Christina Pacosz has been writing and publishing prose and poetry for
nearly half a century and has several books of poetry, the most recent,
Greatest Hits, 1975-2001 (Pudding House, 2002). Her work has appeared
recently in I-70 Review, Jane’s Stories III, Women Writing Across
Boundaries and on-line in
Pemmican. Christina has been a small press book bus driver, a waitress, a
library clerk, a carpenter’s apprentice, a poet in the schools in several
states, and a teacher. Born and raised in Detroit, she has lived on both U.S.
coasts, New York City, Alaska and southern Appalachia. For the past ten years
she has been teaching urban Kansas City youth both sides of the state line; she
and her husband of twenty years call Kansas City home.
Los Nas Dla Was Prestroga
"Let Our Loss Be Your Warning"
We are leaving
flowers like messages
in this awful place:
what else to do
except fall down
into a grieving
that will never
And how to live
in the world then?
So it is calendula
for memory, here
with the children's
clothing they never
And here before
hundreds of neatly
with addresses from
every country in Europe
by their owners
in the form
of a single
We should haul
and fill every
from floor to ceiling
We must airdrop
sorrow raining down
until this place
of the awful name
is smothered in
We should be weaving
miles of rosemary garlands
and planting olives
The lilac leaves
are waving, try
The poplar trees
in the wind:
We did not
that our bodies
Remember the ash
how it sifts down
to the desks
where the bureaucrats
are stamping papers.
Originally published in This Is Not a Place to Sing,
West End, 1987; also published in Blood to Remember, American Poets on the Holocaust,
revised, second edition, edited by Charles Ades Fishman, Time Being Books, St.
Louis Missouri, 2007
Message from the Past to the Present
A looming mound
of empty zyklon B canisters
behind glass: to open death
like canned peaches
Behind the tins:
Are there no new tales
we can tell each other?
Artifacts of the age,
the waning twentieth century
on parade, naked
Each time capsule
one of these.
Originally published in This Is Not a Place to Sing,
West End, 1987
On the Propensity of the Human Species to Repeat Error
And if they kill others for being who they are
or where they are
Is this a law of history
or simply, what must change?
― Adrienne Rich
The world is round.
This should tell us
something, this should
have been our first clue.
what goes around
Scientists are studying
a rent in the roof of sky
over the South Pole
right now, but poets
need not adhere
to the caution
of the scientific method.
The message is simple:
what goes around
The battery acid of
has finally reached
the ozone layer,
a membrane, protective
like skin or an amniotic sac,
permeable and destructible.
what we take
will get us
in the end
The Sioux woman's breast
severed from her body
dried into a pouch
what book was that?
Or a chosen people's skin
stretched across the heavens,
shade for us to more easily
read the harsh lesson
Originally published in This Is Not a Place to Sing,
West End, 1987; also appeared in Beyond Lament, Poets of the World Bearing
Witness to the Holocaust, edited by Marguerite M. Striar, Northwestern
University Press, Evanston, Illinois 1998, ISBN 0-8101-1555-7 (cloth), ISBN
Can You Whitewash the Spirit?
Question posed on a church storefront near Niles, Michigan
for Doreen Marie Pacosz Zamesnik
September 13, 1955 - December 3, 2005
Day lily sumac locust bur oak honeysuckle
cottonwood maple wild rose daisy Queen Anne’s lace
black-eyed Susan cedar purple phlox
bull thistle hollyhock sweet pea May apple
A floral litany blooming
in train track ditches across Missouri, Illinois, Michigan.
Thunderheads spiked by lightning.
The patter of rain sharp against glass.
Dark river dirt and eroded river valleys.
Corn plants just a few inches high.
Hay baled into loaves, ready for winter.
The engineer laying on the whistle
murmuring like a mother soothing her child.
Deer crow buzzard grouse hawk wild turkey
little white heron golden eagle
Gang graffiti, elaborate with secret meaning,
modern-day cave art spray painted on bridge abutments,
rail cars, tunnels.
A degraded, desecrated landscape
of abandoned factories and warehouses,
scrap yards, quarries, swaths of herbicide-sprayed
An ailanthus tree, green, defiant
In all the podunk towns seeking a date,
the cornerstones of old brick buildings
with windows gaping —
1854, 1861, 1891, 1907, 1916 —
establishing this wreck, that ruin
as something they could have glanced at
— a going concern then —
along the route they traveled in 1917
out of Leadwood escaping
the burning crosses and gunfire night after night.
The animal fear
of any varmint not wanted and hunted
staining the armpits of their cheap
shirts and serviceable dresses.
Antoni and Ewa Pacosz, nee Cholody
Their children: Mary, Frank, Stanley, Walter, Janina
And a baby girl, name forgotten, dead from Spanish flu.
2. Polish Home
To sila nasza dom
Polski z jednosz towarzystw*
Sighs carry us through
our sororal search and recovery mission,
this pilgrimage on these historied ulicaj.
Each exhale of our sadness and
sorrow becomes the name for the breeze
blowing us down:
Kopernick Gilbert Otis John Kronk
E. Palmer Charest McDougal
Memory scattered like trash
before an elegiac wind.
Here our mother
witnessed pink petals scattering, foreshadowing
her cruel, elemental shattering.
There the grandfather we never knew,
a hit and run in the rainy dark,
dead on arrival at Receiving. We are still grieving.
Nothing remains but ash and ruin.
A black man on a bicycle stops,
leans in the car window and reassures us,
That’s the house, you got the right one!
When he realizes we are not undercover
for Detroit PD or The Detroit News he grins.
We explain we are not
photographing the crack house just past
the vacant lot where they lived
but the mute, eloquent grass.
That was a long time ago he offers.
We smile and nod
of a mutual loss.
where they fell in love that New Year’s Eve
during World War II —
abandoned now —
though the cornerstone pledges this will not be so.
Unity can be a force for reconciliation, we are discovering,
possibly for the first time.
You behind the wheel of the rental car,
me with the map of the city — our beloved, in ruins —
spread out on my lap like a child
we are attempting to resuscitate.
At Mt. Olivet Cemetery we tear at grass
grown over the marble slab
until their names
Mary and Anthony Kostrzewski: Busia Dziadzia
are easily read
though our labor makes it painfully obvious
no one does.
Fingernails black with dirt
we scrub our hands at a nearby spigot
then roam a grassy section for the unmarked baby’s grave —
that little one conceived and born too early
dead too soon
and no money for a headstone —
hoping to hear a small voice calling
“Here, sisters, here!”
Only a flock of silent crows.
A solitary monarch.
The constant roar of planes from the City Airport.
And each other.
You kneel and pray.
I collapse on the grass.
Done in by the miles we’ve traveled, the miles to go.
Unsure of what we want we are ready
for whatever crosses our path:
chicory blooming by the roadside, the belch of exhaust,
sunlight filtered through the leaves of old trees,
drivers shouting Stupid bitch, learn how to drive.
She never did, we recall, but walked the streets in all seasons,
waiting for buses:
Conant Warren Jefferson Woodward Tireman Joy
3. Father’s Day, 1999, St. Hedwig Church, Junction Avenue
(what we always gave him for Christmas and birthdays)
scents the air, while the pelican symbolizing Christ
feeds its young.
St. Hedwig stands at the center of the marble-tiered altar,
arms out, palms up. This saint, I discover later,
is honored on October 16, the date Papa died
surrounded by flames. Mama died December 27,
the same date her firstborn was buried
in that grave we can never find.
Synchronicities are embedded in their stories
like the lead in galena our grandfather, Antoni,
shoveled in Leadwood, Missouri
until Amerika ran him and our kind out.
Communicants in an unwritten liturgy,
we must learn to feed ourselves.
4. Our Lady Help of Christians
Where she graduated from eighth grade.
And years later went to a Sodality dance. The aftermath
like a horrible war, an awful crime — rape — alive
and doing damage in our lives, our souls hostage
to her pain and anguish.
Almost 70 years to the day she clutched her diploma
we stand on the same spot and gape at the statues
of St. Theresa, the Little Flower, and of Mary, the mother.
These icons of her piety,
mute plaster and stone witnesses.
Yes, we remember her, Sophia Anna, so in love with God,
lighting the candles at our feet, kneeling, bowing her head
heavy from shame and sorrow, on fire with grief,
rebelling against all of it.
Sister Fabiana, our sweet, serene guide,
has embraced this place,
this church, the same parish for almost as many decades.
“I thought I was something then, joining the Falcons
wearing gym shorts whenever I found an excuse.
To think — now— I have done this — I would have hooted
with scorn at the thought. But here I am. Proof.”
5. Of the Mystery of Faith, the Strength of Belief
On Belle Isle a half-dozen or more
of the elusive miniature deer,
brown coats sleek in the last rays of the sun,
crop grass by the road near the golf course.
despite the many cars.
Two albino deer gleam
like the iridescent interiors of mussel shells
that once thrived in the nearby river.
Their coloring a testament to the genetic health of the herd.
like a freighter maneuvering the narrow channel.
Building a bridge to the past it’s called.
Being a witness to a living continuum.
The banal phrase life goes on alive in that fisherman
casting his line,
the union retiree picnicking.
The small green fists of bananas ripening
beneath conservatory glass. Cactus blooming.
The bells of the carillon ringing out the hour.
A little girl screaming
in the restroom, enjoying the echoes
of her voice.
We’re looking up! Dolores says, each of us
in our separate lives
turning our gaze skyward
because the view at ground level — ground zero —
is not always good to see.
Our mothers, Italian, Polish
packed hampers of food
and children in tow — us — hopped the bus
to this island of respite
and cool breezes.
Scores of Canada geese
raise goslings on the island now.
No forage farther north
so a new generation
begins here. A necessary twist
to an ancient story.
Not far from where I sit
Emma Goldman’s suitcase waits
in Federico’s basement.
Who will pick it up
and travel to a new world?
* Carved into the cornerstone of the abandoned Dom Polski hall on Junction, near Michigan Avenue in Detroit:
“Reconciliation of unity is our strength. Polish Home of United Associations.”
Published in The Temple, Tsunami, Inc., 2001; Greatest Hits 1975-2001, Pudding House 2002; Poetry Repair.
Weston Bend State Park, Weston, Missouri
“...every day there are more people
everywhere in the world in mourning
for trees, forest, bush, rivers,
animals, lost landscapes...you could
say this is an established part of
the human mind, a layer of grief
always deepening and darkening...”
African Laughter, Doris Lessing
In this place
Water still locked
or a solid sheet
beneath the shadow
of an eroding bluff.
The river has slowed some.
A struggling sandbar gleams white
at the mouth of Bear Creek,
where no bear stops to drink —
The Big Muddy
trapped between the banks
of a thousand-mile ditch
and enough rip-rap
to span the earth —
twice. The path
is pocked with the tracks
of many deer.
I walk their way
the soles of my boots
chinking up with muddy loess.
Each step more difficult
than the last.
Prairie Poets Award, first prize winner, Jane’s Stories. Publication on
www.janespress.org Also published in anthology Jane’s Stories III, Women
Writing Across Boundaries, edited by Glenda Bailey-Mershon and M. Eliza
Hamilton Abegunde, Jane’s Stories Press Foundation, 2006.
Georgia O’Keeffe in South Carolina
A small, brown nut
of a woman, all that
green was too much.
I could dry up, she wrote,
and blow away.
Terre-verte emerald serpentine
moss citron parrot mignonette
pistachio palmetto aquamarine
The lush jungle truth
massif like a mountain range
in her vision, impenetrable
and savage like a hurricane
like a blizzard.
That kind of green.
Relentless, jealous, envious.
Bile and spleen green,
riotous and rank.
Her artistry chlorotic.
The canvas a blank.
Everywhere she cast an eye,
chartreuse and absinthe decadence,
a suffocating abundance. The jewel-green
of beryl, chrysoprase, jade, malachite,
turquoise. The leafy anarchy
of olive, apple, myrtle, yew.
She wanted none of it.
Not holly or ivy,
cypress or spruce.
Not even the mundane grass.
She turned her back
on the rapture
of Irish green foliage
and crushed the shamrock
beneath her shoe. Her heart
demanded a rigorous rhythm
more akin to bone, not a tropical
and lascivious alchemy.
Prickly pear on the path
was one more green and terrible hue,
not an omen auguring home.
Published in Kaleidoscope of Carolina, A Journal of Writings By Women,
a family buries
their nine-year old son
in the garden
among the eggplant
and sweet pepper
Shrapnel in his stomach
The U.S. Marine patrol
on the other side
of the clay wall
A bright red cascade
Here a raucous crow
in the silk tree
calls and from up the bluff
first one then another
A murder of crows
of an avian rosary
Until the last
raises its voice
and all sound dies
at The HyperTexts, Time Garden and kritya since the beginning of
the Iraq War in 2003.
For a Small Girl Staring
How to tell
you this is the tree
will grow into
are a straight stick now
and I am
Your body is
reading my body
and you are
clutching your Lilliputian suit
towel my thighs dry.
soft and spongy
abundant at last,
toward you like bells
end, the end. You
enough. But this is the song
anatomy sings, little one
but to join
and love it,
Calyx, Summer 1991, Volume 13, no. 2.
Letter from Haiti to the Dead
for Walter and Sophia
Who are always with us. Just beyond a curtain of belief/disbelief. Beyond reach of a hand certainly.
I miss you in this hot country, this troubled island in a blue sea where I am trying to see. What do I
understand with my northern eyes I must peel like a grapefruit. Then the juicy flesh between my teeth.
I want to tell you the story of legendary breadfruit growing plump, green loaves in this difficult city.
I want to whisper of mangoes, ripe, and sorrow, too. Here backbone and belly do a
Two boys stand barefoot in a dirt courtyard, slippery and wet from a Sunday bath. Where does poetry come
from, all gardens and green growth, but the dirt, which is lost to the sea without strong roots?
Dirt, poetry, gardens. These you gave me.
Never mind the sweet scent of incense you said, breathe the sewer stench until the whole world grows holy and
all people are fed.
I am far from the northern woods where your ashes are scattered but what does distance matter?
Dirt is dirt. In that glacier-licked land the sun stirs the first soup of spring. Here it bakes everything.
Rest first teachers and friends, while I root my heart in the earth and breathe the sandalwood
permeating the street.