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

She wasn’t 

Or his three children

They were.

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

Narrow-minded leaders

Ripped apart

Like being put through a shredder

And me

I sit in some foreign land

Called home

Not being the Polish son

I could never actually have been

But can imagine I might have been

And just feel

Feel what?

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 love

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?

Back to Introduction page

Martin’s reading of this poem


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