About the Author

Anne Szumigalski

Books by this Author
A Peeled Wand


When I am old I will totter along broken pavements the strings of my boots undone smelling a bit strong like any fat old woman who has forgotten which day is Tuesday (my bath night if you like)

stiff my clothes from old dirt not sweat at my age mumbling the cracked enamel mug

eleven cats playing in my weedy yard drinking my little ration of milk with me and withy withy the cats circle around my house at night singly filing in and sleeping on the saggy stained bed and the chair and the crumby tabletop

One day they will find me dead O dead dead A stinking old bundle of dead

and in my hand a peeled wand and in my ear a cricket sitting telling me stories and predictions

and the time of night




a word meaning Holy Children

has been lost between the pages of a book

one early dusk you lean over my shoulder the better to see what I am reading you riffle through the pages with your thumbs and that forgotten sound escapes into the world through the fan of leaves

at once we begin trying to pronounce it the long and difficult vowels rest on our lips like stinging insects we dare not brush away

then the computer gets hold of it flaps the syllables about cards follow cards sliding out and piling up

and on the cards the punched names of daughters and of sons their many variations from century to century from language to language


the Madonna whose smile is as sweet as plaster turns out to be made of painted wood her stiff crinoline is carved as well as painted perhaps to hide the hinges that pin her skirts together

a bent sexton with floppy hair fits in the tiny key so delicately made a brass scroll

the saints, children of Mary, live beneath her skirts there they stand in stiff rows palms raised together in a prayer one row for martyrs one for prelates another for pinched abbesses who have given it all up

at the very centre where Mary’s legs (if she had any) would spring from her body winged innocents play among vines and ears of carved wheat

the true heart of the Madonna remarks the sexton with sacred joy


one Sunday in May our children who have hardly noticed us till now decide on a Feast of Recognition

the youngest brings chains of withering marigolds twines them over the backs of our chairs the two eldest, with napkins over their arms, bring in the dinner course by course the food, thank goodness, is invisible we gesture over huge empty plates our daughter, not spilling a drop, pours red ink into the glasses for wine

the last course is a much more solemn affair we are told to rise and all together sing

the muddled singing gives a mewling sound

then a dish of flames is set down before me its cinders glowing like cherries you are luckier get a basket of petals into which you dip your face making munching noises

you come up smiling crushed petals cling to your hair

who is to blame for my lips’ blisters?

afterwards your cool mouth tastes of almonds

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A Woman Clothed in Words

A Woman Clothed in Words

tagged : canadian, literary
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When Earth Leaps Up

When Earth Leaps Up

also available: eBook
tagged : canadian
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A Meditation on Oppression, Desire and Freedom
tagged : canadian
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Horst: (Between puffs.) Used to be a schoolteacher. Nice little country school, nice little teacherage, nice little country kids. Too old and soft for real soldiering, so they called me up for this.

Itzak: Any Jewish pupils?

Horst: Couple. Children of village shopkeeper. Quiet kids, good learners, no trouble.

Itzak: Well?

Horst: That’s before the Party told us what you Yids are doing to the country.

Itzak: What?

Horst: Money-grubbing, dirty-trading, lousy-bearded creeps. Oh, they told us all about you. Big noses, thick lips, foul-smelling, degenerate. Oh yes, they told us all about you Jewboys.

Itzak: And then you decided to eliminate—to exterminate us.

Horst: Exterminate” Eliminate” What difference does that make” We are all going to be eliminated. We are all for the big drop. When things get tough the Big Boys will call me up, forty-two years old or not. They’ll send me off to the front and I’ll end up as dead as any Jew. A bullet in the belly—blown to bits in a minefield, dead is dead. What’s the difference, a sniff of gas, a piece of shrapnel in the chest. We will have suffered, you and I, with the rest. We will have died and been forgotten. Neither of us is going to survive. Whatever that means—survival.

They go on smoking. Train is getting louder as it approaches.

Itzak: And here they come, the poor victims. Last stop before eternity.

Horst: And for those who must be selected. Have you prayed for them too?

Itzak: We have. We know the rules. Most of us have been here for months. Some of us for years.

Horst: Like yourself. The lucky ones.

Itzak: The unlucky ones some would say. Thousands are at peace already. It’s not difficult to envy them. When they are dead they receive their names back. When we pray we repeat their names. (He begins to softly do so.) Jankel, Shmuel, Dvorah, Chanaa, Mordecai, Yussel, Moishe, Dovid, Judel.

Horst: That’s forbidden, forbidden, forbidden. Names are forbidden to Jews.

Itzak: Nevertheless.

Horst: Forbidden.

Itzak: You cannot forbid the mind of a Jew, the prayers of his heart… Chaim, Ruchel, Mayer, Reuben, Jakov, Reva, Zara, Zachai, Bethuel, Shimon, Isodore, Ezrah, Esther, Moishe, Yzroel, Leah, Rivke, Ruth, Michal, Zolmen, Zal, Juditt, Eva, Juna, Max, Osgar, Bela, Aryeh, Zwi, Yehiel, Leizer, Zofia, Hillel, Nathan, Haviva, Aaron, (Here the train chorus suddenly stops.) Zloma, Zeev…

Itzak had begun this litany of names softly enough, but the train is coming in and towards the end he is yelling out the names against the sound of the train.

Horst is angry with Itzak. He knows how to get his own back.

Horst: And then there is that other matter, that other little matter…

Itzak: What do you mean?

Horst: The little matter of the selection. One out of every hundred to make room for the new boys, eh?

Itzak: It’s not something I’m likely to forget. But that’s your business.

Horst: Not necessarily.

Itzak: That’s the rule. I have never…

Horst: So far.

Itzak: So far” What do you mean” I…

Horst: What would you say, Kapo, if I were to change that rule” As of today. What would you say to that”

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