A R T S
written by Martin Stepek
For The Polish Ancestors
Truth is, I don’t know if you were good or bad.
Good, I like to think, but were they?
My father said his mother would argue
And throw plates around,
While my aunt said my grandfather
Was politically enlightened for the time.
All of which doesn’t tell us much, it’s true,
But good or ill, they were, and then they weren’t.
Just like that,
Though that took a long painful, lingering time.
How long does it actually take
To die of hunger and exhaustion?
I don’t know, though I know the dates
And the events that made it all happen.
I can figure out more likely
How long it took my grandfather to die of cancer
But would need to take into account
The degree to which
The gut-wrenching anxieties
Amongst all the other emotions
Hastened his death,
Stemming from not knowing if his wife was still alive
Or his three children
Where does a poem go from here
For God’s sake?
I’m trying to figure out how to pay tribute
To people I didn’t know
But in a normal world
I might have been expected to,
And now all they are
Are names and dates and a few photos.
All their dreams for family
For agriculture and farming and harvests
For a multicultural Poland
Free from hatreds, religious animosities
Like being put through a shredder
I sit in some foreign land
Not being the Polish son
I could never actually have been
But can imagine I might have been
And just feel
Give me a second for God’s sake
I’m trying to work this out in a poem
And I can’t get the fingers to type the right words
Because the rights words don’t exist
The words don’t exist
They, whom I ought to have had the chance to know
To critique and laugh with and at
They do not exist
Except as dust in graves
Not even together
But 1700 hundred miles apart
What the fuck can a poem ever do
To express all of that?
Martin’s reading of this poem
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