Sunday, February 12, 2012

Siberia and me

"Why did our father grow up in Siberia?" my sister asked.  One more unanswered question in his life filled with more unknowns than knowns.  My father died long before we were curious enough to ask such things. 
     All I knew was his childhood took place long before the Stalin deportations of Latvians to Siberia.  In one week in March of 1949 over 27,000 Latvians were sent to the gulags, including my mother's brother.  For an incredible book on gulags, I recommend "Gulag" by Anne Applebaum.
    So back to the question.  Enter Google where I actually found some answers.  The Latvian colony of Lejas Bulana settled in 1858 (aka Bullanas) still exists in Siberia.  It was rediscovered in 1975 by filmmaker, Ingvars Leitis who traveled there never expecting to find the language and culture still existing.  Roberts Kilis wrote his anthropology dissertation for Cambridge University on the Latvian community there.
  Bits and pieces is how I cobble together a past for my relatives.  Latvia was under the rule of the Russian Czar who offered free land to those willing to make the trip to Siberia.  And it turns out Catholics in Latgale (the province and religion of my father) had great difficulty in acquiring land in other areas because of discrimination. 
   So my grandfather must have been an adventurer.  Even today any journey to Siberia is hard.  Imagine it with a family a hundred years ago.  What I do remember were my father's stories about his childhood, included here in this poem.

His Life

Ed hopes his father
had a secret life.
My father had many;
two wives before mother,
a son left behind.

The war years
spent in Europe´s darkness,
in uniform,
rooting through trash
for food.

His secret languages
Russian, Polish,
we imitated in childish babble,
I learned sister, pillow, dream.

Siberia of childhood
giant summer fruit,
green winter lights
He brought to a farm,
half a globe away,
leaving a pile of unknowns
a lifetime to decipher.

Pre-sales for my chapbook are now starting:

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