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April 13th, 2010


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09:57 pm - I've Been To Auschwitz (for my Mother)

A group piece with Amalia Ortiz, National Poetry Slam, Chicago 2003




Behind the cut, a bit of play by play to put the poem in the context of the slam-bout.
Also, the full text of the poem, including parts we did not read (and I rarely read because of time limitation and for other reasons).
Finally, a few photos from the trip with my mother to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

It was 3x4 tournament, three teams per bout, 4 poems per team. We drew "c" (the last in the opening rotatio). Jeff Knight just_jeff opened for our team for we though that, having been on multiple Austin slam teams, he is the most experienced slammer. Also, we were trying to set up Amalia for the indies. Jeff did "Legalize! Legalize". I thought it went down great. But it seemed he did not conect with the judges as well as he sometimes does. We lost a little bit of grounds and were 0.7 down after the 1st rotation. His lovely wife, Tonie euqort, our Corpus Christi Ballabajoomba Grand Champion, followed up and held the fort. We were -.7 down after two rotations. In the 3rd rotation we were going "A" (the first). I thought this piece is a very hard to follow up; a good piece to use at the beginning of the rotation. Also, it was setting up Amalia for the last rotation. So, we called it. It went over the roof. We gained 1.1 (from the A slot) and were winning the bout by 0.4. Amalia was going the last in the last rotation. The judges did not score her as high as we were hoping for. We lost the bout by 0.4.


I'VE BEEN TO AUSCHWITZ
for my Mother

(An earlier version appeared in Freedom to Speak: National Poetry Slam 2002; edited by Scott Woods, Deborah Marsh, and Patricia Smith (The Wordsmith Press, 2003), pp. 100-101.)

I

When I was 16, still in high-school, I took a trip to Auschwitz. It was a hot sunny Summer day when I hit the road. I hitchhiked up the Vistula river the ancient city of Krakow, then further into the mountains, Auschwitz on the way.

The buildings of the main camp are made of red bricks, still look solid. The iron gate welcomes with the Inscription: ARBEIT MACHT FREI -- WORK LIBERATES. Inside, several huge rooms, each filled with hair, combs, toothbrushes, eyeglasses, razors, belts, prosthetics, shoes, many of them children's shoes. . .

I could not speak
for several days.

II

Years passed. My mother gives me a tour of Auschwitz and the sister-camp of Brzezinka -- Birkenau, Birch Forest. The forest of chimneys spread for miles along the railway tracks welcomes us. Most barracks were burned to cover the crimes. Only a few survived and the dead forest of chimneys.

Gas chambers at the end of the tracks, crematoria-furnaces right behind. All is neat and efficient. 3 million people were killed here.

My mother stops by the crematorium, says: "Sometimes we heard the screams as if people were thrown alive into the furnaces." I want to embrace her, tell her I know. But she's already taken off, marches, measures her steps like someone who knows exactly where she is going. I follow her into one of the barracks.

She stops by an alcove 2 yards by 2 yards, three shelves of wooden planks inside, points to the top one, says: "Tutaj spalam. Here's where I slept." "Alone?" I ask. "No, 10-12 women shared the bunk. One blanket, sometimes two. It wasn't all bad. We cuddled when it was cold."

She leads to a central place where the roll-call was taken, twice a day. "We would stand for hours in cold, wind, snow, rain, especially when anyone had tried to escape. Sometimes the guards would bring them back and torture them in front of us," she says.

We walk to the parking lot. My mother stops by the Wall of Dead, kneels down, pulls out her cherry wood rosary worn thin by the touch of generations: "Swiêta Marjo! Matko Boga! Módl siê za nami grzesznymi, teraz i w gozinê naszej smierci," she whispers and I join her with Zen chant: "Namu Dai Bosa! Homage to the Great Compassionate One!"
Holy Maria!
Namu Dai Bosa!
Mother of God!
Namu Dai Bosa!
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death!

I raise my eyes. Calm mountain tops loom on the horizon.

III

My mother and I watch "The Trial in Nuremberg" in her tiny apartment overlooking the Vistula river. Hermann Goering, second in the Reich only to Hitler, claims to be oblivious to what happened in the camps. My mother says, "Let's take a walk along the river. Wild geese may need food."







The buildings of the main camp are made of red bricks, still look solid.





The iron gate welcomes with the Inscription:
ARBEIT MACHT FREI -- WORK LIBERATES







Inside, several huge rooms, each filled with hair, combs, toothbrushes,
eyeglasses, razors, belts, prosthetics, shoes, many of them children's shoes. . .





. . . the sister-camp of Brzezinka -- Birkenau, Birch Forest . . .
The forest of chimneys spread for miles along the railway tracks welcomes us...





... barracks were burnt to cover the crimes, only a few survived
and the dead forest of chimneys





Gas chambers . . . at the end of the tracks, crematoria-furnaces right behind, all’s neat and efficient, 3 million people were killed here

(As a matter of fact, the above photo shows the gate to the camp of Brzezinka
the gass chambers and crematoria were directly behind me when I was taking this picture)





She’s already taken off, marches, measures her steps, like someone who knows exactly where she is going.
I follow her into one of the barracks.





. . . an alcove maybe 2 yards by 2 yards. . .
10-12 women shared the bunk, one sometimes two blankets
“It wasn't all bad. We cuddled when it was cold.”







My Mother.

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:andreochka
Date:April 14th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
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Poignant...
a great performance.
Thanks for sharing this.
[User Picture]
From:stefan11
Date:April 15th, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
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My pleasure.
Thank you for giving it your ear and eye.
[User Picture]
From:in_sac
Date:April 14th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
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Astounding performance! Tears the heart...

[User Picture]
From:stefan11
Date:April 15th, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for leting me know.
My mom is an amazing woman.
[User Picture]
From:just_jeff
Date:April 15th, 2010 02:32 am (UTC)
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SO great to see this again!
[User Picture]
From:stefan11
Date:April 15th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
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great times ,Amigo!
Please, give a hug to your wife!!

And I made some of the best friends in my life. :)

BTW, looking at me then and now, I lost so much weight. Still working on it.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:stefan11
Date:April 16th, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
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This is it, Chelsey.

This poem and these photos.
That's all we have.

By the way, my visits to the Camp were not all bad.
In fact they have been very helpful to see things in perspective.

The point is to bear a witness
(to use the expression of the Zen master Bernie Glassman)
rather than to be judgmental.

By the way, Bernie Glassman organizes spiritual retreats in Auschwitz.
maybe I'll be able to take place in one, one day. to bear a witness

Edited at 2013-02-08 03:27 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:slomosexual
Date:May 7th, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
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I almost feel this poem MUST be for multiple speakers. So many lives were lost, so much complexity stretches this issue, to much for one throat to funnel through.
[User Picture]
From:stefan11
Date:May 7th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
(Link)
Maybe even more than two voices, then.

One "technical" thing, this part when me and my mom pray-chant together, this cannot be done when but one person rads this poem. There is just no way to do it.

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