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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Stained Glass: poems by Joanna Kurowska

Having previously reviewed Inclusions by Joanna Kurowska, I looked forward to her most recent book of poems, Stained Glass, which the poet kindly sent for my review.

Published by eLectio Publishing, this slender volume immediately spoke to me in the title poem “Stained glass,” which begins:

“I don’t know whose garden this is

the wind-whisper gently blowing,
an ocean under the leaf’s surface,
universes crossing in a spider”

Those lovely lines express the uncertainty many of us feel when we’ve gone from a home in one place to another far away. Although the poet crossed the Atlantic in relocating from Poland to the United States, the sense of mystery and fragmentation can occur even as we change regions, making

“pieces of stained glass I must
arrange, knowing they are necessary.

In such times, we may wonder, where are we? Where do we fit? Who are we? And where is God in all this?

In the second poem, the “I” of the poem states: “For a moment I turned into a plant.” But that transplantation gets re-routed then re-rooted in the poem’s closing lines:

“My entire body being made of light,
nothing separates me from the heart of a tree
or from other hearts in the palm of man’s hand.”

Reconnecting with oneself and each tense of life has to begin somewhere – past, present, or future. Interestingly, the poet began the first of four sections in the book with “The Cemetery,” which “was dying” before taking us on a tour of her native land with the colorful memories of a child.

In “Transgressions,” for example, we learn:

“The nineteen-fifties
had the blue color of the smoke
from the cigarettes of Grandpa Witold,
may he rest in peace.”

And in “The Lesson,” we discover:

“The nineteen-sixties were yellow or red,
full of exalted anthems to the fatherland
and military songs about the People’s Poland.”

“Expulsion” tells us:

“The nineteen-seventies were brown
like the background in a still-life.
In place of flowers or apples
gray eyes shone.”

We feel the loss – of place and “Youth” – before turning to section two “Time of Grace,” which seems to be a time of change and struggle.

As Mount Tabor is the likely site of Jesus’ transfiguration, the poem “Mount Tabor” has its own transformations to consider:

“Lord, put out the fire, let me step down from Tabor
onto solid ground, to tamed realities
Let me recoup the shapes in the names of things
I must know, can I still see or have lost my sight?”

In the third section of the book, “File #3” begins with “the Berlin boys” as the poetic voice asks:

“What are the Berlin boys doing now?
The one who used to walk with a dog
alongside the train corridors?
the one, who held my passport….
…the one who aimed his
machine gun at me from up high?”

Other troubling questions with no answers occur in “Christmas now,” which begins:

“What if he were born today
and the hotels ran out of rooms?”

then goes on to ask if the twelve-year-old Jesus would need to set up profiles on Twitter and Facebook, or, as an adult…

“Could he stay unemployed, spend the night
by the lake, make campfires, heal without
a license, transform himself with impunity
in the company of persons decreed dead?

The last section “Nothing” sees “no way out,” yet looks to death as “opening to freedom” and life as “an unfolding flower.” Either way, there’s no containment, no strict answers in a box clicked shut, but pieces of life and memories remain as does “The Presence” where “God is next to you” – in your kitchen or Auschwitz.

Despite the sharp edges of reality, these fragments come together and find a unique yet familiar pattern, ready to go on.

Review by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

Stained Glass, paperback


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