My grandfather’s Slovak back
receding up the street in black:
jacket, fedora and pants,
in his grip an arched-topped
lunch-stuffed box
swinging with the rhythm of his pace
walked resolutely to work
solid as a Clydesdale,
regular as the tick and tock of clocks,
firm and unyielding as time
but with edges eased by tough love,
came by ship at sixteen
remembering the Carpathians,
his mother and sisters,
their Austro-Hungarian farm,
leaving them in the dust of morning mists
never looking back other than to insist—
to remind me that despite the indiscriminate
hand of war’s carving,
the way it hacks empires to nations,
that I was Slovak, not Czech,
as if such distinctions had meaning
other than in the word-making
myth-spinning, me-making
minds of men

Jim Culleny