Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One left standing

I wrote this poem while thinking about some neighbours I used to have, two middle-aged women from Croatia. One of the women had recently suffered a stroke, and the other, her sister, was afflicted with a badly twisted leg. They both smoked like chimneys, and they looked much older than they were-- ancient, really. One day, one of the women told me the story of how all the men in her home town had been taken and shot; her husband, her son, everyone. The story has haunted me ever since. I don't think this poem is done, or that I'm done honouring them and what they lived through. But it's a first attempt at processing something really difficult.

One left standing

Oh how this wind does cut me
to the bone, stripping the moisture
cruelly from my eyes, as I'm left standing
on this barren ridge, remembering
the home we used to have.

If I can squint enough
to see the hills, those cold, blue shapes
along the horizon, I’m staring into lands
we used to farm, turning the soil
by hand, that deep rich loam.

I remember the warm earth
of your eyes, and all those times that we
worked side by side; the callus of
your hands, thickened by toil, the richness
of the song you rumbled then.

Oh, when they came and tore you
from my life, and made you lie face-down
upon the ground, the sound of shots
ran wicked through my head;
I would erase that day, if I could now.

Instead, I walk this ridge
and think of you, and all the men
once stolen, that cold day; we all
are women, now, our family, but you
walk with us, shadows evermore.


Rachel Westfall
March 25, 2009

14 comments:

Lisa said...

beautiful rachel- haunting, truthful x

Woman in a Window said...

haunting and beyond reason, isn't it? but yet, perhaps, nothing can ever do that kind of loss justice. perhaps some things are beyond words. know what I mean?

Lirio said...

beautifully done rachel
an honor to them

christopher said...

You're right that it needs work. It's not quite Rachel yet. Your poems usually leave me a little breathless and this one doesn't quite reach that. I am happy you are not done yet. The story is solid, of course and your poem looks to be 98%. Here's my reply.

The Way It Ends

I kneel here on top
of the low dirt pile we dug
out of that grave you
ordered us to dig.

I hear your feet shuffle on.
My older brother's
twisted, fallen in.
Your pistol shot rings my ears.

I can tell you've stepped
behind me, hear the click
as you check your heated gun.
God damn you to Hell!

Karen said...

What unimaginable horror. How do people go on after something like that? You've really captured her memories, especially with the rumble of his voice, the callused hand, the earth-dark eyes.

nollyposh said...

a beautiful tribute <3

Faith said...

Such a hard poem to write. Here were I live there were quite a few families from Bosnia who came after the war. We helped with the resettlement..some of the horrors described by them I just cannot imagine...and I don't think I would have the strength to put any of it into words. It is an act of bravery, I think, to write it down... One of my friends ..everyday they(the men) were taken to the street, lined up ..and only some shot....everyday...and his wife was in another camp, pregnant with their first child...with no food...I look at them now and think of how they have survived and how somehow by the fates they are here and are a family...

Diane Vogel Ferri said...

A thoughful, moving poem as always. I guess you can't blame them for the smoking and looking older than their years.

Ghost Dansing said...

the Balkan penisula has a very brutal history.... ethnic and religious hatred.

in reality, this event could have taken place in a number of epochs..... i would estimate this one to be World War II.

".....In the end, between 56,000-97,000 people (Serbs, Jews, Croats, Roma) were killed under the Independent State of Croatia government (today territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina).

In response to this reign of terror, a massive uprising began on June 22, 1941 with the creation of 1st Sisak Partisan Detachment. The leadership of the Yugoslav partisan movement was in the hands of Croat Josip Broz Tito whose policy of brotherhood and unity would in the end defeat Chetniks forces led by nationalistic hate mongers towards Croats, Muslims and UstaĊĦe forces fueled by hatred towards Serbs."

but then, who would i be kidding..... the history of humankind is very brutal.......
i liked the poem...

RachelW said...

This was such an awful, ugly story. I understood those women better after knowing what had happened, and was much more understanding when they were grumpy with the kids. They used to chase kids sometimes, in the housing complex we all lived in, when the kids got too close to their garden or something. My son was quite scared of one of the two sisters.

Erin, I wish I could really do the story justice. I guess it helps to at least make a start at it (and it took me what, 6 years to get this far??) But I have a feeling I'm going to want to try it again, only from another angle. Eventually.

Christopher, yes there it is from another angle. So hard to look at this stuff. There was a movie, I think it's called I am David? I'll have to check on that. Your poem reminded me of it.

Faith, such horror. I only hope I, we never have to live through anything like that. Though our ancestors have lived through it, all of us, I'm sure of it. We have such a brutal history, we humans.

Ghost-- yes this is one of a series of genocides in the region. It's like a centuries-long blood feud, with tribal warfare thrown in for good measure. Horrible, horrible stuff... and I have friends on all sides. Family on all sides of the other bit, WWII, and part of my family's eventual journey to Canada, through various countries, wrapped up in that somewhere. Fodder for more story-telling, anyway... Some happier stories which would make good poem fodder, too.

Thanks everyone, for your comments, and support regarding this difficult subject matter.

Catvibe said...

Rachel, Gorgeous and appalling. And the story of way too many...it is a beautiful honor that you did for these women, and the men they lost.

Wolf-Man said...

The Evil That Men Do!...I hope these women (and others whom have gone through hell) find some peace in this life.

joker the lurcher said...

the human race - such awfulness and also such strength. this poem is beautiful.

Greg Silsby said...

Beautifully written, yet terrifying, made all the more so by the reality of the inky blackness of evil into which men will slide with the slightest effort.