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