What My Father Believed 

My father wasn’t an educated man.  He was born on a small farm in Poland and never attended school.  He didn’t know much about stuff most of us take for granted.  One of the things he didn’t know much about was religion.  You couldn’t talk to him about things like Moses or the Garden of Eden or the Holy Trinity, even though he was born a Catholic.


But he had a strong faith, and there were things that he believed with a certainty as sure as the turning of the earth.   This is a poem about that.



What My Father Believed


He didn’t know about the Rock of Ages

or bringing in the sheaves or Jacob’s ladder

or gathering at the beautiful river

that flows beneath the throne of God.

He’d never heard of the Baltimore Catechism

either, and didn’t know the purpose of life

was to love and honor and serve God.


He‘d been to the village church as a boy

in Poland, and knew he was Catholic

because his mother and father were buried

in a cemetery under wooden crosses.

His sister Catherine was buried there too.


The day their mother died Catherine took

to the kitchen corner where the stove sat,

and cried.  She wouldn’t eat or drink, just cried

until she died there, died of a broken heart.

She was three or four years old, he was five.


What he knew about the nature of God

and religion came from the sermons

the priests told at mass, and this got mixed up

with his own life.  He knew living was hard,

and that even children are meant to suffer.

Sometimes, when he was drinking he’d ask,

“Didn’t God send his own son here to suffer?”


He believed life is hard, and we should

help each other.  If you see someone

on a cross, his weight pulling him down

and breaking his muscles, you should try

to lift him, even if only for a minute,

even though you know lifting won’t save him.


About the author: 
John Guzlowski’s writing appears in Garrison Keillor’s ‘Writer’s Almanac’, ‘The
Ontario Review’ and other journals both here and abroad.  Guzlowski’s poems about
his parents’ experiences in Nazi concentration camps appear in his books ‘Lightning and Ashes’, ‘Third Winter of War: Buchenwald’, and  ‘Language of Mules’.  His novel ‘Road of Bones; about two German lovers separated by war is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press.  Writing of Mr. Guzlowski’s poetry, Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz said, “He has an astonishing ability for grasping reality.”