Thursday, August 25, 2016

"The Rainy Bread: Poems from Exile" - Stories of Poles from Kresy - Deported to Siberia, Scattered Around the World

I'm going  to Poland in September - to welcome the youngest member of my family, the first grandson, and to attend the conference Kresy-Siberia "Generations Remember 2016" of families and survivors that lived in the Eastern borderlands of Poland, called Kresy (now Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine), and were deported by Stalinist government to Siberia in 1940-43, survived with severe losses and trauma, and emigrated to the ends of the world. For my poetry reading at the conference, I put together a brand-new book. 

by Maja Trochimczyk. Moonrise Press, August 2016
ISBN 9781945938009, paperback, 64 pages, $10.00
ISBN 9781945938016eBook, $10.00

This volume includes 30 poems about forgotten stories of Poles living in the Eastern Borderlands of Kresy, who were killed, deported, imprisoned, or oppressed after the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939.  Some of these brief portraits capture the trauma and resilience, ordeals and miraculous survival stories of the author’s immediate family. Her maternal family comes from Baranowicze and the surrounding area near Adam Mickiewicz’s Nowogródek and the mythical lake of Świteź in what is now Belarus. Their experiences of displacement, hunger, cold, and poverty during the war are typical of Polish civilian.

These fictionalized memories are coupled with depictions of survival of other Poles deported to Siberia, the Arctic Circle, or Kazakhstan; who left the Soviet Union with the Second Corps of the Polish Army under General Władysław Anders; were transported to refugee camps in India or Africa; and ended up in Argentina, Canada, Australia or the U.S. The book is a companion to “Slicing the Bread: Children’s Survival Manual in 25 Poems” (Finishing Line Press, 2014), with which it shares some poems, including vignettes from the author’s childhood in Warsaw, permeated by the strange rhetoric of the Polish People’s Republic, yet still overshadowed by the war. 

You can read the introduction on the Moonrise Press blog


Who knows how many?
The pit was dark, still darker at the bottom,
deep as the gates of hell. Its demon’s mouth wide
open to devour row after row of bright young men.

Who knows their faces now?
The corn-blue eyes sparkling with tears and laughter.
The closely cropped soldier’s dark blond hair.

Down, down they went
to the bottomless pits of Kołyma
for Stalin’s diamonds, uranium for his bombs.

Down, down they went
to the boundless hell of Kołyma
for Stalin’s riches, his bombs, and his revenge.

They lost the fight for Poland’s sacred freedom
They knew how precious independence was, how rare.
They kept on fighting when enemies became allies.
Their lives sold on a global market of slaves.

Down, down they went
To the bottomless mines of Kołyma
For Stalin’s diamonds, uranium for his bombs.

                                       ≡   for Julian Stanczak  

    amber and coral
    ruby and carnelian

He looks at the brightness of the African sky.
The blazing sunset above the plains of Uganda
His eyes follow the pattern of light and shadow
on the savanna’s tall grass. Dark lines cut
into light on the flanks of a zebra —
he thinks of a donkey back home,
transformed by the extravagant, geometric
boldness of stripes, shining bright —

blinding his eyes, used to Siberian darkness
in dim interiors of musty prison huts —
he admires the play of gold and bronze inside
the tiger’s eye — a stone his teacher gave him
for protection and good luck. How it shifts
with each turn, different, yet the same —
lines upon lines of light.

The richness stays under his eyelids
as he twists and turns the tiger’s eye
in his one good hand, left — while the other,
a useless appendage, hangs limply
since the beating in a Soviet prison camp.
Shattered, like his dream of music,
the honey-rich tones of his cello.

He finds a different-flavored honey
in the richness of African sunsets,
the stripes of the tiger’s eye.  

He captures the undulating lines
and blazing hues on majestic canvas,
moving in the rhythm of wild planes
out of Africa, into fame.

amber and topaz
    gold, bronze, and light
    so much light  —

Hot Summer by Julian Stanczak (1956)



  1.           What to Carry ≡ 2
  2.              Starlight ≡ 3
  3.           Charlie, Who Did  Not Cross ≡ 4
  4.              Five Countries in Venice ≡ 6
  5.              Eyes on the Road ≡ 8
  6.              The Baton ≡ 9
  7.              Diamonds ≡ 10


  1.              The Odds ≡ 12
  2.               Wołyń ≡ 13
  3.               Kołyma ≡ 15
  4.               Amu Darya ≡ 16
  5.               Shambhala ≡ 18
  6.               Reflection ≡ 20
  7.               A Piece of Good Advice to Stuff in the Hole  in the Wall ≡ 21
  8.               A Pilot in Pakistan ≡ 22
  9.               Under African Sky ≡ 23


  1.             Kasha ≡ 26
  2.            The Trap Door ≡ 27
  3.             Slicing the Bread ≡ 29
  4.              Peeling the Potatoes ≡ 30

  ≡ ≡ ≡ PART IV  THERE AND BACK ≡ 33

  1.          Of Trains and Tea ≡ 34
  2.           Once Upon a Time in Baranowicze ≡ 35
  3.                     Ciocia Tonia ≡ 37
  4.           Asters ≡ 39
  5.           No Chicken ≡ 41
  6.           The Coat ≡ 43
  7.           Short Leg≡ 44
  8.                     Standing Guard ≡ 46
  9.           Losing Irena ≡ 47
  10.           Language ≡ 48


Unwavering in its honesty, The Rainy Bread is a thought-provoking look at a brutal chapter in history: the Soviet occupation of Poland during World War II and the deportations and repressions that took place in the country's Easter Borderlands, known as Kresy. Trochimczyk gives a public face to this history but also reveals the private heart of a family that endures despite horrific loss.  With simple language and stark imagery, these poems create a powerful testimony and bear witness to the hate that destroys, to the truth that restores, and to the poetic vision that honors our common humanity.

 Linda Nemec Foster, author of Amber Necklace from Gdańsk (LSU Press), 
winner of the Creative Arts Award from the Polish American Historical Association

Maja Trochimczyk’s poems draw you into a bestial, almost inconceivable history.  Using objects—bread, potatoes, trapdoors, high heels—she guides you through an experience with the madness of World War II and its aftermath when a dictator is judged worse or better by how many fewer millions he has slaughtered. This book needed to be written.  This is a fascinating, tragic, and instructive time in history which should not me neglected. Trochimczyk doesn’t lecture; you are riveted by the power of her poems; their narratives flow from her hands as if a Babcia were still guiding them. And maybe she was. You will remember the taste of this book.

≡ Sharon Chmielarz, author of Love from the Yellowstone Trail

Maja Trochimczyk, Portrait by Susan Rogers, 2013