Friday, March 25, 2016

Easter Poem




My father wasn't an educated man.  He used to joke that the German concentration camp he spent 4 years in was his college and university.

He was born on a small farm in western Poland and never attended school.  He didn't know much about stuff most of us take for granted.  One of the things he didn't know much about was religion.  You couldn't talk to him about things like Moses or the Garden of Eden or the Holy Trinity, even though he was born a Catholic.

But he had a strong faith, and there were things that he believed with a certainty as sure as the turning of the earth.   This is a poem about that.

What My Father Believed 

He didn’t know about the Rock of Ages
or bringing in the sheaves or Jacob’s ladder
or gathering at the beautiful river 
that flows beneath the throne of God.
He’d never heard of the Baltimore Catechism
either, and didn’t know the purpose of life 
was to love and honor and serve God.

He‘d been to the village church as a boy 
in Poland, and knew he was Catholic
because his mother and father were buried 
in a cemetery under wooden crosses. 
His sister Catherine was buried there too. 

The day their mother died Catherine took 
to the kitchen corner where the stove sat,
and cried.  She wouldn’t eat or drink, just cried
until she died there, died of a broken heart.
She was three or four years old, he was five.

What he knew about the nature of God 
and religion came from the sermons
the priests told at mass, and this got mixed up
with his own life.  He knew living was hard, 
and that even children are meant to suffer.  
Sometimes, when he was drinking he’d ask,
“Didn’t God send his own son here to suffer?”

He believed life is hard, and we should
help each other.  If you see someone 
on a cross, his weight pulling him down 
and breaking his muscles, you should try 
to lift him, even if only for a minute,
even though you know lifting won’t save him.

_____________________________

Garrison Keillor read this poem on his program the Writer's Almanac.  Click here to hear him read it. 

The illustration at the top of the page is by the artist Voytek Luka from my book Third Winter of War: Buchenwald.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick's Day Poem: Quarantine by Eavan Boland


In honor of St. Patrick's Day, here's one of the great contemporary Irish poems by the poet Eavan Boland, a poet who has inspired so much of my own writing.
Quarantine
In the worst hour of the worst season
    of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking – they were both walking – north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
     He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
    Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
     There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
      Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Monday, March 14, 2016

ECHOES OF TATTERED TONGUES: MEMORY UNFOLDED


My new memoir in prose and poetry about my family and its experiences during and after World War II is now available.

Here are some early reviews and responses: 


“A searing memoir.” Shelf Awareness

"Devastating, one-of-a-kind collection.” Foreword Reviews


“Powerful...Deserves attention and high regard.” Kevin Stein, Poet Laureate of Illinois

“Deeply moving. A powerful, lasting, and sometimes shocking book. Superb.” Kelly Cherry, Poet Laureate of Virginia

“Unforgettable. An historical and literary revelation.” Cosmopolitan Review

“Exceptional…even astonished me…reveals an enormous ability for grasping reality.” Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz on Guzlowski’s earlier work.


The book is availble from Amazon and other bookstores.  






Tuesday, March 8, 2016

International Woman's Day



My mother was taken to Germany as a slave laborer in 1942 after seeing the women and girls in her family raped and killed by the Germans.

She worked in various small camps.  The work was brutal, and when she first arrived in Germany in November, the cold and snow was so bad that she didn't think she would survive a week.  She survived 3 years.

This is a poem about her.


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.

____________

The poem is from my book about her and my dad: Echoes of Tattered Tongues: Memory Unfolded

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Question about the War


What can we say about the past when so much of the past is lost? My mother felt the weight of her mother's death and her sister's death and her sister's baby's death at the hands of the Nazis all her life, but what can I know of those deaths. There was my mother's horror when she told me the stories, but my mother could not tell me much without breaking down, turning her face and its tears away from me. And so what's left to learn, what can I know about my mother's grief, my grandmother's face when she was shot again and again, my aunt's absolute sorrow when she saw her baby daughter kicked to death, the baby's screams that would not stop. There are no photographs of what happened, no news reports, no eye witnesses now that even my mother is gone, and all that's left is just a handful of broken memories that will never truly belong to me. What's left to say?

_______________________

The image above is taken from Siege, an Oscar nominated documentary about the German invasion of Poland. It is available from Aquila Polonica Press. Click here.