Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Everyday I will Remember

Everyday I Will Remember by Christopher Kuhl

This excellent book of poems by Christopher Kuhl about his family and their experiences in the Holocaust is now on sale at Amazon for $3.29, marked down from $12.99.  When I saw that this price had been reduced so much, I couldn't believe it.

Here is a review I wrote of the book:

No single book or group of books will teach you about the Holocaust, what happened when the Germans decided to cleanse the earth of Jews and Gypsies and Poles and Gays and the people the Germans considered mules or subhumans or devils.

My mother spent 3 years in the concentration camps in Germany. When I would ask her what it was like, she would just say, “If they give you bread, eat it. If they beat you, run away.” Unsatisfied, I would press her for more, and when she would finally give in and speak, all she would say was, “You weren’t there. You will never understand.”

So where does that leave you and me, who weren’t in the camps, who will never know what it was like?

It leaves us wondering and asking questions and looking for the answers wherever we can find them. It leaves us reading books by those who survived, great writers like Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel and Viktor Frankel and Wladyslaw Szpilman and Olga Lengyel. And it leaves us reading books by writers who have somehow listened to the voices of those who survived and in those voices heard something that allows them to continue the legacy of those who survived and wrote about it.

Christopher Kuhl is such a writer.

Like the best of them – contemporary poets like Charles Fishman, William Heyen, and Cyrus Cassells – Christopher Kuhl blends stark moments of misery and death with a poetic vision that gives those moments an intensity that we will never forget.

We see this throughout his book Everyday I Will Remember. He tells us about those survived the camps and those who didn’t and what they saw and heard: the selections, the ovens, the bayonets in the ribs, the screaming, the diseases, the voices of the German soldiers, the dead children, the mass graves, the boxcars, the empty villages, the electric fences, the bodies piled so high.

But showing us the Holocaust is not all that Christopher Kuhl does. He helps us remember the Holocaust. He does this through his language, his images, his poet’s vision. This is most felt I think in those poems in the second half of the book, the section dealing with the time after the war, after the liberation from the camps. In this section, the survivors and the descendants of survivors are themselves seeking the words that will make some sense of the Holocaust.
We see this, for example, in the poem “A Mother’s Prayer to Her Son: Remember Me”:

I gather the wind
In the palm
Of my hand:

Son of my womb,
Son of my vows,

You have stirred my
Shadow to life . . . .

Christopher Kuhl also brings to his telling of the story of the Holocaust a poet’s gift for asking the ultimate questions the Holocaust forces us to ask.

Why did so many die? What do we owe a God who allowed this to happen? Why do such genocides go on and on? Why did the Germans do such terrible things? Do the dead know why they suffered? What is it like to be dead? How should we remember those who suffered?

And why should we remember them?
In an era where people are forgetting the Holocaust and questioning even whether it ever actually occurred, Christopher Kuhl reminds us as only a great poet can why we should never forget.

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Monday, August 19, 2019

Packing and Moving

Packing and Moving
It never stops.
In the 45 years Linda and I have been married, we have moved about 15 times. We’ve moved across town and across the state and across the country. We have moved to Indiana, Illinois, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, and Virginia, our present home.
Since we moved to Virginia ten years ago to be close to our daughter Lillian, we have lived in 3 different houses and two different cities. There were even times when my wife Linda moved to one state and I moved to another because of job demands.
When I tell people about all these movies, they always seem surprised.
What surprises me is that they seem surprised. The statistics I’ve looked at suggest that 15 moves isn’t that different from what most Americans do. The average American, according to a study conducted by the US Census Bureau, moves 11.7 times in his lifetime.
And when they move, they move a lot of stuff.
I read an article recently in Time Magazine about how the average American household has about 8,000 pounds of stuff.
My wife and I probably have more, and it’s all my fault. I’m a book collector. You pick up a book, and it feels light, unless it’s something like Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy, but that lightness disappears when you have a box of books. That box will weigh about 40 pounds, and I typically move with about 135 boxes of books. That probably comes to about 5,400 pounds, 2 and a half tons. But that’s just me. Most people will have other stuff that weighs them down.
They will pack and move their 8,000 or 10,000 pounds 11.7 times and wonder, as I do, what the point of moving is. Do we move to get a better job, a better view, a better set of neighbors, a better living room, a better school district, or do we move because moving is fixed solid in our DNA? Or does it go back even further and deeper in our collective history?
Maybe people like you and me have been nomads ever since God threw us out of the Garden of Eden and told us to take a hike.
PS. Before I end this, I better tell you I’m not the one in the family who does most of the heavy lifting and packing. It’s my wife Linda who does it. She packs up her stuff and my stuff (all those books!), boxes it all and preps it for each and every move. She’s the moving engine, and I’m the caboose.
It all reminds me of a story my mom told about the time we moved from the refugee camps in Germany to America. She said when she asked my dad in the refugee camp to help her pack to come to America, he took a little drink of vodka and bundled all the clothes together in a bedspread like America was just across the street.
I think I inherited some of my dad’s foolishness when it comes to moving. I start packing a box up, and I end up typing at the computer–just like this.
This is my most recent column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish paper in America.
Feel free to stop by the website linked below and drop a comment. It makes the editor think I'm not just slouching.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

My Summer So Far


July 5

There is heat and stillness, and a car’s been parked in front of my house for two weeks. Not moving. Ever. A black Buick Le Sabre. Maybe a 97 or 98.

Maybe this doesn’t seem odd to you, but it does to me. We live on a quiet street. There’s not much traffic and it’s not often that cars are parked in front of houses. In this neighborhood, people have driveways and garages. They don’t park on the street.

But that’s not all.

Something is killing the hedgehogs in my neighborhood. I saw 4 dead ones in the streets this morning while driving my granddaughter Lucy to her summer day camp.

Each one had its head cut off. You could see this plainly. There was blood but no heads.

I never see hedgehogs, and suddenly there they are in the street. With their heads cut off, missing.

Have other people noticed the dead hedgehogs and the heat and the stillness and the car parked in front of my house?

Who’s doing this? And why? What harm has a hedgehog ever done anyone?

Why kill a hedgehog?


The black car is still there.

Last night I marked the right, rear tire with some yellow chalk I found in the basement.

I thought this would help me figure out if it had actually not moved.

It hadn’t. The yellow chalk mark is still there on the tire.

I saw one of my neighbors, a new guy, standing in his yard looking at the car. I don’t know his name yet. He’s a skinny guy. He waved me over. Asked me about the car. He said he thought it had been there for three weeks. I said I thought it was two.

He asked if I had noticed the oil spot near the rear tire. I said yes.

He said, that car’s not going any place. You should call the police. That’s what I’d do if it were parked in front of my house.

I said, maybe tomorrow, and then I asked him about the hedgehogs.

I told him I’d been seeing dead ones on the streets around the neighborhood.

Had he seen any? He said he hadn’t.

I didn’t tell him the ones I saw were headless. That’s just too weird.


The black car has moved.

It’s been pulled about 20 feet forward.

Where it sat for 2 weeks is a white car. I think it’s the same model, same make. Just white.

It’s in the exact spot. I’m not kidding, not telling you a story. The exact space.

Yesterday, my granddaughter Lucy asked me to play an iPad game with her at the library. It was all about hedgehogs. They were doing cute things and running around a lawn chasing each other and trying to avoid a guy mowing the lawn. I didn’t understand the game at all, what the purpose was, but I played anyway.

You know I kept thinking about the other hedgehogs, the ones in the street.


When I woke up this morning, the white car was gone, but that’s not all. A black Ford pick-up is in front of the house now.

I can’t believe it. It suddenly showed up there this afternoon. My wife Linda and I were driving home from dropping our granddaughter off at our daughter Lillian’ s house, and we came up the hill and there it was. Enormous and parked in front of our house.

My neighbor Scott, the stockbroker guy, was outside watering his boxwoods when we pulled into the driveway, and he came up and asked us whose truck it was. We said we didn’t know.

He said, somebody is jerking around with you.

I nodded.

The good news? I haven’t seen a dead hedgehog in a couple of days.

The hedgehogs are gone. The dead ones and the live ones both. They were everywhere a week ago and today they’re not.

You won’t believe this, but the cars are gone also. The black one and the white one both. The truck is gone too. Like I told you, the black car sat there right in front of my house for two weeks. I chalked its tires so I would now if it moved, and it didn’t, and then it did, and now it’s gone.

A cool wind came through early this morning. I was mowing the front lawn, and I felt it and enjoyed it. For the first time in a week, it felt cool outside. A hired guy mowing the lawn next door — someone I don’t know — saw me standing there enjoying the breeze, and he stopped mowing and raised his hands, as if to say, „Ain’t it something.”

It is.

I’m not so foolish as to think that summer is coming to an end or that the cars and trucks in front of my house are gone or that the hedgehogs won’t be back, but it’s pleasant to think so.

It will help me get through the rest of this long, hot summer.


This is my latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy.  Please consider leaving a comment at the newspaper’s website.