LITUANUS
LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
 
Volume 45, No. 2 - Summer 1999
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright 1999 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Lituanus

OUR FIRST WAR

MARIJA STANKUS-SAULAITIS

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, 
my talisman, 
my brother.

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.

Decorations

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.

Bombs

In the meadow we 
looked for flowers 
and found six foot-long 
bombs that had not 
burst;

we heard a brook 
and found the pit 
of those that split 
in deadly petals.

Those stems we left 
untouched.

Sickened

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.

Timeless

The clock on the factory spire 
stopped the second 
of bombardment.

For years immobile, 
it refuses to forget 
the moment when

its rhythms and gauges 
became obsolete 
at the touch of hell.

Menu

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 
explorations.

Augsburg, 1947

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.

Friends

From Ohio 
an American child 
sent a package. 
Among the gifts, 
toothbrush and toothpaste

In Germany 
a small boy 
saved stamps 
to send 
his thanks.

Travelogue

Butow, 1941:
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.

Berlin, 1945:
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

In Waterbury 
the conductor 
smiled and said, 
"Welcome."

Our faces did not 
puzzle him, 
our backpacks 
seemed normal.

Our sponsor took 
our burden and said, 
"You won't be needing 
it here."

His red and white car
carefully
guided us
home.

New York

All night we waited 
to enter the harbor, 
tense and anxious.

In the morning fog 
we moved among 
dark shapes.

On our left emerged 
the Statue of Liberty, 
massive and gray,

and
we
wept
in
its
safe
form.

Curriculum Vitae

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.

Return

Smooth gray marble covers her plot:

+

MARIE LICHTENSTEIN 

*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.

Orphan

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 
requiring answers;

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.

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Pranas Gailius, Untitled