Thursday, January 23, 1997

CHRISTMAS LETTER FROM POLAND


CHRISTMAS LETTER FROM POLAND
                      Love is a drowning in flood waters
                        —Irish anon., 9th C. 
                                           to Richard Benesivitch

1. A friend I thought afraid of commitment,
writes he married the girl next door
twice: a civil wedding and a church one,
as if the first one didn’t quite take—
Soviet-style bureaucracy still applies.
He sends photos of a post-industrial Walbrzych
where happiness is possible because the mines have closed.
Richard’s letter smells of cheap tobacco and coal smoke.
Lonesome for California, he sits at a Hard Rock cafe in Wroclaw.
Sends translations and poems in an adopted tongue—
his Polish is improving; confesses Lithuanian is his first love.
From the look of his letter, I’d say he’s losing his English.
Tak! I thought of Czeslaw Milosz’s lament:
I did not choose California, it was given to me. . .
Never again will I kneel in my small country, by a river,
So that what is stone in me could be dissolved. . .
I write here in desolation.

2. Another friend searches for ancestors in winter;
only the City of Light offered refuge
from the darkness of Prague and Krakow.
She writes about growing up hunkie,
the silent steel mills of Pittsburgh
where her barrelchested father first worked,
then later, as a mechanic in the hangars,
but he never flew the blue distance of sky to homeland.
Before his stroke, we spoke a rough English
peppered with Polish and Ukrainian.
Now it’s too late to translate secrets trapped in his eyes.
A slagheap of words slide down the slopes of despair.

3. We never finish poems, they abandon us.
Or is it the other way around?
New Year’s rain fell in biblical proportions
as if the sky knelt down by the river, opened a vein.
My blood thinned after my father’s death one Christmas,
within a year my mother, then my uncle followed. . .
I just went down, down, down.
Little in the way of poetry surfaced,
I became stone, no coming up for air
as if grief were a river to drown in.
I learned to crawl,
suffered a purgatorial floundering
in the baptismal font called California.
Zgoda, zgoda—peace flooding the roads.
The beginnings of a poem roils and fights for breath,
a steelhead flexing on a thin line, escapes
so that what is stone in me may be absolved. . .


1/23/97 Moon in Leo

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