Poetry Highlight: “Summer Night” and “August Wind” by Marcin Oświęcimka

By: Michael Downs

As I try to write these words, a little more than a month has passed since Marcin Oświęcimka drowned while swimming off one of the Canary Islands. Marcin, a writer and graduate student at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, had begun a semester abroad at Universidad de La Laguna in Tenerife, working to complete his degree in English philology with an emphasis on American language and culture.

Though I am a writer and professor in the United States, for a brief time in Spring 2022 I taught in Kraków, which is how I met Marcin. Quickly, I came to admire his writing and to feel grateful for his spirit. Smart and witty, Marcin connected to others through tenderness and empathy. He organized events for the campus’s English language and literature club. He could talk about skateboard wheels as well as he could discuss poems by Charles Bukowski.

For an assignment in my class, he wrote a poem based on a painting by Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Some 75 years after Hopper finished his “Summer Evening,” Marcin looked closely at the image of a man and woman standing in garish porch light, and he called them “a couple like any other.” Such a bold statement! Literature usually explores what differentiates the individual from others. So, Marcin’s description challenged my expectations and raised questions. What would the poem reveal about couples that make them all alike? At the end of his “Summer Night,” published here for the first time, Marcin offers a paradoxical answer that leaves the reader to wonder about the distances between people in love.

As seen in “Summer Night” and a second poem, “August Wind,” Marcin was a writer and poet of great potential. In an email before he was to leave for Tenerife, we talked about the possibility of him studying in the United States. I knew of a scholarship, and he hoped to conduct research into attitudes toward different foreign accents in English. “No other country can provide so many opportunities to research that field,” he wrote.

As for his creative writing, Marcin told me that he’d been traveling back and forth between composing in Polish and in English. It turns out, he wrote, “that I’m a completely different poet in my mother tongue, and I’m currently having adventures exploring this side.”

Summer Night
after Edward Hopper’s Summer Evening

the guests returned to their homes
it was an enjoyable evening
(for them)
or at least it looked as if it was
firewood and charcoals are crackling still
in the barbecue

they are a couple like any other

the night has come and
moths are headed to the lamp
sizzling on the bulb
and grasshoppers and
an occasional owl
are looming
from the meadows
and from the woods

this corner of the world
is where time flows how
it was meant to
with the idle wind strolling along
and perhaps too many chances
to think about what we all
think we think about, but we don’t

a neighbourhood like this is too small
for having secrets
so that’s how I know
they are a couple like any other

I see their undraped curtains
and the door blind undrawn
And it doesn’t mean much
nor does it bare a soul

I see them in the spotlight
sitting on the ledge of the veranda
quite close to one another
but they are a couple like any other
here
infinity spans between them

august wind

august wind
sometimes carries
notes of autumn
to itself
although it’s still
summer around

and silver moon
shows up
now and then
in the middle of a golden day

so I find a single dry straw
among lush blades of grass
and a lonely white cloud
in a patch of clear blue sky

old age reminds us that
it not only reads our memoirs
but also
writes us back

– Marcin Oświęcimka

Poetry Feature: “On Being Mean” by Olivia Sokolowski

On Being Mean

 

A man walks up to me at the gas station air pump

and tries to explain how to use the machine. I understand

how to use the machine. When he won’t take the hint

I get back in my car and he shouts, I don’t want to hurt

you! I’m just trying to help! And that’s when I get the urge

to lean out the window and smile I’m just a mean

person! Right, don’t I remember your voice from last year

calling to tell me the same? Or was it my mother’s

laughter, saying zippy, zingy, feisty—little tap-

dancey words, maraschinos? Oh man, by now I know

the artistry of Mean, its well-lit pastry case

haloing flavors: blistering pineapple, thoughtless

plum… Rich beyond measure were the egg yolks

plashing the windshield of that new Subaru. I once

stole back a birthday gift, a mounted painting, and stayed

thirsty for that urge days later. Were you not

in the car when A. read us his poem about the body

in his backseat, dying, white hair loosing

from that figure which must have been his grandfather

but turned out to be the treasured family dog? O,

how the rest of us laughed! Like shards of hard candy

shooting out of the sunroof and into the mouth

of the moon. The moon is kind because she eats this

kind of laughter, fashions it into an ambergris

waxed with sleek window cats and tulle-purple dusks, an average

she used to perfume the crags of the quiet stadium

we parked beside. But now, I only want to cross

the highway of that memory to touch the dark

noses of the cows that grazed theresweet and sad

beneath the moon’s blue spit. Why can I only

see them now with their faces to the earth, how the pulses

of their breath ask a question the grass still refuses?

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia Sokolowski

On Being Mean

Olivia M. Sokolowski is a poet currently pursuing her PhD at Florida State University. She earned her MFA at University of North Carolina Wilmington and her undergraduate degree at Berry College. Her work is recently featured or forthcoming in Lake Effect, Tupelo Quarterly, Gulf Coast, and Nelle. You can also find Olivia streaming at twitch.tv/clockwork_olive.

Exclusive Art Feature: “Paused” by Rutvi Vakharia

Rutvi Vakharia

Paused

Rutvi Vakharia comes from Rajkot, India. She recently pursued her BVA in painting from MSU, Vadodara. Her interests are architectural segments, abandoned architectures, and her surroundings in the midst of sprawling urban cityscapes. She is a recipient of Nasreen Mohamedi Award for Best Display 2021. She has participated in annual exhibitions at Birla Academy (2022), Bombast Art Society (2021), and KCC Ami Festival (2020).

Exclusive Art Feature: “Livable Lives” by Jia Jia

Jia Jia Livable Lives Jia Jia is a multimedia artist. She works primarily in installation and incorporates sculpture, video, and performance. Her practice uses satire and humor to imagine everyday objects anew. She earned her MFA in sculpture from the University of Washington. She was the recipient of the Boyer and Elizabeth Bole Gonzales Scholarship in 2020.

Exclusive Poetry Feature: “My Lover and I” by Christopher Kuhl

 

October blows dust, summer
long gone into a dark barn

like a hiding lover. Autumn
buries my life as the heavy,
fallen leaves and first hard frost
choke the grass.

My lover loves me
and grants me my loneliness

beneath a sky of steel-tipped
stars. The huge sun, yellowed
like an old bruise,

slips behind the hedgerows.

Who among us is holy?
One with myself, I kissed
the skin of a stone, and

heard the sea, the sea
rolling out, whispering
as dark as wine in a skin

or in its cold jar—the nightmare
silence is broken; I go to my lover

and am lonely no longer. At dusk
our slow breath thickens in
the air: begin with the rock;
end with the water.

Shut the kitchen door slowly
behind me

with a click.

 

Christopher Kuhl has published poetry, essays and short fiction extensively in on-line and print
journals. He has also written eleven free-ranging books of poetry and prose, exploring the
interactive human, natural and spiritual worlds. You can follow him and his fidgety brain on his
Facebook author’s page, Christopher Kuhl Writer.

Exclusive Poetry Feature: “Christmas Comet” by karla k. morton

 

Dec 27th, and it’s already light so much later.


It’s then I realized I missed winter solstice —

no chance to celebrate

the longest night of the year;


still consumed in the everything-grief

of my Deerhound, dead at 13 –

so old for a big breed; so young for a human.

The sweet suffering of a grateful life;


my mother trying to wrap Christmas biscuits

in a trash bag,

asking for the fifteenth time:

where all this food came from,

and whose new jacket is this,

and why didn’t I bring the dog like always;


that hot bandage ripped quick and again

off the wound that had almost healed

twelve minutes ago.


So much to think about – holidays, family, death,

as if the Christmas Comet stirred such things –

like full moons calling forth newborns and floods.


And if the moon stirs the waters,

what would a comet stir

but the very breath from an old furry body,


and the mind of a woman

as sweet as a box of peppermint creams,

the lid left open,

 

swept up and pulled

glowing

into the long darkness of the woods.

 

2010 Texas Poet Laureate karla k. morton has fourteen collections,  with “The National Parks: A Century of Grace” her most recent and historic: visiting and writing about all 62 national parks in situ. She’s a National Heritage Wrangler Award winner, songwriter, and nominee for the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

Exclusive Poetry Feature: “The Dascomb Aerie” by Donna L. Emerson

 

(family homestead, Bath New York)

I lift the old wooden fold-out chair from the shed. Its canvas cover is faded.
I can still make out stripes of orange, yellow, red, with a thin line of royal blue
every now and then.

We walk, the chair and I, to the mound of soft grass where the house used to be.
The grass under my feet, long and shiny. It feels as it did in the 1950’s
when we sat under these same maple trees, now as then fluttering in the breeze.

I can still see aunts and uncles strewn about on cotton quilts here,
near the old house. They talk about fishing, going gliding later today,
about Eisenhower and that oddball Nixon. They laugh, telling the story
of splashing in Camel’s Creek below the farm when they were kids.
They had one bathing suit among the four of them and had to give it
to the minister’s son, who came along.

They take in summer sun, rolling leg on leg, rubbing on suntan lotion,
grooming each other. My Dad and Uncle Cecil, shirtless, boxer shorts
showing above Bermudas, lying on their stomachs. Mom and Aunt Jane,
hair pulled back with combs and rubber bands, slide their oiled hands
up and down their husbands’ backs. Other than here
I don’t see men lying down like this, close as all four in bed together.
Other than here my father never lies down, except at night.
Uncle John sits in his yellow polo shirt and shorts, sucking on his pipe,
while Aunt Betty slaps a fly on her soft knee.
Uncle Harry’s at the pond with the boys, fishing.
Aunt Helen’s gone shopping in Hornell.

Waves of heat, flush with red raspberry smell, move over us.
Grandpa’s leaning down in the berry patch in his sleeveless, ribbed undershirt
and gray post office pants, a two-gallon metal pail on his belt, picking berries.
We’ll have them for dinner and breakfast, then lunch too.
We girls will help our moms can them in jellies tomorrow.

I follow the thick, drunk flight of bumblebees on the cluster of thistle flowers
next to Grandma’s lawn chair. She says, “When we were kids
we used to make hot pads out of these. See how the thorns hold them together

They were real pretty.”
She and I put thistle flowers together to make pads for the family dinner table.
There, Grandpa will pray for five minutes while we fidget,
asking God to “…make these stories to our uses…”
that we kids never understood until last year.

 

Donna L. Emerson lives in Petaluma, California, and western New York. Recently retired from Santa Rosa Jr. College. Donna’s award-winning publications include the New Ohio Review, CALYX, the London Magazine, and Paterson Literary Review. She has published four chapbooks and two full-length poetry collections. Her most recent awards: nominations for a Pushcart, Best of the Net, and two Allen Ginsberg awards. Visit her website: Donna Emerson.com

Exclusive Poetry Feature: “I Have Been Yearning For a Safe Space in the Desert” by Alise Versella

Just me

…………..The Joshua trees

And the Milky Way (no light pollution)

No noise polluting the tramways of my brain

It all runs through me

Sets my nerves to cackling like crows atop birch trees

………………(I loved the birch trees in Maine

………………And the top of Cadillac Mountain

…………………………….. Just me

……………………………………………….The rock

…………………………………………………………………And the wind

………………………………………………………………………………………………….All the Atlantic around me

                                                                                                                               

Cold and brutal and sparkling in the sun speckled between the clouds—a toad hiccupping for a sky)

 

My heel struggling over cobblestone in Dublin, musicians on Grafton Street

St. Stephen’s Green holds me still

Holds me like you never did

 

I yearn for the ways in which a place loves me

Understanding what I mean in my silence

 

I am craving the retreating of the desert

Everything strands of time suspended

………………You have to look harder for the blooming

—really listen for the gurgle and the ripple

………………Like how lately I really have to listen hard to hear my heartbeat

 

My shoulders two boulders red in the sun

I need the truth of a desert being the last place you’d look for life

And yet here we are existing

 

…………….(I am a desert now)

…………………………….But you didn’t know the flowers bloom in the spring here too

—pollination happens amongst dust

 

I am learning how to shed the husk

Of the world and let nature do its

Living—I will live better to see the stars in all their light-absorbing glory

Perhaps the belt of Orion will cinch tight the waist of my worry

 

I will become one with a memory

Between the laundered sheets of time

Spaces free of concrete suffocating

…………….Plastic bag over the mouth of breathing

 

Sometimes I feel like I am suffocating within my own body

 

Oh for the empty

……………The archeological sand ready to petrify my bones

A fossil of my vertebrae

Oh for the desert to empty my lungs—fill the night of me with a moon for its stars

 

 

Alise Versella is a pushcart nominated contributing writer for Rebelle Society whose work has been published widely. She is forthcoming in Crack The Spine and The Poeming Pigeon. Her latest poetry collection, When Wolves Become Birds,  is out now through Golden Dragonfly Press.  You can find her at www.aliseversella.com.

Exclusive Poetry Feature: “Aubade” by Jesse Wolfe

 

Her brown curls heaped on the pillow,
the comforter sprawled below her breasts.
She fled into her magazine.

For a minute, motionless, he stood.
Starlings chattered in the walnut tree.

*………. * ……….*

In days they decided on a baby.
It was not the last “decision.”

* ……….* ……….*

As, like coils of hair, they each unraveled
in stories too intricate for pianos or flutes,
he strained to envision that tableau
(the floral bed spread they bought in Berkeley;
her lips almost closing, moving back apart
as she subvocalized; his own feet sunk
into the carpet)
in successive surrogates of that home:
their beach bungalow in Venice,
their box apartment in Japan …

*………..* ………..*

She lingered in the garage, assembling
their grandson’s tricycle.
He’d be out of his wheelchair next month, or not.
They’d live to see the child’s graduation, or not.
Their years living apart
would come to seem natural—an exhalation—
or always hurtful and capricious.

He returned to his music stand.
For a week he’d been practicing
the first movement of this piece by Roussel.
He could be in high school again.
Focus, repetition. No expectations
save one note tilting toward the next.

 

Jesse Wolfe teaches English at California State University Stanislaus. His debut poetry chapbook, En Route, appeared in December 2020. He is the author of the scholarly monograph Bloomsbury, Modernism, and the Reinvention of Intimacy (Cambridge, 2011) and is completing a second scholarly book about intimacy in contemporary Anglo-American fiction.

Exclusive Nonfiction Feature: “To Whom It May Concern” by Olivia Mclean

Dear White people, To whom it may concern,

 

I am writing to you not as an “angry Black woman” or as an angry person of color but as a young, scared Black woman and as a young, scared person of color. I am writing this letter with deep sorrow, pain, and disgust. I am writing this letter today regretting it, as it should have never come to this. But nevertheless, today I am writing this letter.

 

XX/X/XXXX

 

Dear white people,

 

……We don’t hate you. We are tired. We don’t despise you. We are tired. It is by luck, by chance; that you are white. Just remember, you too could have easily been in our situation. And my question to you is, would you be able to handle it? The emotional, physical, and mental torment. I ask again: Could you handle it? Could you handle the unjust fear? The unjust inequality? The unjust hate? Could you honestly tell me right now you would be able to handle not only what we are currently going through, but what we have gone through for centuries?

……Some of you have to be excused or warned about certain historical events in history before learning about them. Why is that? Is it because of the gruesome details and pictures? Is it because your heart goes out to our ancestors? Is it because you are tired of learning the same thing over and over and you can’t bear to sit through a forty-five-minute documentary on what our lives were like? We aren’t warned before we are gunned down. We weren’t warned before we were enslaved, and we will not be warned in the future. Could you handle that? If you couldn’t handle a mere history lesson of a snapshot of our lives, I think I can answer for you. No, you could not handle any of it. Nor do you wish to handle any of it. So why should we? So don’t dismiss, misplace, or excuse my lack of gratefulness when I voice my annoyance and blatant disgust when I hear a privileged white individual say, “I understand how you feel.” 

Sincerely,

XXXXXX

 

 

Dear police officers,

 

……We do not hate you. We fear you. I question the system that provides us with people like you, people who vow to protect and serve. There have been too many times when you have gotten away with killing us. 

……And the question is, why? Is it because you believe we are inferior? Is it because  our existence threatens you? Do you feel like you are doing justice to your badge? Does it sound better when you internally justify it as doing your country justice? The question that cannot seem to escape my mind is: why are you all threatened by us? That question should not be answered through numerous unnecessary killings. That question is one for you and you alone to settle with your consciences. 

……Allow me to elaborate on who I am referring to when I say, “all.” Although this letter is dedicated to police officers, I do not solely mean police officers, but the systems that employ them, the people who create systems to ensure Black people do not succeed. I am referring to our medical practices and our justice systems. I am, although it may seem out of place, also referring to our school systems. 

……With that being said, I do wonder how you, our protectors and enforcers of “fair” law, go home and sleep at night knowing you killed innocent people and you went unpunished. How do you go home and kiss your kids goodnight when hours ago, in the blink of an eye, you took that opportunity away from someone else? How do you go home at night and hug your spouse, knowing someone will never get a hug again from their loved one because you decided, despite not having known a single thing about this Black individual, except the one or two things you interpreted as truth, that they didn’t deserve to see another day? 

……I wonder: how do you all come to this conclusion in a fraction of a second? Do you get a little tickle in your left foot? Is it more of a gut feeling? Does your right eye twitch?  Is the left knee quivering? It must be something special that is occurring, something so special that only police officers possess this knack for knowing, in such little time, the worth of one’s life.  How do you go home at night and wake up the next morning and make a fresh pot of coffee knowing a man will never walk this earth again because you decided it was his time to leave? How do you go home at night knowing you took so many opportunities away from not only the person you murdered in cold blood but their family too? ? How do you even go home at night?

……One? sixty? One-hundred? Two hundred and fifty? How many. How many more children, brothers, fathers, mothers, cousins have to die before this ends? How many more names have to go down in history before this ends. How many more riots have to occur before this ends? How many more stories do we need to tell? Our bodies were not solely placed on this earth for people like you to fire off practice shots like you are at a range. We do not exist, nor should we exist, only to become a landmark in history. We are human just as you are, and our history needs to stop being written for us. “Justice will be served” in reality means justice will be served to certain people.

……I would not wish this life on anyone. Not the life of a Black person but the fear of living the life as a Black person in today’s society.

……When will it end.

Sincerely,

XXXXXX

 

May 25, 2020

Dear George Floyd,

 

……Your letter will be the shortest. Not because I lack the necessary sympathy or empathy. And It is not because I lack the format in which I hope the words will flow my mouth and transfer onto this paper. My reasoning for keeping your letter the shortest is rather simple. There are simply no words that yet exist that can express the whirlwind of emotions I feel while writing this. To say I’m saddened by your death would be the understatement of the year. To think that you will never return to your family simply because a man took it upon himself to take your life disgusts me. I am sorry that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am sorry that I am writing this letter. I am sorry that the system failed you. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry. The tears that fill my eyes for you and for your family will not bring you back. The tears we all cry for you. The screams we scream for you, the fires we start in your name. None of it will bring you back and that is the worst part. No matter what we do you will not be back. I am sorry. I am sorry your life ended prematurely before you could reach your aspirations. I am sorry your family is one man less. I am sorry you will be a topic of conversation for generations throughout your family for something so troubling and I’m sorry all I can do is apologize for something that never should have happened to you or anyone. 

Sincerely, 

Olivia Mclean

 

 

I do not wish to be white or any other race. I wish for something that should not ever be one’s wish…equality. To say I want you all to look at me and not see colour would be an unfair and rather illogical request of mine. I want you all to see the colour of my skin, just as I wish to see the colour of your skin. However, I do not want to be judged for the colour of my skin, my hair texture, or the size of my lips. When I look at you all, I want to see the different shades of us that help make up the world we live in today. I want us to appreciate what has become so taboo as a topic in today’s society. No, our skin tone or other physical features do not and should not be the basis of judgment, rather a mere observation as we continue to make what should be natural, fair judgements based off what exists in one’s mind, body, heart, and soul, versus the minor details of physical appearance that we notice on the pathway to judgement.  

 

 

XX/XX/XXXX

And to the public,

 

……Black lives matter. That seems to threaten and enrage many people. And what is heard in response is all lives matter. It needs to be understood that the Black Lives Matter movement is not one negating the struggles of others. It is making those aware of our struggle as well. To say all lives matter in response to that is, however, negating our struggle. To say you understand what we are going through and how we feel is false. You will NEVER understand the pain we live through for simply having darker skin. We need not negate the progression that has been made but we are nowhere close to the end nor should we be. If men and women are still to be taken from this earth because of their melanin…We should not even speak of the progression made thus far. We should be embarrassed to speak of progression in a positive manner.

……Violence is never the answer and I would never condone it, but hear me out when I say I understand it. I feel for those who choose violence. It has been years of fighting a fight that seems like a losing battle. It is not easy to fight for rights that everyone should have. It is not easy to see unjust things go without punishment. People get tired. People get angry. So one can’t be surprised when violence has become a means to an answer.

Sincerely, 

XXXXXX

 

 

November 11, 2020

Dear 2020, 

 

……A letter is not sufficient enough for this year. Who would have thought we would live through a pandemic, Trump (the epitome of a patriarchal society), and everything else that spiraled down after he became president, on top of everything else wrong occurring during 2020. What can I say? We made it through multiple phases of the world being shut down and we made it through Trump. We have a ways to go, but all I can stomach saying right now is we made it thus far and that must go for something. I refuse to say anything else, call me superstitious…but I won’t risk it. 

……Two more months. 

Sincerely,

All 

 

 

XX/XX/XXXX

……And I somehow feel obligated to apologize for my blunt choice of words or topic. I feel this need to make it clear that my intentions, which are not to (never will be to) hurt anyone, gather pity from anyone especially an unknown audience, or provide any more unneeded hate. 

……I wrote this letter not as an “angry Black woman” or as an angry person of colour, but as a young scared Black woman and a young, scared person of colour.  

……I wrote this letter with deep sorrow, pain, and disgust. I wrote this letter today regretting it as it should have never come to this. But nevertheless, today I wrote this letter.

Sincerely,

Olivia Mclean

 

 

Olivia Mclean, an upcoming junior at Towson University, is working towards obtaining her degree in Exercise Science. She loves writing and finding creative ways to express what’s on her mind. She sees writing as a form of art, and one she can not imagine being apart from. She loves the idea that writing can express so many different emotions in various forms, and she hopes to continue exploring writing and learning from it.