The Crackdown

Work, bus, drugs, arrests, drink, and
struggle
and no good music anywhere.

And the young male press
says the crackdown on us is coming.

I say we’ll crack ourselves
before they ever get here
if we are not too careful.
They step over us
to avoid their mother’s backs.

Don’t walk alone
they shake their heads
they say say say
all sorts of stupid things,
but they do not say
how to get cabs with money
that stays in the rich man’s pocket.

We each walk alone
Needs must for the lazy (they say say say)
mother
because the late shift pays more.

We rest at last in rooms
behind the hardware store
through the alley
where our children sleep
in streetlight light
that shines
through thin curtains.

Copyright Kay Winter

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Chalk Drawings in the Rain

Standing there alone, at the precipice of nightfall, the air turns cooler, daylight appearing a little dimmer and the shadows begin to fade away slowly. One moment his silhouette is beside him, it draws longer before simply dissipating in the pale, late afternoon ambient light, along with all the other shadows. It used to be so clear; his relationship with his kids, the expectations’, the experiences. But now they seem to be dissolving like a child’s chalk drawings in the rain.

It’s strange when you get older and your children do too, it’s not the same for you both. For one the days run by like a fast moving bus leaving one to yearn for what they may have missed and for the other they seem to draw on forever, full of opportunity, excitement for what may come, adventure and anticipation. For the parent there is a sense of loss, for the child freedom.

You knew it was coming, all the older folks say it’s so, that the time you have with them passes by so quickly and we take it for granted. That time passes by like a mid-winters day, and soon you’re wondering what happened, where did it all go, why do you feel as though they’ve forgotten you. You forget what it is like to be a teenager, cruising around with your pal’s, the freedom, no one looking over your shoulder.

Your daughter has a boyfriend, he gets more time than you now, she looks at him with that same lost essence in her eyes that she once had for you…when she was like five. It hurts, you feel betrayed, left behind, alone. They all grow older; your son leaps out the front door in his letterman jacket and the keys to his future, and his little tender hands not in yours, tugging you along. Finally the youngest glances back at you as she runs off to join her team mates on the field, it’s not fair you think, you used to throw her in the air and now her fellow ball players celebrate with her, they chant and cheer her on and they are louder than you and the sound of your voice diminishes as it gets carried away in the fall air.

Breakfast is lonely now; it feels unnecessary, like an old outdated custom. Like an old book you once loved to read over and over but it just seems like the words aren’t quite as bright as they used to be, the pages are more fragile and worn and the cover has seen its day in the sun, it eventually finds its way onto a shelf higher than the rest, it may be pulled out now and again but the air between its pages will grow stale and it’s binding dusty. Like all great books, once celebrated its now simply remembered.

You taught them, aimed them in the right direction, and gave them the tools they’ll rely on when they are all on their own. You are happy for them, and are yourself excited to see them flourish, grow and become adults. But somewhere along the way you forgot to prepare yourself, I suppose that’s what happens though, you love them, cherish them, teach them and watch them step away.

Polka Everywhere all the Time

It was a skill, a tradition passed on from generation to generation. We did it at special Polka masses at the Polish Catholic church. We did it at every baptism, wedding and even funerals. If there was a  reason for celebrating, there was reason to Polka.

Babcia, babcia polka’d everywhere and all the time. She was so good at polka’ing that she could multi-task as she polka’d. Well as long as the other task involved something Polish, she could multi-task.

She could cook Polish sausage and polka. She could pray Polish prayers and sing Polish hymns while she polka’d. Babcia could play cards, gamble, win every pot and never stop polka’ing. She was such an exquisite polka dancer that she could even drink Polish beer, polka and never spill one drop.

But if she had to do something non-Polish, then she had to stop polka’ing. That to babcia was as much of a sin as running out of Polish beer at a Polish Festival. Northeast Minneapolis definitely isn’t as dedicated or detail orientated as the Poles in Wisconsin. One of the many reasons babcia carried her purse cooler filled with Polish beer.

We polka’d and drank. We partied and prayed…everywhere and all the time!

Copyright: Theresa Dolata


Not a Completely New Concept

It wasn’t a completely new concept. Babcia had been  teaching me how to Polka as soon as I exited my mother’s womb. But once I got to kindergarten, I had less time to Polka. The teachers were always trying to get me to run.

Running was definitely a new concept. The gym teacher kept yelling at me “why are you hopping like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like that! Like that! That hopping you are doing? Run! Run!”

When I was young I had a major hearing problem. I thought he said “Hops” and so I replied, “my dad will not let babcia teach me how to micro-brew at home. We have get our beer from the liquor store just like everyone else!”

The teacher grabbed me by the collar. We were marching up to the principle’s office.  Except I apparently didn’t know how to walk either or march. I was hopping back and forth from one foot to the other. I tried to work in a fancy twirl into my Polka moves. Wham! Bam! Ouch!

The principle had started his career in the educational system as a gym teacher. My first head concussion happened right in that moment. My first day of kindergarten and I was out for the count from polka’ing right into that principle. He called my parents as they could get to the school quicker than our volunteer paramedics who hung out at the volunteer firefighters’ station in town. The volunteer fire department station was the only bar open before 10 am on a school day. I can’t blame them . I mean being a volunteer fire fighter was a stressful job. They needed to kick back and relax in between fighting those fires.

I could tell the principle got my dad on the phone.

“No, not hops! I said hopping! Your daughter is hopping,” he yelled.

I instantly thought my dad must have the portable phone with him on the John Deere backhoe.

“What is wrong with hopping! She is supposed to be running not hopping. Who taught her how to hop like that? Is it that baba person she talks about teaching her this?”

“Baba, don’t ever call my babcia a baba! And if you value your life, never call her a stara baba! Nothing pisses off old Polish women like being called an old hag! If you do make that mistake then you better pray she isn’t wearing her plastic babushka. Everyone knows or should know once that plastic rain proof babushka is off a Polish woman’s head, it becomes a weapon. They just put it on your head with the main plastic part covering your face and then tie it tight as can be. You see steam come out of the nostrils for a few seconds but it is just a few seconds then you’re…well you know.”

“Is this baba or babcia woman in the mafia?”

“Mafia? No, she’s in my family. She is just my dad’s very Polish mother. My grandmother. My babcia!”

We heard a thunderous roar. Then saw the lightening strikes in the sky through the windows. Rain started pouring down and pounding the roof and those same windows we were staring out as we waiting for my dad. The principle started sweating. The sweat poured down his forehead, his face to the same pace of the sweet smelling yet fierce rain.

I saw my dad’s brown dodge cab and half truck pull up to the round about driveway. I could see my babcia in the passenger side.

As my dad slowly opened the main entry door to the school, I turned to the principle. “You’re lucky this morning she got her hair done. She isn’t going to risk getting it wet to deal with the likes of you.”

Babcia waved to the two of us staring out the school window. In her one hand we could clearly see her plastic babushka. In her other hand was her colt 45. Stain marks from the sweat now drenching him were so visible in the armpit area of his fancy late 1970’s dress shirt. I didn’t want to know where the other stains in his clothes were. Although guessing by the smell in the principle’s office….his shit did stink.

Copyright: Theresa Dolata

My First Polish Words

Pocałuj mnie w dupę i babcia cię kocha!

My grandfather taught me the first part “pocałuj mnie w dupę”. The first time I caught him cheating at cards. I was five and the game was 31. I had lost a lot of nickels and I finally realized why. Grandpa was keeping 4 cards in his hand instead of 3. I called him on it. And those were his words to me. I asked my mom in my sweet innocent little 5 year old kindergarten voice, “did Grandpa just tell me to kiss his ass?”

“Tak! Yes!  And get him another Polish beer!”

I got up and got him another Polish beer. Babcia had sat out the last few games to make supper for all of us. I learned the “babcia cię kocha” from her. My grandmother…My babcia…I knew she loved me no matter what language it was in.

However, the languages I would hear things like this from her were going to be either English or Polish. Mostly Polish, as it was her default language. Babcia was making something that was not meant to be translated into English. Czarnina was not meant to be translated into English especially to a 5 year old prior to Halloween.

Ah, what the hell! I will translate it for you. Czarnina is Blood Soup. First step Babcia would say is and this is in her own words…

“You chase the duck or goose around the yard and then when you have the prime opportunity to swing that axe with all your strength. Polish people are strong hard working, faithful people, Theresa. Then one swing of the axe and that duck or goose is bleeding. Now you have to be quick to gather and draw the blood from it. We need it all for the soup. Okay?”

“Are we vampires babcia?”

“No! Where would you get an idea like that from? Those German Lutherans in your kindergarten class spreading rumors about us Poles! I knew it. Bringing in a German Chocolate cake to celebrate you and that little German Lutheran boy’s birthday. They probably poisoned your piece.”

“No German Lutherans told me anything about us Poles! I saw it in a Halloween movie where these vampires suck blood out of their victims.”

“Oh Well, we don’t suck the blood! We harvest the blood and boil in a pot with of other things!” Babcia muttered under breath as she turned to walk away, “vampires, vampires! I am keeping an eye on those German Lutherans. They ain’t going to poison my favorite grandchild. No poisoning her mind, her spirit or her body!”

Babcia was sure the German Lutherans had already infiltrated my body. She was sure that was why I didn’t eat any Czarnina for supper. But I didn’t eat blood sausage either or blood pudding or anything that translated into blood and some kind of food! I didn’t want the kids at my school to call me vampire girl for the rest of my educational experience at Castle Rock Elementary K-8th grade school.

Babcia cię kocha! Yes, she did love me. Of course when I was five, I had no idea that we were going end up being like the live Polish version of the movie “Thelma and Louise!”

Copyright Theresa Dolata

Her Silk Scarf

Her silk scarf fluttered in the breeze as she walked the old ghost of a farm that was once her parents back in the little Polish community of Pulaski, Wisconsin. The scarf tied around her head, like a babushka, had detailed etching of the Polish Eagle Emblem on it. She walked remembering the days of that farm. The Polish Hens, the horses, the corn and wheat fields, and the fresh smell of manure from the cows had infiltrated her nares. She used to gather the eggs with her six older sisters. Her six older brothers worked hard in the fields. She was like the bakers dozen because she was really too little to do anything anyway. They just let her think she was working like everyone else. Everyone on Sunday though, after bathing, was equally dressed up in their Sunday’s best attire for mass at Saint Stanislaw’s Catholic Church. The mass was not in Latin but in Polish from beginning to end so all the people of the community could understand. The Polish community clung tightly to the language of their people. Only teaching Polish in the schools and having only Polish spoken at church and in the homes, the community preserved its culture and thrived. They were the Old Country in the New Country clinging tight to who they were. Proud of their Polish Heritage as am I.

Copyright Theresa Dolata

Part Time

He paused just outside the door to his apartment, key in hand. He could hear the sweet sounds of his children inside, their laughter and banter. It was like crisp, cool water running across the dusty shelves in his soul. He smiled, and he listened. Since leaving their home and their mother he has missed the daily sounds of his kids, only getting to experience it on a part time basis. In short spurts he sees them in the morning and gets to tuck them in at night. He’s grown to hate the look of their bags lying about waiting to be repacked and carried away with their hugs and their kisses; he wishes they would never have to leave.

He stays up just a little too late each night not wanting it to end, and when he comes home from his second job at night on the weekends at 3am, he stands in the doorway to their bedroom, watching them as they sleep, their tender little chests rising and falling, he tucks back in their toes sticking out from the end of the blankets and pulls the covers up as kisses them. Then he silently says a prayer begging his god to keep them safe when they are away. That night he sleeps restlessly because he can’t wait for morning so he can make them breakfast and sit around the table they built together planning their day.

On their last day with him he has to work, so when he comes home at the end of the day and he pauses at the door its silent, no laughter, no giggling, there are no voices. He doesn’t want to open the door; he checks the number on the door and finally goes in, sets down his lunch box, removes his shoes and stands in the doorway of their bedroom. Their beds are made and their bags are gone and his heart begins to ache terribly, he tries to catch his breath but it shallows and he finds it hard to swallow. As the night goes on the color from the sun seems to fade, the air grows stale and he misses them and he wonders just how long his heart can take it.