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Who will speak
He didn't know about the Rock of Ages
or bringing in the sheaves or Jacob's ladder
or gathering at the beautiful river
that flows beneath the throne of God.
He'd never heard of the Baltimore Catechism
either, and didn't know the purpose of life
was to love and honor and serve God.
He'd been to the village church as a boy
in Poland, and knew he was Catholic
because his mother and father were buried
in a cemetery under wooden crosses.
His sister Catherine was buried there too.
The day their mother died Catherine took
to the kitchen corner where the stove sat,
and cried. She wouldn't eat or drink, just cried
until she died there, died of a broken heart.
She was three or four years old, he was five.
What he knew about the nature of God
and religion came from the sermons
the priests told at mass, and this got mixed up
with his own life. He knew living was hard,
and that even children are meant to suffer.
Sometimes, when he was drinking he'd ask,
"Didn't God send his own son here to suffer?"
My father believed we are here to lift logs
that can't be lifted, to hammer steel nails
so bent they crack when we hit them.
In the slave labor camps in Germany,
He'd seen men try the impossible and fail.
He believed life is hard, and we should
help each other. If you see someone
on a cross, his weight pulling him down
and breaking his muscles, you should try
to lift him, even if only for a minute,
even though you know lifting won't save him.
From Lightning and Ashes by John Guzlowski, published by
Steel Toe Books, Kentucky, USA, 2007.
WHAT MY FATHER BELIEVED
I knew the writing was important for both my parents and
for their friends and relatives who couldn't tell their own
stories. Writing, I sometimes felt that I was writing for all
those forgotten, voiceless refugees, DPs [Displaced Persons],
and survivors [of the Holocaust] whom the last century
~ John Guzlowski, Interview with Maureen Doallas, October 2014.
John Guzlowski is arguably the most accomplished Polish-
American poet on the contemporary scene, a writer who will
figure prominently in any history of Polish-American
literature; and Lightning and Ashes firmly establishes
Guzlowski's artistic standing not just in Polonia but in the
world of American letters. A proper appreciation of
Guzlowski's vision and achievement, however, requires
some biographical background.
~ Thomas Napierkowski, Polish American Studies, Spring 2008.
John Guzlowski writes in a concise and naturalistic language.
His poems convey his parents’ voices with great clarity. He
often employs strong words to emphasize the inhuman and
primitive conditions of the war and the German slave labor
camps. He softens the horrible scenes with the warm
depictions of his mother, and he contrasts German terror
with his father’s helplessness, and his dreams of pigeons,
“the birds without chains.”
~ Anna Gąsienica-Byrcyn, the Sarmatian Review, January 2008.
JOHN GUZLOWSKI is
a Polish-American poet,
short story writer,
Following World War
II, he and his family
came to the USA in
1951 as Displaced
After attending the
University of Illinois,
Chicago, he completed
his doctorate in
American Literature at
Indiana. In 2005, he
retired from the
University where he
and poetry writing.
His poetry collections
Language of Mules
Winter of War:
and Lightning and
The Illinois Arts
Award (2001) and
the Polish American
Creative Arts Award
for his writing and
contribution to Polish
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