Autumn Sky Poetry . . . Number 15 . . .

Painting Czeslawa Kwoka

     poem by Theresa Senato Edwards

           In response to Lori Schreiner’s paintings of Auschwitz victim Czeslawa Kwoka,
          (photographed by Wilhelm Brasse) and in memory of Czeslawa

In Brasse’s black and white photos,
you are a young girl with a round face
dropped into a flat, grey world,
26947 sewn on a striped wardrobe,
naked beneath these numbers.

What does color bring to you?
In color you move through our minds.

In color you are a movie star: Mia Farrow—
slightly protruding upper lip, swollen bottom
forms a dense shadow to your chin.

In color you are a young woman
bleeding from within: pale skin
filters red to pink. This is the
girl you are at Auschwitz, Czeslawa.

You are not a criminal.


Your full color portrait
forces our reaction—
your hair is the warmest
fall in a dead winter, amber
background sparks the short, matted
bristles: adolescent questions
quickly extinguished when a scarf adds
texture, diagonal patterns, another
look of a 14-year-old prisoner.

In color you transform: we can
touch your swollen mouth, feel the
voice beneath the left side of your face,
where greys mix with pinks,
a rash of illness.

The contrast holds us.


In a soft color profile,
above and slightly right
of 26947, we see a tear
from your right eye spilling down,
just underneath skin transparent,
thin from a bleak setting. 

We follow the contour of your
smeared mouth, slightly opened,
trace from lower lip to the
bottom of your chin:
this part of pinkish-grey flesh
appears as number 7.

This is not intentional.


In color we feel the
blacks of uniformity,
harsh marks of suffering
blacken the scratched
shadows below your nostrils.

The black slit above your
grey lower lip sucks us
empty—your eyes, black
oval platters reflecting
SS soldiers and worse
within deep, grey carvings.

Black is blacker in color.


Painted close-up: a bright
yellow backdrop brightens
the scarf’s pattern, your hair
hidden in black and white
becomes strands of sunlight,
movement on still life.

Yellows warm your cheeks,
your forehead clear of dirt,
yellows remove the dark patch
from the tip of your nose we see
in each of Brasse’s photographs.
Yellows plunge orange,
settle on the center left of your chest.

You can breathe them in.

© 2009 Theresa Senato Edwards & Lori Schreiner

Painting Czeslawa Kwoka

     art by Lori Schreiner

Theresa Senato Edwards’ poetry is forthcoming in Boxcar Poetry Review's second print anthology and appears in CircleShow (Vol. 1, 2008) print anthology and online at Stirring, Press 1, Seven CirclePress, decomP, Triplopia, AdmitTwo, Chronogram, and elsewhere. She tutors writing at Marist College and is founder and editor/publisher of Holly Rose Review.

Lori Schreiner is a therapist, writer, and painter. In addition to her creative pursuits, she supervises a community mental health clinic in Vermont. Her paintings have shown in New York City and The Windham Art Gallery in Brattleboro, Vermont.

“Painting Czeslawa Kwoka” previous publications and awards:

Holly Rose Review, February 2009, special addition to the PEACE Issue for Facebook, limited viewing of second online publication.

Poetry Super Highway Open Poetry Reading, BlogTalkRadio, February 2009, and archived online.

Exner Block Gallery, part of Words & Images: second showing, July 2007, Bellows Falls, VT.

Windham Art Gallery, part of Words & Images: A collaborative show of artists and writers, June 2007, Brattleboro, VT.

From Bleak House Publishing, The Tacenda Literary Award Best Collaboration, 2007.

AdmitTwo, Sept. 2007, first online publication.