Never Tell
Your Children


John Guzlowski

Prof. Emeritus John Guzlowski taught in the English Department from 1981-2005. He currently resides in Valdosta, Georgia, where he remains very active as a poet, fiction writer, and lecturer. Of the poems that follow, he notes, "The first two poems are from Lightning and Ashes (Steel Toe Books, 2007). 'German Soldiers Come to My Mother's Village' is what it says, the day they came and changed everything. 'The Work He Did in Germany' is a poem about my father and his experiences in the slave labor camps; it appeared in a recent issue of NimrodThe two numbered poems, 'VI' and 'XXIV,' are from Third Winter of War: Buchenwald (Finishing Line, 2007).  It’s a book that tries to imagine my father’s life and nightmares in his third year in the camps." —JDK


German Soldiers Come to
My Mother’s Village

On their knees, and one by one, each man
and woman, each child, is shot and falls
backward without a sound into the mud
like an iron rod. God doesn’t love these people.

They live in darkness, thatch their low cottages
with straw, burn wet wood in mud stoves
like evil children in a fairy tale.

There is no fat for their lamps. The sole light
you see comes from a candle in a cellar
where a woman in rags searches for roots.

This is the only world they’ll ever know:
these huts, and the mud road that brought us here
and will take us out again when we are done.
This is where we gather them, here on this road.

Listening to their screams and pleading
we know these people will never again
drink from their pond or make shoes of straw
or eat a filling meal of sausage and bread
or laugh like children laugh alone in the dark.

We soldiers are only human. We love
to kill. It is the hidden God in each of us.




The Work He Did in Germany

He lifts the shovel, sees the dirt,
the clods still heavy with snow,
and knows that this will always
be his life, one shovel and then
another shovel until his arms
are shaking.  He never knows

what the guards will say to him. 
Maybe they’ll ask him for a song
he knew in Poland that he sang
while leading the steaming cows
into the woods early in the spring.

And he will smile and sing
and ask them if they’d like another.
Or maybe they will tell him
he is a fool and his mother
a pig the farm boys fuck
when their own hands are weak
from pulling on their sore meat.

And my father will shovel
in terror and think of the words
he will not say: Sirs, we are all
brothers, and if this war ever ends,
please, never tell your children
what you’ve done to me today.





Beyond the field and the guards,
he sees a gypsy in the pine trees
dancing in rags, the snow a veil,

the gypsy twirling like a girl
in a spring world of greens and blues
so rich not even a holy man

would turn away, a gypsy twirling
her arms above her head, her breasts
fat as pillows, warm as fresh milk,

singing a child’s song about cows
coming home from the happy fields
and the pretty girls who lead them.





My father is the corpse without lips
or the desire to lick its lips.

He is the corpse that doesn’t envy
the sparrows or the pigeons,
or the horses or cows that stand
around waiting for men to beat them
across the flanks when they’re angry
or across the eyes and mouth
when the men are truly mad.

He is the corpse that has made
its journey and now waits only
for the slumber promised by God
in the Bible and other books that lie.