builtofsorrow: (polska | urbanite | florianska)
Dear Caban,

It is 11 November, and it is Armistice/Veterans/Remembrance Day. In Poland, that beautiful country in which our lives became intertwined, it is Independence Day too.

I wish I could see you. I wish I could, once more, link my arm in yours (feeling your frailty even through the layers of our winter clothes and coats) and walk with you through the city that brought us together, walk down cobblestone streets and past buildings and through cemeteries that you have known for years and I am only just learning. I wish I could once more try to wrap my mind and my mouth around your language as you do the same with mine and we struggle to understand each other, as you tell me your story & I ask you questions in fragments. As I gather your history and bind it up deep within my soul because my history exists in many ways through yours and because of you, and I will never stop treasuring this.

I remember, not thirty minutes after we had met, watching you from across a room as you tried to pour cream into your coffee and most of it ended up on the table, hampered as you were by the sightlessness of that deceptively-colored bit of glass filling in the space where your eye had been. I wanted to cry and help and fix you all at once, because I knew that you were a reason the city we would wander through later that day had been rebuilt and still existed, and cancer had stolen from you what two armies could not. And hours later, as we stood in a cemetery, surrounded by too-many-graves, I remember watching you, hampered by cold and wind and your stripped-away depth perception, struggling to light zniczy for the friends and the parents and the city and the nation for whom they and you had given so much. One red, one white: Polska.

I wondered then what offering my help would mean. If it would be stripping you of one more thing that you by rights should have had, or if reaching out my hand to steady yours would communicate a desire to attempt to honor in the smallest, admittedly inadequate way everything you embodied. I remember then how we walked through more graves and more graves and more graves, and we stopped and bowed our heads over the graves of your parents: your father had 38 years, you told me. I noticed that your mother had 31. You told me they died as soldiers. You told me that when you were a boy, everyone was a soldier.

I remember the way your hands felt on my face, soft and cold and full of a history that became a part of me that day. I remember the way you took off your gloves and you curved your gnarled, gorgeous fingers around my jaw and held my face steady as you told me that my eyes reminded you of your mother's. You told me I was beautiful, like she was. You told me she had 31 years. I remember how the inside of me felt like it was ripping apart.

Later, I wrote about you. My words were inadequate by necessity, because no one, least of all I, could ever write about you in the manner in which you deserve. You deserve the highest accolades, written in the most beautiful language in the most beautiful sequences of words ever woven together. But much as I treasure words: your life and the beauty of it, what you meant to all of history – it is the summer of 1944 and this is Warszawa and here are you and your comrades-in-arms and everyone is a soldier in the army that even its allies won't help and the Nazis are systematically destroying all but fifteen percent of your city and the Red Army sits across the river as you fight and fight and fight – this could not then and cannot now be put into words in an adequately meaningful way.

That beauty, that meaning, it was tangled in the contortions of your hands; it lived in the wrinkles of your skin and the depths of your remaining eye and the curve of your smile that all the hideousness and evil in the world could not destroy. It was in the tremors of your hand as you lit zniczy. It was in the strength of your frail body as we linked arms and shuffled through ice and snow to pay respect to those who didn't survive. It was in the air between us as we created meanings for each other with the language we cobbled together from our separate, native tongues. It was in the way I felt once more, when I was a continent away and told that we, the world, had lost you forever, like the inside of me was ripping apart. It was there, in Warszawa, when I returned last summer and wandered through the city I had once hated but learned to love because you showed me the miracles underlying its very existence. It is, I hope, wrapped up inside of me, part of who I am and pushing me toward something I will become because you told me your story.

It is 11 November, Caban, and I remember, because you taught me that I can never forget.
builtofsorrow: (polska | kochamy napoleona)
I'd say I don't know where this came from, only I do (so what I really mean is that I'm not entirely sure why I'm posting it). This is me on memories of my life in Poland and too much Miłosz & Herbert (and perpetually on bits of Eliot). This is the bit of me nurtured by my career-Army uncle -- the bit that, in spite of my somewhat pacifistic tendencies, has the utmost respect for anyone who's ever worn a military uniform. (And this is me plagiarising military hymns, abusing wordplay and allusion, and referencing a lot of things I probably don't deserve to, as well as a lot of things that very probably only make sense to myself.)

But this is for everyone we honour on November 11 (or the day after, as the case may be). This is for the men and women I don't remember or think on often enough.

Most of all, this is for Caban and Magik.

And there are months crueller than April, when soldiers come in a family unit, and they fall: father, then mother, and on it goes, one by one and too young. )



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