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Wasyl Szewczyk (Poem)
By James Strecker
|"Charlie Szewcyzk, the farmer Wasyl, died last April in his eightieth year."|
This method I learned
from Charlie: After the meal
wash your bowl and spoon.
Let them dry on the counter
until you eat again.
He was a bachelor. In his seventh
decade they brought women, like
weather-beaten cattle, to the timid
man's home for him to take in
marriage. He rejected the sagging
Polish widows and their match-made
schemes for his land.
He left the house and garden in a
will. There was little else: four boxes
of novels describing sophisticated
bachelors and accessible blondes,
and a handful of age-ruined
photographs, the girl beautiful in 1921.
Had he loved her? He wanted to nod
his head yes, but couldn't. He left
an epithet, Charlie, a handy anglicized
substitute for the alien Wasyl.
We removed two kinds of shirts from
his room: white shirts covered with
cellophane, then dust (these should not
be spoiled too soon by common
labourer's use) and others laden with
sweat, odors of work eating the fibres.
He wasted nothing, not even his life.
Wasyl Szewczyk is dead,
Wasyl Szewczyk of Galicia,
A Ukrainian serf from a feudal age
who despised the priest and his
landowner's god. He had seen a
pregnant girl beaten by holy fists, had
fled to a dirty coal mining town, a
fourteen hour shift, and wept from
the pain of his burned, bandaged hands.
His fingers learned to play the clarinet,
cut hair with a barber's expertise, hold
a book of Shevchenko's poetry. He
was attuned, like spring, to the delicacy
of creation. At meals, he belched with
thanks, for bread and cream, a peasant.
He lies buried in Beausejour, Manitoba
where he once pastured cows, and his hair
was black as a rain-soaked prairie field.
Wasyl Szewczyk is dead.
There was little to say after him. We
lacked his wit, was it peasant or Slavic,
that taunted death as a nuisance and friend.
He knew the dead to be lucky.
What aspect knows the man?
He posed unsmiling for photographs.
He lived a long life, should have hated
the world. He wore a suit on Sundays.
Charlie Szewcyzk, the farmer
Wasyl, died last April in his
eightieth year. At seventy-five
he had learned to play
Read James Strecker's INside story on poetry writing.
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