Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Enemy by Elisabeth Murawski

Elisabeth Murawski has allowed me to republish her poem "The Enemy" here at Writing the Polish Diaspora.  The poem originally appeared in The Hudson Review.

Ms. Murawski is the author of Zorba’s Daughter, which received the May Swenson Poetry Award, Moon and Mercury, and two chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in The Yale Review, FIELD, The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Hudson Review, et al. A native of Chicago, she currently resides in Alexandria, VA.

The title poem from Zorba's Daughter was reprinted here.  To read it, just click here.

The Enemy

Pogo warned, brave as an astronaut, the enemy’s
us. Promptly, we forgot the enemy.

Swayed by the Sousa band, Daddy lied about
his age, proudly fought the enemy.

The abused dissociate, fly high above
the pervert’s touch. Unsought, the enemy.

The little girl feared her body. An occasion
of sin, she was taught. The enemy.

Without David’s star, there’s no way of knowing
who’s the enemy, thought the enemy.

Survivors of wars often die in cars that swerve,
on narrow stairs. Like dry-rot, the enemy.

Today’s feudal lords pull their dark strings
in boardrooms. Gordian, their knot: the enemy.

Booth took a bullet in the neck, no summer
patriot, having shot the enemy.

Happy they who carpet bomb and barrel bomb
to bring to nought the enemy.

They hung Matt Shepard on a barbed wire fence,
draped like an afterthought: the enemy.

The poet dived deeply into the swamp,                     
in terza rima wrought the enemy.

Train joyride: flying yellow rape fields;
wolves. The wolves are not the enemy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

John Grabski's Sugar to Rust

If you haven't read John Grabski's short and flash fiction you're in for a treat.

His voice is pure, straightforward, and filled with magic combinations of words that will stop you and keep you reading at the same time.  And reading his stories, you'll wonder why no one has ever written about the things he writes about.  If you have a couple of hours, check out his website GRABSKI.  It's filled with stories that will keep you reading and looking for more.  

His work has appeared in Boston Accents, Change-Seven Magazine, The Tishman Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Unbroken Journal, Eclectica Literary Mag, Animal Literary Mag, The Harpoon Review, Ash & Bones, Crack the Spine, Rope & Wire, Frontier Tales, Cyclamens & Swords, Foliate Oak Literary Mag, Rocky Mountain Revival and a host of others. He holds an MBA with distinction from the University of Liverpool and is an alum of Harvard Business School. 

You can find his published work at or reach him on twitter @GrabskiJohn when he's not writing or riding his horse​.

Sugar to Rust
(First Published in Jan 2017 edition of The Harpoon Review)

Winter. You are eighty-four:
I call you a bastard but long after your gentle side had disappeared, owing to two decades of vodka. Now you sit, surrounded by pillows and stare through the only window that matters. That single pane that faces the bird feeder, empty and swinging alone. It’s the only sign of life in this long forsaken place. This pine board box where you spent your childhood—your beloved sugar shack.
A mirror hangs, smudged and crooked, on the adjacent wall and reflects your shrunken face—your beard, tangled and gray. On the floor lies this week’s USA Today. Its curled pages marred with burns—a yellow, ashen hue. The day is empty. No news worth reading and the birds have come and gone. In a surly voice you instruct me to cancel the subscription. There won’t be unpaid bills when your day comes.
Autumn, a decade before:
You smile from your wheelchair but only when you feel there is no other choice. At your granddaughter’s wedding, you ask the groom between shots of whisky, “What kind of man starts a family with a part time job?” You worked two shifts and weekends to boot and that was before you had married—hauling booze from Long Island to New Bedford, under straw in a cabbage truck.
Six months prior, sometime in May, Dorothy, your wife of fifty-four years collapses at breakfast without warning—her death, followed by your brother and son. After her funeral, two months pass before you utter a word. When you call for a meeting over dinner, your children breathe a sigh of relief—a sign that you’re coming around. But it’s only to declare your decision to sell the house, and your intentions to move to the sugar shack just out of town. You close with instructions for a weekly delivery of bologna, cigarettes and booze. When you finish, you depart without saying goodbye.

Autumn, the year you turn sixty-four:
Halloween, 1960, the year the doctor took your leg. “Have you read Moby Dick?” you ask. You stare out the hospital window and watch children in costumes skip down the street. A tear wanders down your cheek. “My babies, my babies, my world,” you say.

Summer. You are fifty-four:
It is early evening in June and there is a party in the house that you bought for your aging Mother. You are surrounded by sons, daughters, grandchildren and sisters. With coffee in hand, you interrupt with your usual toast. “Look to each other, my beautiful children. Be true and kind and gentle. And when hardships come, and they inevitably will, when waves are cresting the bow, rise up and declare together, I am the whale, I am Ishmael, and this is my sea.”

Fall. You are forty-six:
You work two jobs and bring fish home from the cannery on Fridays. You promise Dorothy that a raise is around the bend. She smiles, and says it was never about money. A loving home is all she needs. You bite your lip and nod. For love you supply in abundance, expecting nothing but her smile in return.

Winter. You are thirty-nine:
Christmas Eve you insist upon the role of Santa. Just before midnight, you dance in the snow and shake bells beneath the children’s windows. You lob snow balls that land with a thump on the roof—no doubt Donner and Blitzen. Afterwards you wolf down a tray of cookies, have a nightcap and go to bed. But not before spending time on your knees, giving thanks for your blessings and the day ahead.

October. You are twenty-nine:
The last leaves of autumn float down from the trees as you return home from the cannery astride a beat up 1200cc Indian motorcycle. The low rumble of the engine brings Dorothy to the porch and when you tell her the price she pelts you with a dozen potatoes. A volley of banter ensues and you are ashamed but lost for the reason why. It was the first time you’d ever bought a gift for yourself.
After dinner in silence, with your eyes aglow, you unbutton your shirt. Dorothy casts a confounded look. On your chest, above your heart, you uncover a tattoo. The word, ‘DOT’ beneath the arc of a rising sun. Dorothy smiles and shakes her head. It marks the end of the only cross words that you’ll ever have between you.

Spring. You are twenty:
You twitch and there is a pit in your stomach but you summon the courage to lift her veil. There is the scent of hyacinths as you kiss her hand, and then her lips. You honeymoon at the Seaport Hotel a mile down the road, and spend the next two days making plans for a home, your first Thanksgiving and names of children to come.

Summer. You are nineteen:
You arrive at the beach six hours early. You gather driftwood and dried leaves to build a fire to steam clams that you dug from the sand the morning before. You reach to feel for the silver band that pricks your thigh through the pocket of your dungarees. When Dorothy arrives, you slip off your shoes and walk to the edge of the sea, hand in hand. The froth encircles your ankles in rhythm with the ebbing tide. With the sun behind you, you ask her to marry.
You cannot blame her for the moment it takes to decide. She, a young woman of eighteen, bears the weight of your dubious ways: the untoward liquor runs, the unintended scuffle with neighbors on the fourth of July, and the time you took the ill-witted swipe at your father. But you raise your chin, bright with promise—confident any bad days in life were long since left behind you.

Monday, July 3, 2017

On the Road, Hijacked by Memory

If you've been reading my poems, you'll know that so much of what I'm interested in is what's in our memories and how we can use what's there in our poetry and fiction and essay.

Andrena Zawinski, one of my favorite poets, has been thinking about memory too, and I'm pleased to be able to post one of her recent poems here.

It's called "On the Road, Hijacked by Memory," and it originally appeared in Bloodroot Literary Magazine.


We draw our strength from the very despair 
in which we have been forced to live...”––Cesar Chavez

Riding another lazy Sunday afternoon 
along the sun-drenched blacktop stretch 
coasting through California’s Central Valley, 
its pastures peppered by slaughterhouse steer, 
its fields dense with migrants––some sporting 
United Farm Worker eagles on caps, all of them
packed into growers’ whitewashed school buses,
all of them off to bend and hoe, chop and prune,
pick and haul Ag Giants nuts and roots and fruits
for the Walmart Super Centers and Taco Bells.

In the car’s backseat, church onion domes
crop up inside my head, their rows of candles
flickering again for all my dead:
            For the Ukrainian grandfather, face reddened
            from the heat of hot steel, muscles knotted
            and clothes grimy, who choked to death 
            struggling with words in a strange tongue, 
            lungs dense in smoke and soot, air and water fouled 
            forging Pittsburgh steel for the Carnegies.
            For the Slovak one who carried United Mine Worker     
            protest pickets to the coal bosses instead of pick and shovel 
            down into the pitch dark shafts of the Windber mine,     
            who survived a cave-in, but not being robbed 
            by the company store and a black lung death.
            For my mother, after the assembly line night shift 
            at Federal Enamel inspecting pots and pans 
            for dimples and blisters, one hand at the small of her      
            aching back bent over the Amana. the other
            scrambling eggs then scooting my brother and me
            off to school neatly dressed with full bellies.

            For my father at Pressed Steel welding railroad cars 
            in the McKees Rocks Bottoms, tagged Cossack 
            and taunted to jump and spin and kick,  
            who got lost in a bottle of vodka and thorazine, 
             another blue collar chasing a middle-class dream.

But the range here today along this California stretch
runs ragged in rain shadow and a watery-eyed sky
looming above tract homes and trailer camp estates, 
flashy billboards boasting sprouting condos,
commercial real estate for Nestles’ Purina works,
another Chrysler-Jeep dealership, new strip mall
saddling up to wheat and oats and alfalfa,
the Delta’s humpback hills carpeted green in spring––
everything predictable, unlike this day trip, hijacked
by memory to detour along a bumpy backroad,
my own breath now so heavy-laden,
my every muscle aching.


Andrena Zawinski’s latest poetry collection, Landings, is from Kelsay Books (Hemet, CA). She has published two previous full collections of poetry: Something About (Blue Light Press, San Francisco, CA), a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award recipient, and Traveling in Reflected Light (Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, O), a Kenneth Patchen competition winner. She has also authored four chapbooks and is editor of Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry. Her poems have received accolades for free verse, form, lyricism, spirituality, and social concern. She founded and runs the San Francisco Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and is Features Editor at

In LandingsZawinski presents poems that embrace, in original ways and with deep-rooted emotional power, the worldwide condition of women, immigrants, and the working class alongside an abiding reverence for the natural world. 

Of this work, Jan Beatty says Zawinski is the necessary voice of the truth teller, speaking trouble among the beauty. Rebecca Foust lauds the collection as a book that offers wisdom and solace and one you will take comfort in reading again and again. Carolyne Wright goes on to say in these Landings, she embraces the richness of human experience and praises the courage of those who go on ‘living as if they could do anything.

If you want to read some other poems by Andrena Zawinski that have appeared here at Writing the Polish Diaspora, please click on the following titles: Something About and Triptych of Three Pines.

Landings is available at Amazon, and through Andrena Zawinski at

Monday, June 5, 2017

Poems by Casimir Wojciech

I first met Casimir Wojciech on twitter and was immediately taken by his poetry.  He's a third generation Polish-American whose work has been featured at the Library of Congress and in various magazines here and abroad.
He currently resides in the Arizona desert where he works as a contracted painter. 

You can find him on Twitter at @caswojciech.

Here are some of his poems:

(I became a poet because the night,
wine, women and the eyes always
say it first)

what is more beautiful than
this desert at night?
window open, this warm air
purines the parts of me
I hide from my tongue.

I can sit here with the night, a radio,
a bottle of wine and watch
the stars do what we try.

wish dreams: as often as you can without going insane.


if someone should ask you about
the mind of this man, tell them
i felt most alive next to rivers

we sweat on bus stop bnches discussing 
the science of walking mountains and

tell your god to remind my god that we are all tired

the sun is a kenneled hound, just
another star that will explode like a
heart too near to what it cannot take back

time slowly becomes a promise we break
with that piece of the Self
we talk to
on the other side


what time has gleaned from our faces, that
you canot get it back provides
the greatest relief.  (stoke
the other side
our music pouring
softly without us)
the rose falling to its seed
again, will you tell me
with smoke --
who could disagree with
10,000 monarchs flopping
from rootstalk to milkweek

shall i draw my face a flooded basement, a sawdust moon 
an empty bus stop

this music of daylight holding mountains

it looks like rain in your hair


poetry is the ashes of midnight i kiss
with the blade of sorrow

poetry is a prophetic river

poetry is the burning city asking at what bus stop
did you laughing cathedrals leave their body

poetry is the ocean's wave titled upon your deserted breath

poetry is the stilts you use to look at forever with hush'd lips

poetry is an IOU from humming birds who forgot you are 
great at making love

poetry is the aura of your shoe laces

poetry is the mask of past lives' lovers
telling your heart to ripple every morning
you awaken wearing a stranger's skin

poetry is the universe's flippant response to realizing
there's no distance between love and letting go

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Call for Submissions: Catholic Poetry

I just received this in the mail today and thought I would share it:

Call for submissions -- new poetry journal -- Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry

We will be reading poetry for our first annual issue (spring 2017). 

Presence, a new journal planned for annual print publication each spring, is an independent journal affiliated with the Department of English, Caldwell University, Caldwell, NJ, and edited by Mary Ann B. Miller, editor of the anthology, St. Peter's B-list: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints (Ave Maria, 2014). Advisory Board members are Susanne Paola Antonetta, William Baer, Paul Contino, Dana Gioia, Paul Mariani, Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, and Judith Valente. We publish poems informed by the Catholic faith on the basis of their artistic excellence, rather than on the basis of the author's professed creed or because the subject matter is explicitly Catholic. We encourage contributors to refer to our mission statement when selecting poems for submission.

Please send up to five unpublished poems, no more than three pages in length, in a single Word file, Times New Roman font (12-point). Be sure that your name, mailing address, phone number, and email address appear at the top of every page of the file. The first page of the file should be a short cover letter in which you clearly state your intention to be published in the journal and provide a brief bio, as outlined on our website. Please attach the file to an email to the editor at mmillerATcaldwellDOTedu with the following subject line: "Submit poems to Presence."

Our mission statement and further submission guidelines may be found on


Mary Ann Miller, Ph.D.
Dept. of English
Caldwell University
120 Bloomfield Avenue
Caldwell, NJ 07006
(973) 618-3454 Fax (973) 618-3375

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Martyrdom by John Minczeski

Polish-American poet John Minczeski was recently featured in the New Yorker magazine. John's poems have appeared in various publications.  His recent book Letter to Serafin speaks of his love of Poland and his Polish ancestors.  My review and a sample poem can be found by clicking this link.  

You can hear John read the poem at the New Yorker site.  

The martyr does not die. He lives to create more like him.The conscience lives behind an anonymous windowIn tangletown. It is difficult to find the right one.You call and call and there is no answer. But neverA busy signal. The martyrs climb one sideOf a mountain and descend the other. It is a worldFull of dangers, hidden crevasses, avalanches,And so overwhelmingly beautiful they sometimesWish they could die right there. They endureHardship and posthumous fameWith its bitter aftertaste, the feeling of lookingAlmost into infinity, which leaves them giddy,As if drunk. They carry miles of rope for their descents.So many martyrs. So much rope. So muchClimbing and descending. Though very hard, their workGoes on. The conscience, meanwhile, cooks an egg.It brushes water on a hard crust and fries it in a skillet,Making it chewable. It may go to market later today,but then again it may wait until tomorrow.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Proof by Karina Borowicz

All poets are teachers, and the best poets are the ones who have learned to teach in such a way that we learn from them with joy and ease and certainty.

Karina Borowicz is this kind of teacher.

Reading her poems I feel that I am learning about the world, both the little things and the big things, in such a way that I will be transformed by her lessons and that I will carry these lessons to others, and they will feel the joy I felt.  

Here are a couple of her poems, so that you'll be able to see what I mean.  


Hammer and hacksaw, vise and screwdriver have the hard gaze
and slow heartbeat of reptiles.  I am visiting the hardware store

with my father.  In a wooden drawer stained by dirty fingers
a sea of nails rolls back and forth.  The bare light bulb

burning in the middle of the ceiling cuts deep shadows
in the men's faces, silent men that smell of sawdust and kerosene,

boiled cabbage and cigarettes.  When I furtively pick up a crested little tool
its claws bite my palm.  The neighborhood's only color TV glows neon

in the dark room behind the register.  Cowboys are fighting at the bar,
chairs are crashing, the soundtrack builds ominously.

School for the Blind 
Photo Exhibit at the Central House of Artists, Moscow

A boy, his scalp covered
with white stubble, his face up close,
all sharp bone, all light
and shadow.  In the hollows 
of his eyes, darkness runs
too deep to give anything back.

Is it right to gaze so freely
at the blind?  My shame
and my tenderness are beating 
together.  I look away,
then step closer.

Back in the street I'm greedy
for faces.  Only these carry with them
a different ligh, not time-stopped.
These mouths move, these eyes
gaze back, these faces
flicker in the human breeze
as we stream over the sidewalk.
The cobalt beginnings of hair barely visible
on a man's shaven chin.  An old woman
whose eyebrows have worn down
to puckered skin.  Ears, some red,
some folded, or wing-like.  Beneath this angry
winter sky, there's nothing as beautiful
as our bare, imperfect faces.

Yet the photograph stays with me
like the tightened, white line
of a scar.  A negative after-image
that glows with otherworldly perfection.  

Karina Borowicz's book Proof is available at Amazon.  


Karina Borowicz was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She earned a BA in history and Russian from the University of Massachusetts and an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. Borowicz spent five years teaching English in Russia and Lithuania, and has translated poetry from Russian and French. Her first collection of poetry, The Bees Are Waiting (2012), won the Marick Press Poetry Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Poetry, the First Horizon Award, and was named a Must-Read by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Her second book, Proof (2014), won the Codhill Poetry Award and was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Nightboat Press Poetry Prize. Borowicz lives with her family in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.