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Grandmother Praying

October 10, 2009

by Oriana

Veronika, first i.d. photo (1945) after Auschwitz

Veronika, first i.d. photo (1945) after Auschwitz


Saint Anthony

Pincushions, hairnets,
a mischievous spool of thread;
thimbles wobble in uneven hoops,
needles enter the veins of things.

We rummage through drawers
reeking of decayed Soir de Paris
cologne and valerian drops;
the slipper-hedged dusk under the bed.

There remains the invisible world.
We kneel on the creaking floor
before the painting of a smiling monk,
a lily like a magic wand

tilting from his hand.
With a practiced zigzag,
we cross ourselves: Saint Anthony,
guide us to Grandmother’s thimble
Again we scan
the summits of wardrobes,
horizons of floors;
the precipice behind the couch,

gritty crevasses of chairs.
She gives up at last:
The devil must have
covered it with his tail.


God’s Hearing

One evening in Auschwitz
the women in her barracks began to pray.

Their prayer grows and grows,
a chant, a moan, a howl —
it carries far into the searchlight-blinded,

electric wire-razored night.
The Kapo rushes in, shouting, Not
so loud! God is not hard of hearing!

And my grandmother laughs.
Then she starts an old hymn:
Many have fallen

in the sleep of death,
but we have still awakened
to praise Thee,

she sings to the God of Auschwitz.
Her voice does not quiver.

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Oriana leads a double, sometimes a triple life by the sea, the cold Pacific Ocean near San Diego.

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  1. October 10, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    These are excellent. I especially admire “slipper-hedged dusk under the bed,” and oh, the heartbreak of “God is not hard of hearing…” said in that place…

  2. October 10, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Oh gorgeous. And beautiful. These may be my favorite poem ever. And that photo. I would like to just sit quietly by her side and absorb whatever it is that she emanates.

    • oriana
      January 3, 2010 at 8:53 pm

      Somehow it’s only now that I saw this comment. Thank you so much.

      Let me send you a related short poem — I was 7 or 8 when this encounter happened:

      Grandmother’s Laughter

      One day in the street my grandmother
      stops before another grandmother.
      Both stammer: “It’s you –
      you – in Auschwitz – ”

      Turning to me: “She and I shared
      the same blanket. Every night she said,
      ‘You’ve got more than I’
      and pulled, and I pulled back,
      and so we’d tug across the bunk – ”

      and the two grandmothers laugh.
      In the middle of a crowded
      sidewalk, in old women’s dusk,
      widows’ browns and grays,
      they are laughing like two schoolgirls –

      tears rain down the cracked
      winter of their cheeks.
      On Piotrkovska Avenue,
      on the busiest street,
      they are tugging that thin blanket –



  3. Una
    October 10, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    absolutely beautiful! what poetry should be, touching and full of meaning and lyrical
    I fell privileged to read it.

  4. Karen
    October 10, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Beautifully written, beautifully read.

  5. October 12, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Oriana, thanks for the poems. My dad spent 4 years at Buchenwald, my mom spent 2 years in the slave labor camps. They had faith but it was two different faiths. My dad believed in helping people, my mom believed that everything was worthless.

    Here’s a poem called What My Father Believed — about his faith.


    • oriana
      October 12, 2009 at 5:53 pm

      Dear John,

      Thank you so much for directing me to that wonderful poem. Janusz Zalewski came to San Diego in July, and gave me an issue of Polish American Studies with some of your poems in it, but not this particular one, which I love best.
      Two of my cousins died in Auschwitz; my grandparents survived. Three of my father’s sisters were taken to labor camps in Germany; one died. My mother’s brother was a pilot and he died in air combat over France (as you probably know, surviving Polish pilots joined the French and later the British air force). I have more poems about all this. If you’d like to correspond for a while, I’d be thrilled. Oriana (my Polish name is Joasia)

      • john guzlowski
        October 12, 2009 at 7:59 pm

        Oriana, I would love to see the other poems you’ve written about your family.

        Please drop me a line. My email is jzguzlowski(at)gmail.com

  6. Jackleen
    October 14, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Lovely poems!

  7. Josette Frankel
    October 15, 2009 at 1:08 am

    October 14,2009


    Your poems are a three dimensional painting: strong, sensitive, powerful, emotional and as delicate as crystal. Did I detect a hint of sarcasm and yet faith in your grandmother’s voice? Well done. Thanks for sharing them.

  8. Alex Cigale
    January 3, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    “God’s Hearing” is a powerful poem, Oriana. Thank you, Alex.

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