Perhaps the very essence of human nature calls for naming things to make sense of the world.

I imagine the first humans touching rocks, blades of grass, newborn babies, and the fur of animals they killed. And making sounds — the first sounds that named the things they were touching.  In my mind the sounds don’t form words.  They resemble howls, wails, cries, high pitched screams, laughs, wheezes; they are the immediate manifestation of the physical, the plane of existence that is the most basic.

I have recently discovered that not everything that I know and experience can be named.  I have discovered that some of my experiences exist beyond words or apart from them in a place that is known only to me.  I suspect that we all have those our “own places” and we can not make them accessible to others by words.

My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in December, three months ago, and this is how I have learned that I have no words to talk about some things.  The feelings associated with my dad’s diagnosis cannot be described by the words that I know.  I am unable to name my experience but I know that it reaches to the essential, intrinsic, buried deep inside me place that seem to belong to those primordial howls, cries, and ails.  The feeling rattles beneath my skin, in the dark cave of my chest, and in the heaviness of my lower abdomen.  I have no words, just the physical sensation.

I name things to make sense of the world I live in.  I name to make things and experiences tangible and therefore accessible to others.  If I can’t capture things and experiences in words, I can’t communicate. I can’t share them with others and this means being alone with those things and experiences.

Perhaps this was the first reason for the first word: to share and not to be alone.


In a comment on the earlier post about my first public reading and book signing for To Kill the Other, Madga asked about the story of Marek’s mother’s death.  She asked if the story was based on real facts or if it was fictional. Here is my answer:

Many years had passed after the shipyard workers uprising in 1970 by the time I was old enough to understand what happened. By that time, many different stories became a part of Polish daily life, just like the stories about World War Two.

One of the stories that I remember vividly was about a pregnant woman running up the stairs in Gdynia Stocznia city train station.  As I was told, she was running up the very stairs you see on the picture in this post, screaming: “Panowie, nie strzelajcie, tam jest moj maz.” “Gentlemen, don’t shoot, my husband is there!”

As a young girl I was horrified by the events, by the fact that the woman was pregnant, and touched by her sophisticated, out of place language.

I imagined a beautiful woman holding her ripened belly (I was told she was almost nine months pregnant), sweating in her winter coat as she was running, while the sounds of machine guns cut the air.  I thought of her being brave and ferociously in love with her husband, the father of the child she was carrying.

And as a young girl, raised in the midst of the tragically romantic history of Poland, I concluded — based on another story I had heard back then — that if the people who were shooting that day spoke Polish, she would have been spared.  I simplified:  If they could only understand what she was saying, she would still be alive!

Of course my conclusion was based on the other story about the same events in which the people with machine guns were Russians.  Supposedly, the undeniable proof was derived from the fact that when they were wounded and taken to a hospital, they couldn’t communicate with the personnel because they didn’t speak Polish.

I am not sure if anyone asked questions like: Why would the Russians be wounded?  They were the only ones with machine guns, right?  But I am sure that even if these question were asked, I would had chosen the romantic, tragic story in which everything could have been different “only if,” which makes the events much more painful and corresponds perfectly with the Polish destiny/history as we know it.

I left Poland to the USA after college and the events of 1970 were pushed to the deepest corners of my memory, making a new clean place for everything that was unfolding for me in the new country, until one day I decided to send a package to Poland.

As I was chatting with the lady in a travel agency in Baltimore, and as I told her that I am originally from Gdansk, she mentioned the events of 1970 and asked me if I had heard the story about that pregnant woman.

“Yes, I remember,” I said.

“And do you remember how she was running up the stairs screaming, ‘gentlemen, don’t shoot, my husband is there!'”

That was the moment when I thought:  I have to write about it.

I am not sure if I am preserving a history of Poland in this story or if I am preserving a legend that speaks to the tragically romantic nature of people in Poland.

All I know is that I am telling a story of a pregnant woman who ran up the stairs during the shootings in December 1970 in Gdynia Stocznia city train station, asking the oppressors not to shoot because her husband was there, and I know that I had to preserve this story in my writing.

Is my choice a testimony to my romantically tragic way of perceiving reality?  Perhaps.

Here is the entire excerpt of Marek’s story from my novel, To Kill the Other.

My first public book reading and signing that took place at the Columbia Art Center turned out to be a huge success. I want to thank Mike Clark and Tim Singleton for giving me this opportunity and I want to thank Liz Henzey for organizing the event in the best way possible. I also want to thank all my friends who came to support me. Seeing you in the audience made me remember how grateful I am for your presence in my life.

My short story, Singing to an Ocean was recently published in the Water issue of the Little Patuxent Review. This story is a scene in my novel, “To Kill the Other.” I had an opportunity to read an excerpt from the story during the launch reading that took place on January 30 at Oliver’s Carriage House in Columbia.

Others who read their pieces included: Ann Bracken, Shirley Brewer, Katherine Cottle, Fred Foote, Nan Fry, Susan Thornton Hobby, Stephanie Lemghari, Gregory Luce, Prince Mensah, Fonda Bell Miller, Laura Shovan, Danielle Sinclitico, Naomi Thiers, Wes Ward, Matt Westbrook, and Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg.

The cover of the Water issue features Circle of Blue by Greg Mort whose watercolors, Gravity Waves, Stewardship Five, Oceans, Leaf Scape, and Morning Crescent, along with an interview with the artist, are also included in the issue.

Tomorrow, February 7th is my first public book reading and signing at the Columbia Art Center (at 7:30PM).  Here is the link. For those of you who want to attend, the address is in the link (bottom of the page).

Here is the first review of To Kill the Other by C Wallace Walker.

I have not yet decided about the excerpt I want to read.

Should I read the one about Taher being seven years old and learning, in the room of meetings,  what it means to be a man?

The boy looked to the middle section of the wall, bringing to life herds of wild horses that charged forward in clouds of dust. He led them with his hands; calling them and making them run away, marveling at their manes flowing in the wind. He made giraffes cast a long shadow on their faces from squinting their eyes. He brought their heads up, reaching for the highest branches of the smooth tree trunks. He reached for the black mounds of hippopotamus in the muddy waters, soft white bears buried in the snowdrifts, and watchful penguins balancing the precious eggs on their feet. He reached for gigantic deer antlers clashing with a low sound carried above the marshes and herds of oxen powerful in stillness. Lemurs, jumping between the thick crowns of the dark trees, filled the air with a high-pitched scream, and white wolves waited for the night. Taher’s eyes breathed life into them, and his hands directed their steps. All was possible only with his presence—life unfolded, and he learned to make it happen.

Should I read the one about the desert?

“Only the people of the desert can grasp the truth of life.” His father looked into the starry sky, putting his hands behind his head and stretching himself on the ground. “It’s a necessary survival skill and an art required to build a meaningful life.” His words were slow and quiet. “But most people, greedy and imprudent, lead their lives unconsciously, and that’s the time when the water turns into lead.”
“Into lead?”
“Yes.” The father looked straight into Taher’s eyes. “The water always turns into lead when there is too much of it, and when there is not enough of it.”
“Impossible!” The boy eagerly pointed out the contradiction and his own misunderstanding.
“Only the people of the desert know the exact amount of water that won’t turn into lead,” his father continued slowly. “They know exactly what amount of water is essential, and they know this is the amount, exactly the amount they should take with them. People not familiar with the desert either take too much water, or not enough. Those who run out of water are imprudent. They always go farther than they should, and that’s why they never come back. Those who take too much water, rapacious ones, overburden themselves and their animals, slowing down the journey dangerously, never arriving at their destination.

Or should I read the one about Marek, Taher’s Polish friend?

Marek’s story as told that day:

My mother woke me up with a kiss on the cheek. That’s the way she always did it. First I would feel the soft kiss, and then I would smell her chamomile hair. Usually she didn’t have to support herself on her hands, leaning to kiss me…but that day, I remember, she used both hands … on both sides of me.
“Mommy, are you okay?” I asked her, opening my eyes.
“Oh, I am just a little tired,” she said, smiling sadly. “Your brother is growing fast in my belly. He is getting heavy.” She kissed my other cheek. “Brother or sister … I meant to say.” She smiled the sweetest smile ever.
She added “sister” because I was dreaming of a brother, and she didn’t want me to be disappointed in case it was a girl. “We want a healthy baby,” she used to say to me. “I am a girl, and we play very well together, don’t we?” And that was the best argument she had, because it was the truth. Playing with her was heaven. Always. We played by the river, where schools of tadpoles shimmered in crystal waters, above the golden smooth rocks of the bottom. And in the forests, where soft moss invited our touching hands. And on the beach, where white sand turned into ingenious fortresses with numerous corridors and dozens and dozens of carefully crafted portals and windows. And in the village, where we plaited the manes of Grandpa’s horses, whispering soft words into their ears, pretending to be the Indians from a book we had just read. And in the orchard where everything smelled of pinkish-white flowers of the early spring. And in Tatry Mountains, on a long trip to Gievont Peak, where we rinsed our feet with water from tin canisters. And even on a train, where we were robbed, and someone stole my favorite kite. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” she said. “We will make you an even nicer one as soon as we get home.” She wiped my tears with a handkerchief. “With the Wawel Dragon in the center. How about that?” I didn’t realize that the memory of the most beautiful words of love I have ever heard would become the words of the most unbearable pain in my life.

Slowly silent snow day

I woke up this morning to a silence that was spreading inward and outward at the same time.  Inward, I felt very centered, still chasing the tail of a dream while slowly reaching into the waking life. It was pleasant. Outward, I couldn’t hear any sounds outside the window and I imagined the snow that  must have fallen last night. It was pleasant, too.

When I finally decided to get up, I saw it.  The world was white, silent, and still.  There is something about the snow that makes me remember the past in details — or perhaps I should say there is something about the snow that makes me see my past the way I want it to be remembered. I am not sure which one is true but I am sure what I remembered this morning.

Here is an excerpt from my novel, To Kill the Other, that was inspired by my childhood, by snow, by my mother.  And this is what came to my mind this morning when I woke up to the silent white world.

“You know, it’s funny how everything always somehow comes back to childhood,” Marek said, taking a deep breath.

“Like what?”

“Like the powdered donuts,” he continued.

“Hmm,” Katie said, waiting for him to continue.

“When I see this white powder on donuts, I see myself better.” He wiped his mouth and continued his story while folding the napkin slowly.

Katie crossed her arms as if hugging herself, knowing what was to come.

“Somehow it always goes the same way for me.”

“Why snow?” she asked.

“My mom used to make pączki.”

“What’s that?”

“Similar to donuts, but without the hole inside and…and just different, really…completely different, denser, not as sweet, a bit flaky, and with a teaspoon of thick strawberry jam inside.”

Marek closed his eyes and tilted his head back.

“First she would mix the yeast with a bit of hot water. It was live yeast. It was grayish, chalky, and cold. We would buy it in the store just a block away from our apartment. The lady in the store would cut it with a long knife and weigh it on a scale with a vertical arrow swinging from side to side. I remember we used fifteen decagrams for this recipe.

“I remember my mom checking everything twice—the weight of the yeast and the price. I loved eating it. My mom always objected, saying that I would get sick from it. But I just loved the texture melting on my tongue.

“I remember she would cover the yeast mixture with a linen cloth and put it on the radiator in the hallway for the yeast to rise. She would always tell me not to peek under the cloth because lifting the cloth could make the yeast cool off and drop to the bottom. I always thought if I did it slowly enough and just for a little while the yeast wouldn’t notice. I was sure the yeast could somehow notice things since it was alive.” Marek smiled.

“Making the dough was always fun. We would laugh and knead the dough for eternity. We had so much fun. Then she would ask me to form these dough balls with my hands. She said my hands were the perfect size for it. I was five or six. Then she would make holes in the balls with her finger and put the jam inside. Then she would close it and flatten the balls to make them look more like flying saucers. Finally she would gently put them, one by one, in deep-frying oil, asking me to stay away from the pan. She didn’t want the hot oil to splash on me accidentally.”

“You talk a lot about your mom,” Katie whispered.

“Only when I see something that reminds me of her… which is … about … always.” Marek opened his eyes.

“What about the snow?”

“I still remember her hands whitened with the powdered sugar we would sprinkle on our pączki. We used a small aluminum container that had tiny holes in the bottom. It looked like snow to me. She always allowed me to do it, to use the container. And of course I would make it snow all over the table. ‘Mom, it’s snowing, it’s snowing!’ I would scream.

“‘Just like outside. Look! Look!’ she would say in such an excited voice. We would look out the kitchen window to see snow coming slowly in the pools of streetlights at night. I would make it snow on her hands, on her wedding ring, on her other ring with a little pale pink stone.” Marek stopped for a while.

“Her eyes meant the world to me. I feel her so close sometimes,” he whispered. “Especially when I see Julie. My little Julie looks so much like my mom. Sometimes I imagine how much fun it would be to see them together.”

“Does Julie have the same attitude?” Katie smiled.

“Yep, she is six, going on sixteen,” Marek said, smiling back.

“And she has been going on sixteen ever since I can remember,” Katie said, reaching for her coffee.

“Since she was one year old.” Marek nodded.

They both stared at the box of Dunkin’ Donuts for a long while, not saying anything.

Suspended again!

To my childhood friends.

Dedykuje moim przyjaciolkom z lat dziecinstwa.

I feel like I haven’t posted anything new on my blog for ages.  I think about all the things I want to write but for some reason I am unable to bring myself to writing.

When I woke up this morning, I  realized, and verbalized for the first time, the reason for my writing inertia. It’s nothing new; it’s something that has been haunting me from time to time throughout my life: I can’t write when I become suspended.

The suspension happens between events, times, ideas, people, and things I can’t predict or explain.  And it has happened again!  Recently, I have been suspended between two worlds, between my past and my present.  When the suspension occurs, all I can do is to wait.  I have to stop and become still to allow for the suspension to end, for things to come together, for the immersion to take place.

I have just returned from Poland, and even though the visit was short it was filled with unforgettable moments of intensity that forced me to stop and wait.

Here is the story of one of the moments.

I had the opportunity  to meet with my childhood friends.  All of them live in Poland in the area where we all grew up.  And as we were sitting together, I realized that the last time we had seen each other in this group was when we were in 8th grade.

Here we are (the picture above) in December 2010, from left to right: Mariola, Terenia, Lucyna, Danuta, Adela, and Janka.

And here we are in 8th grade!  Our teacher, Ms. Zochol is sitting in the front row.  To her left are Mariola and Janka; to her right are Terenia and Lucyna.  I am standing behind them in the second row and my friend Adela is standing next to me, to my left.

Since each one of them wanted a copy of my novel, To Kill the Other, our visit started with questions related to the plot, to my research, to the reasons that made me write about this specific subject.  They were interested particularly in the story because it was the only opportunity for them to learn about it, since none of them spoke English.

As I was signing copies of my novel for my friends, I had this feeling that I was writing my name and the dedication on something mysterious, something my friends will never access.  Suddenly my work became a secret code and just by that definition grew to something more desirable, like an exotic destination we hear about but can never visit.  It wasn’t an invitation to a dialog, as books often are; it was a treasure box with a solid lock and the key to that lock was never to be found.

And at that moment the feeling of suspension started to emerge with silent questions: Am I a bridge that connects the two shores of my life? One shore is called my past and the other is called my present?  How can I bring together the content of my book, which has been a part of my life for many years, to merge with the treasure box?  How can I bring the long journey of writing my novel that transformed me and my understanding of who I am and explain it to my childhood friends who after all know me well?  And finally: Where do I belong?  Where is my home?

As I was trying to answer their questions, I felt myself falling deeper and deeper into the place of suspension.  I felt pulled down into a whirlpool of time that sliced my mind into pieces .  One part of me was there, in Poland with my friends and it felt like home.  The other part was here, in Ellicott City, at my house, at my desk remembering working on that novel and it felt like home as well.

As I ponder the different answers, that would eventually end my suspension, I am relieved to admit that I have at least finally came up with the right questions.