What My Father Ate in the Slave Labor Camp
He ate what he couldn’t eat,
what his mother taught him not to:
brown grass, small chips of wood, the dirt
beneath his gray dark fingernails.
He ate the leaves off trees. He ate bark.
He ate the flies that tormented
the mules working in the fields.
He ate what would kill a man
in the normal course of his life:
leather buttons, cloth caps, anything
small enough to get into his mouth.
He ate roots. He ate newspaper.
In his slow clumsy hunger
he did what the birds did, picked
for oats or corn or any kind of seed
in the dry dung left by the cows.
And when there was nothing to eat
he’d search the ground for pebbles
and they would loosen his saliva
and he would swallow that.
And the other men did the same.
Link to the video -- https://youtu.be/ao_gBD6dQH0
John Guzlowski’s poems and personal essays about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany appear in his memoir Echoes of Tattered Tongues. He is also the author of the Hank and Marvin mysteries and a columnist for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish newspaper in America. His most recent books of poems are Mad Monk Ikkyu and True Confessions.
The poems that follow are powerful evidence that Poetry Speaks Back to Hunger!