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Caesarian

I

She was young once,
and knew life was short
and that what she did
with the consumptive boy
from Poznan did not matter.
They made love in the dark
among the rushes, his body

thin as a worm
saying,
I am here, take my past,
dream of me when I am dead.

She could hear nothing,
see nothing, think only
that the grave he walked into
did not speak to her.

She turned from it
the way a woman will turn
from her lover when she
has found peace, the center
of silence in the movement
of flesh and the slow
swelling release of blood
from the walls of the vagina.

II

Later, she came back
to the farm, to the cows
moving slowly on the flat
gray plain as they searched
for grass in the October rain,
came back to the preparations
she would have to make.

Her fear grew heavier,
like a fat uncle who feeds
on all she has to offer
until finally all belongs
to him and she is left,
a fear-starved child
whose bones pray for a visit
of flesh while fearing
that he will ask
for the bones as well.

At night in the kitchen
her fingers lay empty
on the table. The boy
was gone. She felt
the heat of his fingers
along her ribs
the smell
of his breath on her neck,
of his death on her breasts.

This was not madness.
She had been mad before,
felt objects change
their position, their shape,

the stove from there
move here, the floor
become a thing of breath.

III

Often in church, she sat
in silence, without shame,
her face turned from the altar.
She knew there were things
that happened that
were no one's fault.

She was the feast of marzipani,
soup made from duck's blood,
a lamb roasted slowly
and with great care
for King Sobieski
or Pan Pilsudski
or the baby Jesus.

They had no answer
for the pain. It gripped
her chest the way a cruel man
grips and shakes the child he loves.

IV

She thinks the final circle
around her grave will be small,
her aunt from Lvov,
her sister, and her mother
if they are still alive.

The painit is so strong
she cannot feel the doctor's
scissors nor hear his words.
She thinks he speaks
the language of mules.

©1999 John Guzlowski
Note: "Caesarian" appeared originally in the Manhattan Review. This poem is somewhat different from the others because it doesn't deal directly with the experiences of John's parents. It comes from a series of stories his father told about friends of his who tried to get back to Poland after the war. Many of them were stopped at the border by partisans or Russian troops; some of the ones who did get back couldn't fit back in because they had been broken in various ways by their experiences in Germany.

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