Monday, July 3, 2017

On the Road, Hijacked by Memory

If you've been reading my poems, you'll know that so much of what I'm interested in is what's in our memories and how we can use what's there in our poetry and fiction and essay.

Andrena Zawinski, one of my favorite poets, has been thinking about memory too, and I'm pleased to be able to post one of her recent poems here.

It's called "On the Road, Hijacked by Memory," and it originally appeared in Bloodroot Literary Magazine.


We draw our strength from the very despair 
in which we have been forced to live...”––Cesar Chavez

Riding another lazy Sunday afternoon 
along the sun-drenched blacktop stretch 
coasting through California’s Central Valley, 
its pastures peppered by slaughterhouse steer, 
its fields dense with migrants––some sporting 
United Farm Worker eagles on caps, all of them
packed into growers’ whitewashed school buses,
all of them off to bend and hoe, chop and prune,
pick and haul Ag Giants nuts and roots and fruits
for the Walmart Super Centers and Taco Bells.

In the car’s backseat, church onion domes
crop up inside my head, their rows of candles
flickering again for all my dead:
            For the Ukrainian grandfather, face reddened
            from the heat of hot steel, muscles knotted
            and clothes grimy, who choked to death 
            struggling with words in a strange tongue, 
            lungs dense in smoke and soot, air and water fouled 
            forging Pittsburgh steel for the Carnegies.
            For the Slovak one who carried United Mine Worker     
            protest pickets to the coal bosses instead of pick and shovel 
            down into the pitch dark shafts of the Windber mine,     
            who survived a cave-in, but not being robbed 
            by the company store and a black lung death.
            For my mother, after the assembly line night shift 
            at Federal Enamel inspecting pots and pans 
            for dimples and blisters, one hand at the small of her      
            aching back bent over the Amana. the other
            scrambling eggs then scooting my brother and me
            off to school neatly dressed with full bellies.

            For my father at Pressed Steel welding railroad cars 
            in the McKees Rocks Bottoms, tagged Cossack 
            and taunted to jump and spin and kick,  
            who got lost in a bottle of vodka and thorazine, 
             another blue collar chasing a middle-class dream.

But the range here today along this California stretch
runs ragged in rain shadow and a watery-eyed sky
looming above tract homes and trailer camp estates, 
flashy billboards boasting sprouting condos,
commercial real estate for Nestles’ Purina works,
another Chrysler-Jeep dealership, new strip mall
saddling up to wheat and oats and alfalfa,
the Delta’s humpback hills carpeted green in spring––
everything predictable, unlike this day trip, hijacked
by memory to detour along a bumpy backroad,
my own breath now so heavy-laden,
my every muscle aching.


Andrena Zawinski’s latest poetry collection, Landings, is from Kelsay Books (Hemet, CA). She has published two previous full collections of poetry: Something About (Blue Light Press, San Francisco, CA), a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award recipient, and Traveling in Reflected Light (Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, O), a Kenneth Patchen competition winner. She has also authored four chapbooks and is editor of Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry. Her poems have received accolades for free verse, form, lyricism, spirituality, and social concern. She founded and runs the San Francisco Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and is Features Editor at

In LandingsZawinski presents poems that embrace, in original ways and with deep-rooted emotional power, the worldwide condition of women, immigrants, and the working class alongside an abiding reverence for the natural world. 

Of this work, Jan Beatty says Zawinski is the necessary voice of the truth teller, speaking trouble among the beauty. Rebecca Foust lauds the collection as a book that offers wisdom and solace and one you will take comfort in reading again and again. Carolyne Wright goes on to say in these Landings, she embraces the richness of human experience and praises the courage of those who go on ‘living as if they could do anything.

If you want to read some other poems by Andrena Zawinski that have appeared here at Writing the Polish Diaspora, please click on the following titles: Something About and Triptych of Three Pines.

Landings is available at Amazon, and through Andrena Zawinski at


Leonard Kniffel said...

Poignant and beautifully Written. Thank you for posting.

Charles Fishman said...

Great promotion of Andrena's work, John, and clearly deserved.