Thursday, February 27, 2014

Radiant Poetry

Here's a review of my book Lightning and Ashes by Grady Harp.  He's one of Amazon's Top Ten Reviewers.

Radiant Poetry

John Guzlowski has presented us with a book of poems based on his family's harrowing life in the Nazi concentration camps and their subsequent move to the United States, forever tattooed with the horrors of the war experience. The reader begins to look for the reasons for the author's parents confinement - they were Christians, not gypsies, not radicals - and we must turn to the explanation the writer gives for the truth: ' I was born in a refugee camp in Germany after World War II, and came with my parents Jan and Tekla and my sister Donna to the United States as Displaced Persons in 1951. My parents had been slave laborers in Nazi Germany. Growing up in the immigrant and DP neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, I met Jewish hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead horses, and women who walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians. My poems try to remember them and their voices.' 

What flows from the pages of this book are exchanges of words and creation of memories shared by the author's mother and father about these experiences. Guzlowski's poems are clear, uncluttered by needless metaphors or superimposed styles of writing. They simply speak to us of the horrors experienced and the aftermath of lives forever changed. 

What the War Taught Her 

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. 

or from the conversations with his father he writes: 

What My Father Ate 

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

He ate the leaves off tress. 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 idid 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 looses his saliva 
and he would swallow that. 
And the other men did the same. 

Poetry so seemingly simple expresses more anguish, more ache, more compassion than a hundred thick historical novels about the war. The final long poem 'The Third Winter of War: Buchenwald' is unbearably painful to read, but read and remember it we must so that this can never happen again.

Grady Harp


Mr. Harp is one of Amazon's Top 10 Reviewers.  Here's an article about him from Slate.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day: A World War Two Love Story

My parents met in a concentration camp in Germany toward the end of World War II.

My mom had been brought to Germany by the Nazis to work in a slave labor camp. The day she was captured she saw her mom and her sister and her sister's baby killed by German soldiers. My mom was crying so much when she got to the camp that one of the guards said if she didn't stop crying they would shoot her.

Near the end of the war, my dad and some other slave laborers were brought to my mom's camp by German guards who were escaping the Russians. The Germans left him there and fled toward the American lines. When my mom saw my dad, he was a scarecrow in rags. He weighed about 70 pounds and had only one eye. He had lost the other when a guard clubbed him for begging for food.

She was 23, he was 25. She had been a slave for 2 years, he had been one for 4.

They met in that camp, and after liberation they did what a lot of people did. First, they had something to eat, and then they got married.

It was a hell of a marriage. They fought and argued for the next 50 years -- even on Sunday mornings -- and even on Christmas Day.

It got so bad at times that -- after we came to America -- my sister and I would plead with my parents to get a divorce.

They never did. When my dad died in 1997, they were still married. 52 years.

When I was about 57 or 58, I started wondering why they didn't get a divorce, why they stayed together through all the misery they put each other through. The answer to that question became a poem in my book about them, Lightning and Ashes. The poem is called "Why My Mother Stayed with My Father."

Why My Mother Stayed with My Father

She knew he was worthless the first time
she saw him in the camps: his blind eye,
his small size, the way his clothes carried
the smell of the dead men who wore them before.

In America she learned he couldn’t fix a leak
or drive a nail straight. He knew nothing
about the world, the way the planets moved,
the tides. The moon was just a hole in the sky,

electricity a mystery as great as death.
The first time lightning shorted the fuses,
he fell to his knees and prayed to Blessed Mary
to bring back the miracle of light and lamps.

He was a drunk too. Some Fridays he drank
his check away as soon as he left work.
When she’d see him stagger, she’d knock him down
and kick him till he wept. He wouldn’t crawl away.

He was too embarrassed. Sober, he’d beg
in the bars on Division for food or rent
till even the drunks and bartenders
took pity on this dumb polack.

My father was like that, but he stayed
with her through her madness in the camps
when she searched among the dead for her sister,
and he stayed when it came back in America.

Maybe this was why my mother stayed.
She knew only a man worthless as mud,
worthless as a broken dog would suffer
with her through all of her sorrow.


If you want to read more about my parents, you can read an article I wrote about how they met in a concentration camp at the end of the war.  Here's the link: How My Parents Met.

You can also heck out a couple of the blogs here that talk mostly about them. One is called DPs in the Polish Triangle about what my mom and dad were like when they got to America. Another is called The Wooden Trunk We Carried With Us From Germany. There's also The Day My Mother Died.

Just click on the above titles, and it will take you right to them.

My book about my parents is called Echoes of Tattered Tongues, and it's available from Amazon.