My free verse for Pedestal for a Shoe (decaled onto the roof of the sculpture):
What is lost
when you decide
on the kindness of strangers
My mother’s family lost
our home, built by my grandfather,
where the second floor was to be bedrooms
for my mother and her sisters
our farm and farming life, our deep woods
that surrounded. Our land.
short summer nights and short winter days….
Knowing who is who and what is what.
Ways of doing and ways of speaking.
Knowing when a joke is a joke
and when it is not.
Knowing where things are, in case you need to go there
or not go there.
You lose knowing
not only What game is being played
but also what are the Rules of the Game
and when and how you can break those rules
and still be okay.
When you flee
it is with what you can take on your back.
You bring your language, your customs
but soon discover
these label you an interloper.
You try to pass, integrate
But still, without the who’s who and what’s what
you become an easy mark.
part of your heart never stops
wanting to go home
even in these amazing United States of America.
And your children become the tangled roots
that you put down in spite of yourself
II. In Latvia, my grandfather learned from a friend that he was “on the list” to be deported to Siberia so that his farm could be claimed for “collective” use. Thus he made the decision to leave, for what turned out to be forever.
This shoe was to go on that horrible journey into an unknown future, but was dropped by someone/my mother (then a child of 7) in the haste of fleeing. It then sat in the sawdust of the unfinished second floor of my family’s house for 70 years. Seventy years until my mother’s family could get out of displaced persons’ camps in Germany, work off their passage to the U.S. on a Colorado sugar beet farm ($1.00 for 1 ton of beets, child labor included), migrate to Minnesota where my mother eventually met my father and had me. Seventy years until the Soviet Union fell, and the Russian occupiers of our house passed away, and I could freely travel to Latvia with my daughter to see our now-dilapidated house inhabited by a Latvian squatter.
…I noted in The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia that most of the exhibits were enlarged photos and news clippings. There were few objects because few objects survived the Stalinists’ and Nazis’ destruction. This shoe would have disappeared too, had it not lost its mate.
III. I wish I could say, “That was then, and this is now.”
“That was World War II, and this is 2016.”
I wish I could say, “We all learned the right things from the horror that was World War II.”
But I can’t.