LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 45, No. 2 - Summer 1999
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 1999 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
OUR FIRST WAR
One more story, we would beg the priest,
one more happy ending,
and life would follow suit.
The hare we found, shot and relinquished,
was flesh for families without food. In the
evening quail came up and covered the camp.
Our first war was over,
and we were in school,
as if nothing had happened.
The grenade in your path was inactive.
Now we saw flatcars of returning wounded
soldiers. Mutilation, the jagged city,
rain clearing the cobblestones.
How many miracles could we list
in our early years: lucky steps
through maps of death.
"If I were you, I would not mail this,"
the postman warned our father, sending
a telegram to a German Major to say
he would not serve in the Camps. Excused.
Later the Major was killed by the Nazis,
as father would have been without his help.
Our first war was over,
and our knapsacks were packed
for the land of sun,
as we imagined it, having seen friendly
American soldiers, chocolate and gum in hand,
kind to the children who had survived.
The sky was to be like their open faces.
That, too, was war:
my hand in yours,
our mother's dark eyes clear.
She translated for the Ukrainians
forced to return to the "Homeland,"
described the fate awaiting them.
The Americans understood.
And then the happy ending:
train tickets and two dollars,
the Waterbury station, our sponsors?
blue sky and direct sunlight.
Since then have I feared for your life,
Bombing in Haunstetten
As soon as the sirens start wailing, we hide.
The enemy is invincible, but fear must be overcome.
The woman beside us repeats to the roar of the planes:
Jesu Kindlein, komrn zu mir. Jesu Kindlein, komm zu mir.
My mother traces the sign of the cross on my forehead.
She stills the sirens and halts the bombs.
Her protective hand clears the heavens.
Strange decorations these
for trees and bushes
n summer -
long silver strands
instead of buds, berries,
or blossoms, instead of bulbs.
Thrown from the sky,
they have found their mark
on the street near us:
glistening aluminum foil
to confuse the radar,
for which summer and winter,
airplanes and glitter a
re one and the same.
Ornaments of war.
In the meadow we
looked for flowers
and found six foot-long
bombs that had not
we heard a brook
and found the pit
of those that split
in deadly petals.
Those stems we left
These pockmarked houses
were healthy and whole yesterday.
The shots have been accurate:
gray dots on white plaster,
black holes in red brick.
After the attack the landlords
hasten to scrape the walls
and hammer the rubble
into home once more.
The clock on the factory spire
stopped the second
For years immobile,
it refuses to forget
the moment when
its rhythms and gauges
at the touch of hell.
We ate acorns in the park,
chewed bread to last
until it sweetened like sugar,
swallowed carrots with their soil,
and tasted powdered milk,
On the ship we first
had exotic oranges,
and in America
we discovered tomatoes.
That is a list of our
Daily at dawn he would position himself
on a corner in the square to await his son:
Have you seen him; Will he be here soon?
Every day the same questions, the hope,
the patient stare, the tremulous heart.
Even we, the refugee children of Augsburg,
knew that from war there is no return.
He still stands in our childhood places,
and we still cannot tell him that truth.
an American child
sent a package.
Among the gifts,
toothbrush and toothpaste
a small boy
Three families in one room, the children asleep
on crates; the first shock of war and displacement.
Will they be able to return? Permission denied.
Brieg, 1942-1944: Respite.
A large house with a yard.
Mother taught languages at a Catholic high school.
Father secretly followed the BBC: the front was
our fate. Clutching our little gray marble
animals from Christmas, you, a boy of five,
heard the encroaching cannons
as we fled.
At three o'clock in the afternoon Berlin was
in night, lit only by flaming windows and
our eyes: six and four years old.
I never saw you cry
until May 1949:
we were on the train from Augsburg,
seated on the wooden benches of the third-class car.
Our grandmother blessed our journey through the window.
You bent your head, covered your face,
and our childhood was gone.
The First Eight Years
It might have been fun to be born elsewhere.
Allenstein is altered on the map, a
nd East Prussia is non-existent. You are
where you come from? Born three days after
leaving the homeland.
Swallows flew into Frau Brandt's rooms in Brieg.
We tallied the horses galloping by.
The rest was war
until we lived on Gossenbrodtstrasse 2, afraid
each evening that our parents would not return,
mother an interpreter for the U.S. Military,
father in the Red Cross. The two of us daily
walked by the bunkers in the park on the way to
school and ran through the American section
to avoid the mockery and the stones of their children
Then the D.P. Camp, our room atop a classroom
in Block 16, a hill for sledding, friends,
CARE packages from American-Lithuanians, and
waiting to sail from Bremerhaven
for America. Perhaps it would have been easier
to begin elsewhere, but who's to say?
8 May 1949
A nighttime drill, orange life vests donned
in case the Marina Marlin should fail
the displaced persons packed in its hold.
What if - ?
No one panics, despite the desolate gray.
After war the Atlantic seems friendly
as it parts to permit this pilgrimage west.
The waves are a steady foothold.
One continent having been withdrawn,
the other awaits, burnished by the sun.
All ten days of expectation
the passengers, indistinguishable from the dusk,
sick and suffering, prepare to sight land.
What is it that is promised them?
May years will pass before a child
will dare remember those nights,
those hopes, that determination which saved
their lives but devastated their childhood,
rooted as it was in the dangers of flight.
18 May 1949
smiled and said,
Our faces did not
Our sponsor took
our burden and said,
"You won't be needing
His red and white car
All night we waited
to enter the harbor,
tense and anxious.
In the morning fog
we moved among
On our left emerged
the Statue of Liberty,
massive and gray,
That the bomb would explode thirty-seven years later
could not then be known: the brain split and mute,
with our patrimony pulsating in his severed dreams
This is he who led us out of bondage. Our father.
The tunnel aflame in Berlin in 1945 as a false
pillar of light. The one train escaping clasps us.
Among the myriad childish faces searing post-office walls
ours are not. He need not mourn for us - that will come
in a quiet town in Connecticut in aphasiac fragments.
The track of his wheelchair etches the globe with memories
of dangers and victories, powerless now to alter the course
of the visible, but clearly guiding the beam of that which
once again cannot be seen.
Smooth gray marble covers her plot:
*13.9.1872 + 24.6.1972
Photographs in summer and winter
trace the colors and shades of her sleep.
In the turmoil of war
she picked sweet wild berries
for her daughter's children.
She taught them to count peace
instead of signs of death;
she recounted stories
to ease their pain.
Her gray eyes knew no fear.
She was cold and strict
in the face of injustice -
tall, straight, and steadfast.
The branches of the evergreen
mark the seasons on her name.
In the Protestant Cemetery of Augsburg
we find her grave and brave her gaze.
A wooden cross with a refugee's name -
your mother interred in German exile.
How did you learn the lines of love
without her form, direction?
Both of us children, then, unknown
to each other, unknowing,
we meet in adulthood, too late.
The azure around the stark sign -
formula for orphans and sisters -
is in your eyes.
You have shown me marvels, and I
send you the words of silences:
We were never together,
never met to ask questions
and we were never apart
from that first certainty
which illumined our lives
and made us sisters.
Lithuania, the Homeland
The orchards of their childhood bore
apples transparent in moonlight,
afire with sun. Warm to the touch,
yet crisp as ice. Only there
and only then did they fall
to earth in blossoms white with
night and in the dawn rose clear.
The end of their days marked
the first of ours, fruit dense
and dull with heavy summer's
dread dreams - harsh skin,
sharp seeds hidden in horn
casing... Not for us to taste and see
what truly was as it could never be.
Pranas Gailius, Untitled