The residue of war, plastic runners on the gold wall-to-wall creep filthy through the house. The terror of stacked bodies, their screams, pleas transported, but always back of mind, to this improbable suburb of split-levels. A boiler of brisket, a believer in the evil eye, she wanders a fractured path among churchgoers, whiskey sours, backyard roses. My spared mother, not spared. The solitary afternoon prayer perched on a green brocade couch chosen because, she observes, Americans live like czars. Czars with slipcovers, I say, but there is no humor there. Doings from the Talmud, meat and milk dishes clannish in separate quarantine, long sleeves in high summer, a dilemma to explain to my tittering friends who bring strange stories to their icy homes. The despised rescuer, her husband snoring oblivious as she strangles in the sheets hunting dead brothers in Warsaw dreams, a beard, a somber suit rounding a corner, she runs for ephemera. He awakens, so she must too, coffee demanded, ghosts dissipated, the price of rescue.
3 Questions for Paula
What was your process for creating these pieces?
In Displaced, I sought to discover as dispassionately as I could, my mother’s perspective as a Holocaust survivor transplanted to a foreign country and culture. This required closely listening to her voice and putting aside the perceptions of a child whose life was deeply affected by her.
In The Salon, I wanted to explore the perceptions and images of a very ordinary experience that becomes unexpectedly extraordinary. By sifting through the experience as both participant and chronicler, I hoped to capture the surprising impact of it.
What is the significance of the forms/genres you chose for this work?
Free verse feels both expansive and self-governing to me. Writing in this form leaves me responsible for making my own rules, allows me to keep a poem closer to my own voice and imposes an order that stays internal to the poem itself. Somehow that order creates a license for creativity.
What is the significance of this work to you?
Displaced: My mother escaped Poland just before the Nazis invaded, and after a series of moves around the world, wound up in a Baltimore suburb. This poem is about the life she had to abandon and what she had to accept in the name of security. It is an acknowledgment of her suffering, many years overdue.
The Salon: This poem is about connection, which can be elusive when actively sought. At other moments, when not courted, it can present itself as a gift. It is also about kindness, which I like to believe runs as a constant, but sometimes undetectable current.
Paula Selis is a former public interest attorney, with a BA in English from Dartmouth College. She currently teaches at the University of Washington and Seattle University Law Schools. She studies creative writing at Hugo House in Seattle. This is the first publication of her poetry.