Tatuś, tatusiu: (What I called my Dad in Polish [I never got to call him Dad] : An English translation of Lines that I had to write in Polish & published in a previous post)

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atuś, tatusiu


Tatuś, tatusiu, I found myself
saying to myself, in Polish,
in a bed in a hotel room
on my first & only
visit to Warsaw, in 1996,
60 years after my birth there,
57 years after our escape from there
on the day the Germans started
bombing our city.

I don’t understand why I have to write these lines
in Polish, I don’t know if anyone will ever read them,
I don’t know how I remember, how I now write
these words, how they come from me
(with some help from online translating sites),
nor do I know if they’re grammatical or not:
I haven’t spoken, haven’t thought, have read
or written almost nothing in Polish
for almost 70 years, since I started speaking,
thinking, reading & writing mostly in English
& later also in Hebrew,
but it was my first language,
my language with my Mamusia & my Tatuś,
with my dear Grandmother, my uncles & aunts
& cousins & friends who remained behind
in Warsaw & were almost all exterminated,
and it’s somehow important to me.
to write these lines in Polish.

About two weeks ago, on the day that was
the 109th birthday of Mamusia, my Mum,
who lived 62 years, I found myself writing
lines about her in Polish, maybe also because
I’d been so moved some days earlier by reading
in Polish Wisława Szymborska’s poem “Any Case”
when a friend sent me an English translation,
and yesterday, on the 69th anniversary
of my father’s death on Yom Kippur 5706 (1945)
in Shanghai, I published a memoir
of my experience of that day (in English)
in a post on my blog, & then most of that day
found myself writing these lines
to and about him in Polish.

Tatuś, tatusiu,
sweet words, sweet thoughts,
sweet feelings for a person
I knew for no more than 9¼ years,
how many times I spoke those words to him
how often he listened to me
how he helped me in Shanghai
to learn English
& later also Russian
so I could read books & newspapers
when English publications became
inaccessible there after Pearl Harbor,
(already then I was addicted to reading)
& I could also listen to Radio Moscow
& follow the Red Army’s victorious
advances westward, & mark
each of them with little red flags
on a map that I stuck on the wall,
with hopes & yearnings for this war to end

& how he took me with him sometimes
when he went to buy stamps
for his personal collection of Polish stamps
or Chinese stamps that might be
a good investment, and helped me to build
a small collection of stamps of the British Empire;
& sometimes he took me along to cafés
where he met friends or others
he may have had business with;
& once or twice to the dog races,
& once or twice to Jai Alai games.

& I still remember how once
he was very angry with me
when he bought some good meat
on the black market especially for me
& I couldn’t eat it, I felt sick,
but he got so angry, he wanted to beat me
with his belt, I hid under the table
& Mamusia didn’t let him hit me.

& maybe there was also always a tension
between us, from his fear that my mother
might love me more than him,
a tension I know myself as a father
of three sons, a tension, I imagine,
that all fathers who’ve grown up
in a patriarchal/romantic culture
sometimes feel, and my father was
a very jealous man, so my mother wrote
in her memoirs.

but all that aside, & also
those many hard memories
of the painful last year of his life
that I wrote briefly about in that post
in my blog & don’t want to repeat here,
I remember him with love and admiration,
& know deeply that I owe my life,
yes, to chance or luck in every case,
but also to him, for his sperm, for his spirit,
for his love & his resourceful support of my mother & me
and also for doing all that he did to bring us
to safety, where we could survive that war,
and to enable me to grow & become who I am now,
still remembering the only three words I actually
remember him saying to me, and quite often:
“Everything is possible.”

[a Hebrew translation will hopefully follow tomorrow]


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