but we weren’t. We were girls
taken from homes, alone.
Some had seen terrible things
done to their families.

Even though you’re a grown man
and a teacher, we saw things
I don’t want to tell you about.”

If she were still alive and I were to show her this second poem, I’m betting she would say the same thing she said after I showed her the Polish version of the earlier poem, “That wasn’t the way it was at all,” and I know she would be right.
         Christina Sanantonio said, “We ache for a language that doesn’t exist.”  We all want this language.  Christina wants it so she can tell me and other people how much his death means to her.  Primo Levi wanted it so that he could tell you what hunger and snow and wind meant to a man standing through a six-hour roll call with other prisoners in Auschwitz.  We want others to understand what we have suffered and what we have lost.  This is the “ache” that Christina talks about.  It is a part of language as sure as the word “the.”  We ache for a language that doesn’t exist so that we can tell someone what we need to say.  And even when we feel that there is no point in struggling with words to capture what we need to say, we still have to try.  No matter how hard it is to tell someone something, no matter how much we misunderstand what someone is telling us, no matter how hard it is to get beyond the Babel we’re caught up in, I think we need to try.
         Will it change the world?  Make anything different?  Better?
We can only hope.