Christina Pacosz



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.



Auschwitz: Oswiecim

Los Nas Dla Was Prestroga
"Let Our Loss Be Your Warning"
Majdanek Monument

We are leaving
flowers like messages
in this awful place:

what else to do
except fall down
with weeping
into a grieving
that will never
be done.

And how to live
in the world then?

So it is calendula
for memory, here
with the children's
clothing they never
outgrew.

And here before
hundreds of neatly
lettered suitcases
with addresses from
every country in Europe
never claimed
by their owners
we leave
our innocence
in the form
of a single
white daisy.

We should haul
larkspur by
the truckload
and fill every
exhibit room
from floor to ceiling
with levity
with light.

We must airdrop
hyacinth purple
sorrow raining down
until this place
of the awful name
is smothered in
fragrance.

We should be weaving
miles of rosemary garlands
for remembrance
and planting olives
for peace.

The lilac leaves
are waving, try
to imagine
them blooming.

The poplar trees
are voices
in the wind:

We did not
consent
that our bodies
be used
as weapons.

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:
corporate profit.

Are there no new tales
we can tell each other?

Artifacts of the age,
the waning twentieth century
on parade, naked
and exhausted.

Each time capsule
should include
one of these.

Such eloquent
refuse.

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
comes 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
comes around

The battery acid of
Plato's Republic
has finally reached
the ozone layer,
a membrane, protective
like skin or an amniotic sac,
permeable and destructible.

what we take
for granted
will get us
in the end

The Sioux woman's breast
severed from her body
dried into a pouch
for tobacco,
what book was that?

Or a chosen people's skin
stretched across the heavens,
shade for us to more easily
read the harsh lesson
of history.

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 0-8101-1556-5 (paper).



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


1.

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
railroad right-of-ways.

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

                  Jednosci zgoda
                  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
in recognition
of a mutual loss.

Dom Polski
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

Old Spice
(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
reverberating
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.
So trusting
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.

Memory looms
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
spring arrives
dun-colored, bedraggled.
Water still locked
in limestone
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
all extinct.
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.

January, 2003, Prairie Poets Award, first prize winner, Jane’s Stories. Publication on web page, 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   lime
pistachio   palmetto   aquamarine
The lush jungle truth
overpowering.
 
Green rising  
massif like a mountain range
in her vision, impenetrable
and savage like a hurricane
raging.
 
Green blinding
like a blizzard.
That kind of green.
Relentless, jealous, envious.
Bile and spleen green,
 
riotous and rank.
Dangerous green.
Her artistry chlorotic.
The canvas a blank.
Everywhere she cast an eye,
 
chartreuse and absinthe decadence,
a suffocating abundance. The jewel-green patina
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, Spring/Summer 1994.




Unspeakable
              
In Fallujah
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
of bougainvillea

Here a raucous crow
in the silk tree
calls and from up the bluff
first one then another
answers
A murder of crows
black beads
of an avian rosary
Until the last
audible crow
raises its voice
and all sound dies

Published on-line 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
your body will grow into
though you are a straight stick now
and I am dreaming
of falling down, decaying
slowly into duff. 

Your body is reading my body
and you are open‑mouthed
clutching your Lilliputian suit
while I towel my thighs dry.
My flesh, soft and spongy
yours hard, early fruit.

My breasts, abundant at last,
are tipping toward you like bells
tolling, the end, the end.  You
have seen enough. But this is the song
female anatomy sings, little one
leaving you no choice

but to join in
and love it, love it.
No choice
but begin.

Published in 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 scraping dance.

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.