A cluster of poems by john guzlowski
A cluster of poems by john guzlowski
What the War Taught My Mother


My mother learned that sex is bad,

Men are worthless, it is always cold

And there is never enough to eat.


She learned that if you are stupid

With your hands you will not survive

The winter even if you survive the fall.


She learned that only the young survive

The camps.  The old are left in piles

Like worthless paper, and babies

Are scarce like chickens and bread.


She learned that the world is a broken place

Where no birds sing, and even angels

Cannot bear the sorrows God gives them.


She learned that you don't pray

Your enemies will not torment you. 

You only pray that they will not kill you.



Why Do We Age?


Is it the moon, the Sun,

the pull of Mars or Jupiter,

the movement of the great whales

as they migrate beneath the waves?

Not even Walt Whitman could tell us

although he could tell us more

about youth and living and loving

than anyone else with just a couplet.


Remember “Unscrew the locks from the doors,

Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs”?


And what can I tell you about growing old?

That I’ve been to the circus and I’ve seen

the big top from the inside and know

that the sky of stars inside the tent is the circus?


That there are things I am giving up

as I move toward my 70th birthday:

things like worrying about silence and flatulence,

the reworking of old puzzles,

the problems God sets before all of us?


That my mother loved to hold my hand

when we were walking to the park

and it broke her heart when I told her

I was too old to do that?


And what else can I tell you about aging?


That my father loved to listen to me

talk to him in English even though

he didn’t understand a word?


That once I sat next to a dying friend

who kept weeping and whispering something

about sand and water that didn't make sense?


That all I could do for him was sing a song

that I hoped he remembered, something

about hoping that all his rambling

had brought him love and joy?


That you can smell the human gasses

coming off of dead bodies: hydrogen sulfide,

methane, and cadaverine,

yes, sweet cadaverine?


And still there’s always the same question:


Why do we age?


At night you cannot see the dust

Or the paint chipping. 

It is all hidden behind the stars.


Keys are worthless, locks can’t be

Unlocked, and still you have to walk

through the door.  There is nowhere else.


You have to walk through the door.  


Death and Life Sing It


Death sings

And life listens


Life then tries

Her hand


She sings

About trees

And winter

And the beach

At nightfall

When the singing

Is done. 


Death smiles

And says

That’s nothing.

Listen to this.



My silence and your silence

speak a language

we learned long ago

in a world where silence

moved the waves

and every sparrow

flew on wings of silence

into our eyes


And every word

we learned to speak

is part of a prayer

connecting us

to all the words

spoken by all people




This silence and these words

invented love


Taught us to whisper



Taught us

To open our eyes


Taught us

To enter the woods

And fields

And learn the meaning

Of everything



38 Easy Steps to Carlyle’s Everlasting Yea

After living with Rod Mckuen in the horse-filled streets of Sandusky

Arise and sing naked

And dance naked

And visit your mother naked

And be nervous and tragic and plugged in

And pay the waiter in kisses

And pay the beggar in silver

And embrace the silent and scream for them

And grab watches and ask them for directions

And be a carpenter and redeem all the sins of the University of Illinois

And look for Walt Whitman beneath the concrete in the street

And put your thumbs in your ears and ask somebody to dance

The bossa nova and hear him or her say

Sorry I left my carrots at home

And eat/write/cry/drink/smoke/laugh and keep holy the Lord’s Day all in the same breath

And be a blue angelic tricycle

And be any martyr’s unused coffin

And be you or me – it doesn’t matter which

And write poems like Pablo Neruda does

And throw them into the street/into the wind

And be Christ waiting at the bus stop for a passing crucifixion 

and not having enough exact change to mount the cross

And be a mail-order clerk at Sears and send free TV sets to all the charity wards  at Cook County Hospital

And free the masses and free yourself from the masses

And march on Moscow, searching with burnt-out eyes for Zhivago

And be afoot with your vision and be afoot with my vision

And be underfoot and underground

And sell magic sparrows at the Maxwell Street Flea market

And carry flowers to the poets’ corner and water them with enormous Byronic tears

And wander through midday downtown Chicago humming “the St. Louis blues” and know the meaning of nothing

And guess the meaning of everything

And be a mind-blistered astronaut with nothing to say to the sun but

Honey I’m yours.



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