Poetry Friday: Paul B. Janeczko

Today I am happy to feature a poem from Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, the CYBILS Poetrywinner for 2011. Paul says, “This is my favorite poem from Requiem because it is about redemption, which is an important theme with me.”

Sara Engel/37124

I was lucky,
I was told,
to work indoors
in the bundles room,
small and airless,
two barred windows near the ceiling.
Three girls looked up when I walked in.
Two mumbled their names,
the third looked down.
Each had a bundle opened
on the floor before her,
like chaotic picnics.

Other bundles were piled along a wall,
each different.
One wrapped in a yellow-and-blue bedspread.
A white tablecloth, ringed with red tulips.
A child’s pink blanket,
small with a smooth satin edge.
Our job was to sort and pick
through one bundle a day.
To sort and pick
through our history each day.

The tall girl fetched a bundle
and laid it before me.
When I untied the knot,
the blue quilt quickly revealed
the small parts of people’s lives.

I pictured
walking through apartments of displaced Jews,
boisterous, haughty,
their boots loud and careless
in the gloom of ghosts.
Laughter as they laid a blanket
or tablecloth on the floor
and dumped the contents
of drawers from dressing table and bureau,
desk and sewing-room cabinet.
toeing back with booted foot
anything that rolled away.
Tying the corners
lugging the bundles
with the disregard of a fruit merchant
taking out the trash
to the truck in the street.
To come here.

Embarrassed,
ashamed
to peek
through cracks in the shutter
at the pieces of lives
spread before me.
Piles for cloth and thread.
Cotton and silk put aside.
Pins and needles and scissors.
A thimble worn smooth
A manicure set with dull ivory handles.
A tortoiseshell hand mirror.
Eyeglasses.
A small yellow envelope
with Hana written on the front
in a graceful hand.
Inside, a lock of raven hair.

Worst were the photographs.
Generations of families looking at me.
Nameless men and women
Children, elders.
(Would I see someone I knew?
The thought was a snake
in my stomach.)
Bound by blood
now held together in albums
or in small piles tied with ribbon.

the work is easy, I was told.
But soon defeated by my wretched sadness
I chose absolution of the cold
where I stacked wood
or I lugged stone
until m fingers bled.

My Wednesday Interview with Paul is HERE. Paul Janeczko is available for school visits and Skype visits. You can find more information about visits on his website: www.paulbjaneczko.com.”

Poetry Friday is rounded up at Gotta Book. Thanks,Greg.

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4 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Paul B. Janeczko

  1. I have most of Janeczko’s anthologies & just bought this one although I still haven’t opened it. The poem reminds me of the time I visited the Holocaust museum & crossed the bridge where instead of water there were shoes, hundreds of shoes. It was my saddest moment there. & like the poem, focus on the everyday is more tragic than anything else to me. Thanks for sharing this Jone. It is a lovely remembrance poem.

  2. When my oldest was homeschooled, I took him to both the Titanic and the Pompeii exhibits. In each of those exhibits it was the small, everyday, personal artifacts that really affected us because they gave us a way to relate directly to the people involved in the tragedy.
    This looks like a really moving book.

  3. This is such a beautiful collection…haunting poems. Thank you for the interview as well, I always love reading about the writing lives of writers and poets. He wakes at 4:30…whew!

  4. Hi, what a moving poem. Like Linda, I was also reminded of the time that I visited the Mauthausen Camp in Vienna. These lines struck me as particularly reminiscent of that unforgettable experience:

    “I pictured
    walking through apartments of displaced Jews,
    boisterous, haughty,
    their boots loud and careless
    in the gloom of ghosts.”

    We should never forget. 🙂 I really have to borrow this book from our library soon. I am sooo intrigued.

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