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John Guzlowski

Two Poems


He wasnít even one of my students

Just one of my advisees, a shy fellow

And a slow talker. When he first came in

Two semesters ago, I thought he was slow

In other ways too, but his grades

Have been strong. Heís smart enough.


Today, he came to say heís been called up

With the local National Guard unit,

Boys from Mattoon, Neoga, and Tuscola,

Boys from small farms and small towns,

And he was worried about his registration

For classes next semester. Would he be able

To cancel it and get his tuition money back?


I called the registration office. He wasnít

Their first, and I told him what they told me.

Youíll need to sign some forms, and cancel

Your housing and then check in with the cashier.

And he thanked me for helping, but I couldnít

Speak, so I just took his hand in mine, and held it.


I Dream of My Father as He Was
When He First Came Here Looking for Work

I wake up at the Greyhound Station

in Chicago, and my father stands there,

strong and brave, the young man of my poems,

a man who can eat bark and take a blow

to the head and ask you if you have more.

In each hand he holds a wooden suitcase

and I ask him if they are heavy.

He smiles, "Well, yes, naturally. They are made

of wood," but he doesnít put them down.

Then he tells me he has come from the war

but remembers little, only one story:

Somewhere in a gray garden he once watched

a German sergeant chop a chicken up

for soup and place the pieces in a pot,

everything, even the head and meatless feet.

Then he ate all the soup and wrapped the bones

in cloth for later. My father tells me,

"Remember this: this is what war is.

One man has a chicken, and another doesnít.

One man is hungry and another isnít.

One man is alive and another is dead."

I say, there must me more, and he says,

"No, thatís all there is. Everything else

is the fancy clothes they put on the corpse."

John Guzlowski teaches at Eastern Illlinois University.  His poems about his
parents experiences in Nazi Germany appear in his books Language of Mules
(DP Press, 1999) and Jezyk Mulow i inne wiersze (Biblioteka Slaska, 2002).

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