“Mantle” and Letter by Andrea Mozarowski, Legacy Fellow

“Mantle” by Andrea Mozarowski

Father 1

I never breathed your

breath of love

I never learned breath

your exhalations stung with

fear, darkness, confined fathers

lost forever within prison walls

your breath hung with spirit

oil paint and gasoline

I never breathed your breath of love

nuzzling me close for creature warmth –

a way to find my way home –

drunk, staggering with your love

for me –

I can only dream

that the darkness wasn’t so dark

that in

this

garden

–spores from soil

you had worked

that I took in upon your breath

–and fragrant jasmine–that breaks my

heart today

— and green things that you turned over

in the earth

-even the compost that you carried to the back

-and breathed

-and exhaled

might breathe in me

and hold a hungry clue

I search the child for life in darkness

and long for home

and all my unbreathed love confines

me in my longing to belong

to breathe your love

for me.

Father 2

The last time a soldier falls on his knees it may not be on the battlefield.

And Septimus is crying,

Can’t cry

“I have I have committed a crime.”*

What if life isn’t what matters most?

Ministry of Defence

APC Disclosures 5 (Polish)

Building 60, RAF Northolt

West End road

Ruislip, Middlesex Ha6 GNG

23 March 2010

Dear Ms Mozarowski

Thank you for your enquiry about the above-named. I confirm we hold your father’s

service record.

I regret, however, that I cannot immediately give you the information, which you seek.

All Ministry of Defence personnel records are held in confidence . . .

First glimpse of the British National Archives at Kew–

Swans float in square dark pools. Unfurling clouds.

I have brought with me, snippets of father’s narrative, solitary inchoate details

studied for years, read forward and backward—and reference numbers for

documents from Churchhill’s War Office

“[T]he archive is a place for reading things that were not written for your eyes,” wrote

Ogburn. “This means that there is never quite enough.”

Archive Record 4th

Polish Infantry Division and general demobilization matters

[F/O (Foreign Office) 1063/42]

Personal and Confidential

10th

May 1946

Dear Ross:

The General does seem to have been getting more depressed lately, and impatient for

some positive development . . . One wonders what blunder the spectre of Russia

backing up the Warsaw Gov’t may not panic us into committing . . .What I fear more

than anything may happen is that the disarming and de-equipping will start too soon .

. .and we shall have thousands of depressed, bewildered and only half disciplined

soldiers making real trouble . . .

Yours,

Humphrey Lipscomb

(Brig Humphrey Theodore de Bohun Lipscomb)

Turning over each record

Gloves, care, fragility

Hands shake

I read words one syllable at a time, dreading

coherence

Father’s name father’s name father’s name

A Soldier’s name

Father’s name father’s name father’s name

I’m falling through the sky

I’m falling

What if life isn’t what matters most?

Peter lies next to me,

But it’s my father’s soldier fear

That moves on electric currents in the night

We weep

Peter has taken down one of the books from the shelf in the room we’ve rented on

King Henry’s

Peter asks, “Do you know what Patton did when he visited his wounded soldiers in

hospital? He came to their bedside. On his knees. No reporters allowed.”

Patton, famous for his brutality—

I dream of a large white goose with a square wound in its breast

And Septimus is crying,

Can’t cry

I have I have committed a crime

Beyond— the winding cobblestone of Primrose Hill

In Regent’s Park

The Frieze Masters Exhibition

Picasso’s “Dreamers”:

limbs tangle

I’m falling.

Father, my father.

Father 3

1997. We’ve gathered in Zhytomyr for a meal with old villagers who once lived in

Mozhari:

“We used to say—partisans made the Polissia their country.”

“Polissia, tse krai partisaniv.”

“Nazi soldiers burned our people alive.”

“They pierced children’s stomachs then set them on fire.”

“They erected barbed wire fences, rounded up people, set fire to everything.”

“It was Nazi occupation that drove people to join partisan groups and escape to the

forest, to Polissia.”

“They dug up our earth, our chernozem, and transported it by rail car to Germany.”

“During the war, we burned anything we harvested so that it wouldn’t feed the Nazi

occupiers.”

Father 4

After breakfast we drive out to another garden on the outskirts of Malin, where

there are plots allotted to each family, just at the edge of a Jewish cemetery which

Oleksander points out to us. The sun is strong but a faint breeze moves the stalks

and stems of the plants. I walk among the potato plants which uncle inspects; the

brothers stand in the furrows, facing one another, and pause to talk. I creep into the

field of rye balancing on my haunches squinting at the purple flowers, voloshky,

which dot the crop. I sit on the warm earth, my head just beneath the florets at the

top of the plant.

The low voices of my father and uncle barely reach me. After some time I turn back

and look over my shoulder. My father is now just behind holding a stem in one hand.

I turn and face him. “This rye from Zhytomyr region is for you,” he says.

Father 5

July 12

Today I’m leaving Ukraine.

It’s been a rough trip that makes me feel that I might have gotten close to something

real.

I don’t know how to name things.

Hard. Indigestible. Complex.

London, July 13, after leaving Ukraine

Today I turned to a pocket in my journal, which held the rye and voloshky that I had

tucked in for safekeeping. The plants are clotted with mold. The moisture of the

kalyna berries has kept them from drying out properly. I had pictured myself

someday saying – look – my father handed me this single stalk, rye, all around us,

scarves billowing in the wind.

A dark, shattered man stands in a field and offers his daughter what she

could have chosen for herself.

Father 6

The mantle was one of few items treated with reverence in my family.

So small. Kept somewhere secret by my father. All I understood was that it made

illumination possible. I remember the way it would catch the light with a hiss and

sudden brightening. I wasn’t permitted to handle it. My father took such care. With a

gentleness I can barely remember that grew rare with each passing year.

 

It wasn’t often that Dad explained things to me. And I guess he didn’t understand

how I took them in. What I did with the information, once I’d heard it. And maybe

because of that, over time, it seems that he lost interest in sharing his knowledge.

Mostly, he bossed me around.

 

The mantle was different. The first time he showed me the mantle, he explained it

was very fragile. Just one broken filament and we wouldn’t be able to make light in

the lantern for our nights on the campground. I used my super close-up X-ray vision

and believed I could see the fine threads, separate but also very close, like a cross-

stitch or crosshatch pattern I’d seen in women’s embroidery. Dad explained the

mantle was made of silk. Even the oils on your fingertips could damage the item.

That was the first time I’d heard of there being oils on my finger skin.

 

We had the material means and sacred knowledge to make light. We carried a glass

lantern with us into the forests and cleared campsites. Dad, or one of the boys, lit it

when night fell, especially if there wasn’t going to be a campfire. And yet, when it

mattered most, there wasn’t enough light. There wasn’t the means to make light. I

came to realize that dark forces unleashed in my family could extinguish my light,

but before I had words for instincts such as those or had the experience to know

how wide forgiveness had to stretch to be deemed forgiveness.

I sit beside a pile of bones. My ancestors’ bones. I am trying to get close to them for their heat—for life force, for old knowledge, for love. Fire in the bones. In the end or the beginning we cannot undo what has happened. We can only tell it. – Andrea Mozarowski, AROHO Legacy Fellow 2019

 

Letter Excerpt, Ancestors Master Class with Darlene Chandler Bassett

Thank you for the invitation. Thank you for the visioning and delivery of the legacy fellowship master class. I am so proud to count myself among the women who came together to inscribe this space. I thought it best to sit down to capture some of what I experienced before, during, and following the call, else this week will run away, and I’ll regret not taking my seat
I loved that you provided us with prompts/provocations. My challenge was resisting the tendency to turn the enterprise into a PhD thesis. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself. So I moodled for a long time, and delayed putting pen to paper until Friday. But in my interior life, I was gathering the materials to bring with me to my room, and to use to respond, through presence, to the frameworks you both provided.
Not choosing to vocally share the influences of the women, both dreamed character embodiments and brave writers, came about because you asked if there is a “sacred” artistic memory in which we share. And the positioning and insistence of sacred artistic memory broke open my heart. As you heard, my generational lineage is one in which little that is tangible has survived. In metaphorically making fire by rubbing together bones, or fragments, to call forth a narrative, I have begun to retrieve miraculous and sacred artistic memory. While it would not have served myself or the group to trace the ways in which imagery in the weavings, incorrectly identified by the weavers themselves (lost, colonized memory), set me on a pathway to discover an early Slavic female deity, Mokosh (moist earth), and how this verdant neon sacred glade blazed its way into a dream, it is this fidelity to Mokosh; to my late grandmother’s dreams (passed on to me by my aunty and father); to reading with my own eyes my grandfather’s NKVD file; and to the inscribed shadowy wooden cross erected at the mass burial site through which I can trace my lineage as a daughter, granddaughter, survivor, and writer. And so, Darlene, your early sharing of the words, “the memory we’re dealing with is nonverbal” pressed the string against the fret board. In advance of your master class, I returned to a 2013 journal. And I rewrote this extract as part of my preparatory process: “I’ve been learning the thing you think was powerless, that doesn’t serve the present, has something important to offer. Something I created in the past came out of the unconscious of something greater than what I know.”
I found it so affirming, Darlene, to hear you say that my process reflects my confidence and certainty in choosing. My process, on the surface, appears non-linear, and has taken many years. It’s only recently that I have grasped the hidden intelligence at work.
This past fall I was fortunate to attend Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s “Original Voice” training. Dr. Estes spent a morning teaching us that our original voice arises from our ancestry, from our “far back people,” and in doing so she traced the inquiry we must engage in. As such, we must use a traditional medicine structure to evolve a sturdy root system, which grounds us in our work.
On my first page of preparatory notes, I brainstormed and recorded:
-waves, Dido (Grandfather) (there is a story here I refrained from sharing of my grandfather writing inside a shoe, and throwing it out the window, as he was driven to the prison for execution; that story, and the line he wrote, reached me through principal storytellers because someone picked up that shoe and brought it to my Grandmother; this wave is one that continuously rolls out to sea and returns to shore to claim me)
-the artists who made the images of the self-seeding goddesses
-Septimus’s “I have committed a crime” infiltrating whatever somatic memory I carry of my father’s soldier story and suffering, his wounded masculinity; his failure to protect the feminine which he took to heart and never recovered from
-Mary Oliver, “The Visitor” (the first poem of hers I read in real time, when it was first published); “The Chance to Love Everything: “the dark heart of the story that is all the reason for its telling” (that named my process); and that morning’s reading from “On Thy Wondrous Works I will Meditate” (Thirst): Now the afternoon wind/all frill and no apparent purpose/takes her cloud-shaped/hand and touches everyone one of the/waves so that rapidly/they stir the wings of the eiders they blur/the boats on their moorings; not even the rocks/black and blunt interrupt the waves on their/way to the shore and one last swimmer (is it you?) rides/their salty infoldings and outfoldings until,/peaked, their blue sides heaving, they pause; and God/whistles them back; and you glide safely to shore.”
-Akhmatova, “Epilogue”; “I want to name the names of all that host,/but they snatched up the list, and now it’s lost./I’ve woven them a garment that’s prepared/out of poor words, those that I overheard” (trans. Kunitz and Hayward)
-my Baba’s dream of the broadcloth she wove, a symbolic link to or expression of thresholds, over which my grandfather stepped (told by my aunty)
And then from my memoir writings, “the things we carry that don’t stay buried.”
And that made me think about waves as the smallest units visible to the naked eye, and that made me wonder about the cycle of a wave, what is visible, and what lives below the surface tension that is invisible.
2013 was an important year for me.  I took a year’s leave of absence from work, with plans of finishing my book. I was not prepared (or at least not consciously) for the journey I would have to take into the darknesses my father carried. Through this “return” I came to claim the story more faithfully, to claim my voice, to claim myself as one of the storytellers.
Sincerely, Andrea Mozarowski

Author: A Room of Her Own

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