Monday, July 10, 2017
Dreams of Warsaw, 1939
The First Poem I Wrote about My Parents
I've been writing poems for about 37 years now. I started when I was in grad school at Purdue working on my Ph.D. It was a hot, humid August afternoon, and I was sitting at a desk thinking about Faulkner, trying to make sense of a line of imagery that seemed to thread through all of his novels. I wasn't having any luck.
Out of nowhere, I had this sense of my parents and where they were and what they were doing.
It came as a shock this sense. I hadn't lived at home in almost a decade, seldom saw my parents, tried in fact not to think about them and their lives. I didn't want to know about their worries, their memories of WWII and the slave labor camps and the mess those memories were making of their lives. But suddenly there they were in my head, and for some reason I started writing about them.
I hadn't written a poem in at least a decade either, but there suddenly I was writing a poem. And it wasn't the last. This poem about my parents started me writing poems again, and I've never stopped.
Here's the poem:
Dreams of Poland, September l939
Too many fears
for a summer day
I regulate my thoughts
and my breathing
regard the humidity
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?"
Death in Poland
like death nowhere else‑‑
cool, gray, breathless
The poem appears in Echoes of Tattered Tongues.
The illustration above is by the Polish artist Voytek Luka. It was done as an illustration for my book Third Winter of War: Buchenwald.