On My 64th Birthday I Think of Dostoevsky
He had no 64th birthday, his death
put a stop to that—a late winter’s day,
a dropped pen holder he couldn’t pick up,
an argument over payment for some work,
the usual trivia triggering the blood
spilling out of his lungs, into his throat
and mouth, his wife Anna screaming,
pleading with him to stop the red tide
vomiting past his teeth and lips, but how
could he? He knew what he knew.
There is no cure for death.
It stopped when it was ready to stop.
And then there was just her weeping
begging for some hope, some words
that would tell her he was still there
gaining his strength in the darkness.
At a Conference on “The Road and the City:
Mobility and Stasis in the Twentieth Century”
Somebody reads a paper about Primo Levi,
The Holocaust as just another road trip:
The dying road of the cattle cars and rail lines
That led to Auschwitz, the dead city of the 20th
Century where everything we learn about freedom
Vanishes in snow and pain and gray smoke;
And he tells us Levi’s death on the stairs
In Turin, his suicide’s hands reaching
Like the wings of a phoenix for the sky,
Pays homage as only a great artist can
To James Joyce’s dream of Dedalus’s flight
Into a world beyond the poor Mick’s world
Of bogs and lime and ice-forming crystals
On the graves of all those who don’t seek
The road that leads to the final city we dream of.
And I turn away into silence, to my own graves,
Those of my father and mother who came
With nothing and left with nothing, watched
Their roads disappear like the smoke from the bodies
Left in the roads and on the sides of the roads
By those who drove past in armored cars and tanks
Heading for the Holy City on the Hill
Where their own graves waited for them like
Children hungry for their mother’s touch
And the happy sound of their father’s voice.
John Guzlowski's writing appears in Rattle, North American Review, and other journals. Echoes of Tattered Tongues, his memoir about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany, won the Benjamin Franklin Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer/Montaigne Award. He is the author of three novels and a columnist for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy.