Thursday, February 25, 2016

Blond Boy - Lucia May (Evening Street Poetry)

Today's book of poetry:
Blond Boy.  Lucia May.  Evening Street Poetry.  Dubin, Ohio.  2014.

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"Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again."
                                                                - Dag Hammarskjold

Lucia May starts Blond Boy with this marvelous quote from Dag Hammarskjold about forgiveness and it is good to keep this in mind when reading through this murky pool of regret and hope.  

Blond Boy is May's poetic attempt to forgive her father and to forgive herself for crimes and misdemeanors large and small.  May's father was a young boy in Poland at the outbreak of World War II and came of age under a Nazi occupied Poland where he suffered great and unforgettable torment at the hands of German soldiers.  May's anecdotes make clear that her father saw things no young boy/man should ever see.

After the war May's father got to the United States and found May's mother, they married, May was conceived and new tragedies and drama unfold.

Luck Runs in My Family

In Poland
during World War II
a certain Nazi
liked to stand my father
against a wall,
walk back
and fire
his pistol
as close as possible
to my father's head
for sport.
My father didn't
feel lucky,
frozen against the wall,
but he'd live
to call it luck.

My brother Billy
died by shooting
himself. He didn't
know that luck
has nothing to do 
with Russian Roulette.

I am lucky
that my daughter is
lucky to be
recovering.
When she burst
into the house
with her eighteen
month medallion
I felt lucky
I didn't feel lucky
driving her
to those first
counseling meetings.
Her scabbed arms,
shaved head,
and scaly warts
made me look away
as if she were a snail
being torn
from its shell.

...

There's no reconciling May's father's tortured past and turning it into a reasonable present.  May's father becomes possessed by a religious furor and his obsessions alienate and eventualy shatter a tattered family.  Clearly haunted, the father is doomed.

There are poems set during wartime Poland, others in an American home in the late fifties, early sixties, and it is falling apart at the seams while May's father tries to fix the cracks with sermons.

These poems are a dysfunctional family's epitaph and it is clouded with ghosts that go unnamed. 
May wants to let go of the past and these poems may be her only shot at redemption, they certainly feel that way.  This is intense and compelling stuff.

For Any Abiding Place on Earth

                                                   after Carl Dennis

All my grandmother needed at her farm in Poland
was time to raise the crops of corn and cousins.

I met my grandmother when I was seven.
As our taxi from Warsaw came to stop in the dust
she sputtered and screamed around this barnyard
with the alarmed chickens. She tugged off her apron
and tucked her hair into her babushka.

I stand at the farm's grave and find only ceramic tile pieces
in the disemboweled earth where the kitchen once stood.

There are no abiding places on earth, unless memory is a place
and I doubt it. Gather all memories and they wouldn't fill
one square inch of this remembered ground.
They are lighter than dust and even less confined.

...

That last verse is gold.  Solid gold.

Luck can cast some pretty dark shadows and the Nazi occupation of Poland left scars beyond what Lucia May's father could rationally endure.  These scars were big enough to scar generations and whether or not May is out from under this horrid history depends on who she forgives.

These poems are, in spite of the father's faults, an apology for her father, to her father, and then to herself.

May is mining some awfully deep torment in Blond Boy.  It makes for some startling poetry.

Blond Boy and the Plan for Eastern Europe
                                  (Generalplan Ost)

Cattle wagons transported
children aged six to ten years
to temporary selection camps.
A sympathetic Nazi guard
could sell a Catholic child back
to its Polish family for 25 zloty.

The blond boy was twelve in 1939
when the Nazis invade Poland.
He is too old for Germanization,
too old to be desirable enough
to undergo racial exams by experts.

Some younger Polish gentiles live
and die as Germans, unsuspecting,
but he is too old to forget Polish
nursery rhymes and his Polish name.

Armed Nazis seize him from the family farm
and he is conscripted as a Zivilarbeiter--
civilian worker--forbidden to swim
in public pools, to ride public transport,
to own a bicycle, or under penalty of death,
to have sex with a German.

By law the blond boy's wages are lower than
German citizens', his nutrition substandard.
He chips stone seven days a week
in a German quarry. He may not attend
church and must wear a purple "P" badge.

His superiors encourage him to sign
the Deutsche Vaolksliste for benefits
like more calories and freedoms.
He refuses to sign and after the war
is spared being tried in Poland for high treason.

...

Blond Boy is full of brave poetry from the wounded heart of a survivor.  Nothing in Blond Boy is going to make you happy - but you are certainly going to glad you spent time with this riveting book of poems.

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Lucia May

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lucia May is a poet and longtime arts advocate in St. Paul, MN. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Main Channel Voices, the Evening Street Review, Hot Metal Press, Paperdarts, the Prose-Poem Project, Pemmican, Talking Stick, Tall Grass, Burnt Bridge, The Widow’s Handbook Anthology, The Awakenings Review, The Mom Egg, Verse Wisconsin, Kurier Polski Min-nesota, and the Little Red Tree Inter-national Poetry Prize 2010: Anthology. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Verse Wisconsin for her poem “Explain in an Essay.”

BLURBS
In Lucia May's inaugural poetry collection, Blond Boy, she records with gracious precision the personal horrors of the boy who would become her father. Taken from his home by the Nazis, the boy's humanity was forever scarred by his experiences. Of his torture, Lucia writes, "...the boys accepted their penalties/like cows on the farm before the knife." Lucia weaves his story into her own through poetry that is brutally honest while being "bathed in the light" of forgiveness. She manages well the difficult task of showing grief and loss unsentimentally, with a glance, a gesture, an image that glows vividly on the page. This slim book offers readers the chance to share in emotions as complex as Bach played with panache on a well-tuned violin. At the end, we are left with memories that are "lighter than dust and even less confined."
     —Linda Back McKay, author of The Next Best Thing and Out of the Shadows: Stories of Adoption and Reunion.

A man who suffered a wretched childhood extended bitterness and perverse misery to his own children. He became a religious fanatic, who in his distorted view deemed the music of Bach and Beethoven wholly unacceptable. Growing up in a nightmarish environment, his daughter, Lucia P. May, did not fall victim to depression, suicide, alcoholism or drug addiction. Miss May escaped the quicksand of her father's cruelty through art, music and literature. She writes exquisite poetry that shines light in the darkness.
     —Robert O Fisch, author of Light from the Yellow Star: A Lesson of Love from the Holocaust and The Sky Is Not the Limit

Lucia Piaskowiak May writes without any sentimentality whatsoever about her father's life in World War II Poland and about the shadow he cast over her own life. She compresses enormous emotion into tense spare lines to create poetry that is fierce and true.
     —Keith Maillard, author of The Clarinet Polka

A memoir in poetry, in Blond Boy Lucia May tells the tragic and amazing story of her father's survival in Nazi-occupied Poland, his marriage to her mother, her visit to Auschwitz, taking violin lessons and attending healing services at a Presbyterian church. This is a story well worth telling and it comes wonderfully alive in all its mesmerizing details. These memories will dance in our minds for a long time. May writes of them as 'lighter than dust and even less confined.' May we all be thankful that she has captured them for a moment.
     —Mary Logue, author of Hand Work and Trees

Lucia May's book, Blond Boy, is a tough, intense collection of poems. It's a book about what luck means. It's a book about a father, that blond boy who survived World War II, and where the luck of surviving led him. It's a collection that offers its readers portraits of a family, of how religion affected them, vignettes that allow us to see a family's suffering, and how pain and discord shaped their lives. We are given stories that cover many years, and we see how the lucky and unlucky in this single family lose or find their strength, their sense of purpose inside a family, inside history. This collection is blunt in its truth-telling, and ambitious in its range. I won't forget these poems.
     —Deborah Keenan, author of From Tiger to Prayer and so she had the world


To see the trailer for Blond Boy please click here:


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