Sunday, June 21, 2009

LITERATURE: A Father's Day Tribute

The book cover of Lightning and Ashes; Author John Guzlowski (top right); Jan Guzlowski in a butcher's apron in DP Camp (bottom right)

To celebrate Father's Day is a feature by John Guzlowski a sequence from his book, Lightning and Ashes, which is available at:

The piece focuses on the work his father did when he first came to America after his ten years in the slave labor and DP camps in Germany.This piece not only celebrates what he accomplished, but also what the Poles of his generation brought to this country

From "Looking for Work in America

"What My Father Brought With Him

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.

John Guzlowski's Polish-Catholic parents, Jan and Tekla, were victimized by the Nazis. His father, an orphan farm worker, became a slave laborer in the Buchenwald Concentration District. His mother, the child of a forest ranger, was also pressed into slave labor. Guzlowski himself was born in a refugee camp as a Displaced Person after WW II. Eventually, his family made their way to the United States, where Guzlowski became a professor and poet.