Sean M. Teaford

Sean M. Teaford currently lives in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He recently received his B.A. in English from Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts. At Endicott he was an editor for the Endicott Review and a poetry reading organizer. Sean was Endicott College’s nominee for the 2003, 2004 and 2005 Ruth Lilly Fellowships. He has spent time as a host at various venues including the Boston National Poetry Month Festival and Barnes and Noble in Peabody, Massachusetts. He has been a featured reader in the Boston and Philadelphia areas. He won the 2004 Veterans for Peace Poetry Contest and has had over 40 poems published (or scheduled to be published) in The Endicott Review, The Mad Poets Review, Poetry Motel, Zillah, The Aurorean, Spare Change, Midstream Magazine, Poetry Church, and others. He will have two poems from his book of poems, Kaddish Diary, about Janusz Korczak and the children he nurtured and protected during the Holocaust, in the revised edition of Charles Fishman’s anthology Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust.

Sean M. Teaford's Introduction to his book Kaddish Diary:

I originally set out reading Korczak’s “Ghetto Diary” for the sake of learning about the history and experiences of the Holocaust. As I read further into this book I came to an astonishing realization that “Ghetto Diary” is not an historic text … it is a script of life’s dark side. This is a page in our story that some may gloss over and feel that they have missed nothing but those of us who have read this page will never forget our life as one; we will always remember the blood with which those words were scribed and we know that the people who were murdered are not a footnote. They are the ones who will forever be our teachers. These poems will never be more than an echo of their whispers. This is not just the story of Janusz Korczak and his children but mine as well as yours; these poems are a “Kaddish Diary.”

Warsaw Epidemic

“I used to write at stops, in a meadow under a pine tree, sitting on a stump. Everything seemed important and if I did not note it down I would forget. An irretrievable loss to humanity.” – Janusz Korczak

The sun peeled the
gray from clouds,
burned their pewter lining.

Mid-day February and
sick students were having
troubled afternoon naps.
Their dry heaves echoed
in the doctor’s ears--he had
nothing to cure a cough,
no antidote for a fever.
The flu flooded the ghetto
like a forgotten fog.

The children lay tightly
curled in their cots--they
lay pale, restlessly immobile.

With every turning groan,
their clothes ruffled like wet paper.

Some orphans cried but
nobody made a sound.
Many prayers are silent.

Below the venting glass
panes, standing on the sleet
encrusted sidewalk, soldiers
laughed while slurping soup--
Korczak’s stomach twisted
as he heard uneaten broth
splash and sizzle in the snow.

The fragrant steam slid
through cracked windows;
he listened as his children
sniffed and moaned. He had
no bowls to scrape with

spoons they did not possess.

Door to Door and Back

“The children are living in constant uncertainty, in fear.” – Janusz Korczak

He slid through the hallway
on the soles of his blistered feet,
ignoring the usual volunteers.
It was the cracks, like veins in
forest green and gray marble,

that reminded the doctor of why
he left every day to collect donations--
like the children the cracks
grew both higher and deeper.

Korczak eased down the stairs.
The reality of the railing was that
each time he leaned on it
for support it became looser--
without reinforcements it would break.
Slightly winded from his descent,
the doctor approached the fragile
Krochmalna Street door and listened.
Once the muffled clicking
of an officer’s shoes passed,
he grasped his thinning coat,
braced himself for the
hypothermic Warsaw winter,
and walked into stinging snow.
Drifts muted his footsteps,
silence enveloped the ghetto--
as soundless as a still clapper.
Not a single ringing coin
echoed in the hush--

each mother had her

own children to sustain.
Cracks in the wall had grown
by the time the doctor returned.
He had nothing to fill them.

Children’s Games

“Everything else has its limits, only brazen shamelessness is limitless ... I wish I had nothing, so that they might see it for themselves, and that would be that.” – Janusz Korczak

Playing jacks was all she would do.
Every day.

Occasionally the doctor
would step on a jack. He
always picked them up
and returned them to
the little girl. Every time,
he noticed her hands seemed
colder than the pointed metal.

She gradually lost them all
despite his efforts to find them.
Small rocks from gutters
proved to be adequate substitutes--
they were easier on feet as well.

When she lost the pink rubber ball,
the only thing for her to do was sleep.
The guard knew what he was doing.

With His Children

“The world knows nothing of many great Poles.”- Janusz Korczak

 Some children high stepped, others
had to be dragged by their armbands,
but most of them, free
from the crucible orphanage walls,
blindly obeyed the doctor.
“They don’t want you, just the children!”
He never replied to the pleading few.
He only broke step twice with his troop--
the first was to make sure the children followed;
the second was to hand a stack of papers
to a coughing soot-haired youth--the
one child in the crowd that day not being
forced to march. Then, the doctor
resumed his pace as caboose of the line.
The ghetto sea thinned as the
hazy box car opened its doors--
for every child that entered the train,
ten people lost their voices.
When the doctor was the only one left
to walk through the sliding doors,
the solitary thing that could be heard
was the ticking of a pocket watch
lying in the corner of the cattle car.
Tick! Tick! Tick!

A Pure Breath

“What matters is that all this did happen.” – Janusz Korczak

The boy pushed away sleep and,
blinking his silent eyes in the candlelight,
he listened to Korczak’s voice.
Echoing above the soldier’s
ash-muffled steps, the only
sound in the camp was

the doctor’s paper cracking
like a stiff flag in a sharp
breeze as he chiseled lead
onto what once was white.
Despite his arthritic fingers,
he had written hundreds of
pages in the ghetto;

but these were the first
curled letters of his Kaddish.
This was his last leaf of script;
the last journal entry which
would never leave his hand.
This was his voice that would rain
down with his body and
rest in the lungs of Treblinka.