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  • Kochanie*


    What impossible choice
    Did my mother make
    When she stood before her birth
    Watching the movie of her life?
    No Cary Grant or Doris Day,
    No fifties musical in Technicolour
    And Cinemascope,
    And yet
    She came.

    Did she think “I cannot do this,” when she
    Watched the raid from comfortable bed
    In the middle of the night?
    The press and stench of people on the train
    With only her mother’s hand to keep her warm?
    The foreign land,
    The forever biting snow,
    The stomach aching for bread,
    The blanket on the mud floor
    That became the near death shroud,
    When the fever from malaria
    Did not do the job?

    She watched and still she leapt
    Into her mother’s womb…
    The cry at birth,
    The remembrance before forgetting
    Of the life she must endure.
    Why did she come?

    Look, there’s Hela up ahead
    And Milak and Tadeusz
    And William toddling along!
    They’re running in a field of hay
    It’s bright gold with swaying light,
    And Zofia trailing after her
    Somewhere still coming over the hill.
    She’ll be there, too.
    “Come with us,” they shout.

    And she sees a man
    Who is more handsome than Cary Grant,
    Can’t dance like Gene Kelly
    Or do an Elvis swivel of hips,
    But he paints her a rose on their engagement
    And makes her a home with his hands,
    And wraps a new shawl of love around her
    That she can feed her two daughters with.
    Until he dies on a Sunday
    And she is bereft,
    But stays.

    And she sees a house on a hill
    Where she can begin her life again.
    The man at the dance
    Who once wanted to be a priest,
    He loves her
    And gives her two daughters.
    She knits a fine green lace dress for each of them.
    The blanket now only descends in the night
    When she hears the cries of the dead still.
    And then there’s the shouting
    The slamming
    The storming
    Two lost children now starring in this,
    staring fearfully at this, “happily ever after”.
    Their parents not able to let go of the
    Burned image on the retina
    Of their parents shot at dawn
    Or Zofia dead in her arms
    Or losing his baby brother after
    Keeping him clutched from death
    Across frozen deserts.
    They fight each other for their lives.
    He leaves in a blazing trail
    Of curses,
    Cut to the core.

    And her days become night.
    “Bring my children back to the Land of the Living,”
    she wails at the neighbour’s place
    where she sees a piece of hanging meat.
    And her two little girls huddle together
    under their floral flannelette sheets
    And make up stories to tell each other
    In a tapping language that connects them
    Through the walls of their parents’ pain.

    The third man at the dance,
    She refuses his hand.
    Instead she puts on her dress
    Of paisley silk
    And flies off to find the man in Heaven
    Striding along the tuatara’s ridges
    With two little girls running behind.
    And time passes
    In drugged numbness.
    She trails back and forth to earth,
    Half there-half here
    For a few more years, waiting
    Till her youngest
    Is safely married
    And wearing a dress of pearls and roses.

    Why, as she watched this movie
    The terror, tragedy and romance
    Reel out
    Along the decades of her life
    Did she say, “Yes, I’ll come”?
    So she could find them here,
    Bring us here
    And hold us
    And love them
    And watch them leave
    And see us grow;
    Teach us to hula and hula hoop
    And fatten up our skinny bones.
    So she could feel acutely the pain of
    Dark Absence and Madness and Loss,
    And the almost-touch of Love again
    In endless nights of endless prayer.
    And so she could wait and watch and pray with us,
    And cook and sing and sway with us,
    And dance and stride across hills with us,
    And play this Game of Life with us.
    The spinning wheel
    She knew it well
    And so she came.
    There was too much love here
    Despite the pain.

    And then that last burst,
    Running up that hill to join them,
    Breath labouring now
    As the credits
    Rolled.
    After her last dark night of life
    Where she turns to me at dawn and says,
    “Now I understand…”
    To a fanfare she comes home
    “He’s here, they’re all here…”
    We watch her
    Sit up
    And reach out to touch tenderly
    his hand.
    Embracing the joy
    At their reunion
    On her return.

    Why did she choose to be born?
    The simple answer?
    The pain
    is forgotten in Love.

    * After my mother died I went to visit her grave in Ohura – along the back roads between Taumaranui and New Plymouth, where she lived with her first husband before he was killed in a car accident. As I was travelling up the hill to the cemetery I looked up, a gift of lilies for my mother in my hand, and saw a kingfisher sitting on a telephone wire. The air changed, charged, and suddenly I heard my mother’s voice speaking Polish. I didn’t know what it meant. She said to me, ‘dziekuje kochanie’. When we got back to Wellington I looked up what the words meant. They mean ‘thank you, sweetheart’.
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