Monday, February 11, 2013

For There is Hope by Martin Stepek

I've been reading Martin Stepek's poems about his family's experiences during World War II for years.  He would send me some of his and I would respond with some of mine, and I can honestly say that I was always moved by his stories of what happened to his Polish family when the Soviets came and forced them and almost two million other Poles to go to Siberia.  Reading Martin's poems taught me so much about that forgotten tragedy.

So I was happy to see that Martin was finally able to gather his poems together in a single bilingual volume, For There is Hope.

Here's a part of the book's Forward written by the great historian and journalist Neal Ascherson: 

Martin Stepek has written this astonishing poem which is at once a monument, a meditation, a prayer and an epic. It is a memorial or monument, in the first place, to the fate of his Polish family in the 1940s, a fate they shared with hundreds of thousands of Polish civilians deported to the Gulag or the Asian wastes by the Soviet invaders in 1940.  It is a meditation on life and death; his grandfather died as a Resistance fighter against the Nazis, while his grandmother survived her escape from the Soviet Union by only a few months. Their children survived the war and settled in Scotland; they used to the full the chance of a long life in a peaceful country, but now they in turn are approaching their end. Martin's father Jan, a leading figure in Scotland's Polish community, died almost as this book was going to press. The memory of what they
experienced and survived must not disappear with that generation.

The poem is a prayer, not only for Poland  . . .  but for all peoples and places in all times which have known displacement and suffering: the Clearances or the agony of Darfur. And it is an epic, the tale of one of history's great wanderings.  


Here are some sections of Martin Stepek's epic:

Siberia – GULAG 10 March 1940 to 11September 1941

In the pitch black
amidst the failure
the bleak desert
my own mind

When no-one wants you…
Don’t give up
for there is a flame
in the barbed wire
Though I thought this
only happened to others
the night came and I drowned
in a lake of pain
When no-one wants you…
Don’t give up
for there is light
in the barbed wire
Trying to settle into my fear
remembering my lovely children
cannot reach and touch them
in this wall of walls
When no-one wants you…
Don’t give up
for there is a candle
in the barbed wire
When Janina fell
for the first time
ill and weak
Mother Mary please
When no-one wants you…
Don’t give up
for there is hope
in the barbed wire
When Solzhenitsyn crumbled
in New Jerusalem
something grew in its place
derived from desolation
When no-one wants you…
Don’t give up
for there is love
in the barbed wire
When my father holds
his head in his teenage hands
his young sisters around him
in the gnawing gulag
When no-one wants you…
Don’t give up
for there is a precious candle
shining like God in this barbed wire.

When the warm snow fell we all wept
White like tiny angels floating down to us
kissing our eyes
melting on our cheeks and slowly trickling down our faces
Little tears on our soft white skin
Snow is always warm to the dead
Our souls rose as one to meet the loving clouds
and thaw

In the gulag grime
plagued with rats and thieves
a man was born of another man
In the sleaze and greed
infected with rats and thieves
in the victorious West
a pillar rises soft as cotton
In the ebb and flow
waves of ignorance
through history
something great arises
the rebirth of wisdom
another chance
to listen and see love.


For There is Hope is available from Fleming Publications and Amazon.

To read more about Martin Stepek's work, I recommend his website.  It's available by clicking here.  

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