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© Paul Zarzyski. All rights reserved. These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

I’ve spent my past 4 birthdays, as I did my first 18, in the home I grew up in—at 505 Poplar Street, Hurley, Wisconsin. My mother and father bought the house (for $2500.00) in 1947, after Dad’s return from the war, and they lived there the remainder of their lives. After Dad died in October of 2008, Mom held forth until her passing in August, 2010. Almost 4 years later, the “empty” house remains filled with their belongings. If asked “the logic” behind this situation, I’d respond with a single word: “sentimentality.” As in, pure, 200 proof emotion—reasoning be damned. Paramount of which, monetary reasoning, because, along with taxes and insurance and upkeep expenses, it costs a small fortune to heat the place during the long Wisconsin winter, and…well...I suppose it’s the same sentimental “mind-/heart-set” that does not allow me to endure the thought of that house without warmth. You see, Mom and Dad kept the wood furnace, which “supplemented" the natural gas furnace, banked with oak and maple 20 hours a day, October through May. To the degree that I recall, later in life, having to surreptitiously open the upstairs windows during Christmas visits—40 below outside, 85 above in! For the 60+ years that Mom and Dad lived at 505, heat was as much a ritual as it was an essential, and it just so happens to be my poetic way, dammit, to cling to this ritual, or tradition, until the last stretched-to-the-max heartstring snaps.

Thusly, I’ve deemed it also a “ritual” to tend to Mom and Dad’s gravesite at the Hurley Cemetery on Memorial Day. I am determined to make the late-May “pilgrimage” for as long as the Musical Universe allows me this privilege. And since it just so happens that May 25 falls into this time slot, it appears I’ll be celebrating my birthday, for however may years to come, in my first home, in the same house to which Mom and Dad, in 1951, brought—from Newport Hospital across the river in Ironwood, Michigan—their first of three “bundles of joy.”

Two years ago, while rummaging through an upstairs closet at 505 Poplar, I came across a cardboard box of my baby memorabilia, including a 4-inch-thick scrapbook filled with “Congratulations!” cards from family, neighbors, and friends, 99.9% of whom are now long gone. And in the bottom of the box, I discovered my blue plastic infant ID bracelet, complete with the nurse’s cursive that reads “Zarzyski, Boy.” Mom was the worst at making up her mind when it came to decisions, critical or otherwise (“What kind of soup should I buy, Paul?”) and the name of her first-born was likely as critical as decisions came for her. Had I discovered this gem prior to her passing, I might have inquired, “what were your other choices?” In any case, here it is photographed, by Elizabeth, on my pinkie. And that’s Mom's last tablecloth upon which my writing notebook lies open. And the pencil, embossed with the title to my poem, “Words Growing Wild In The Woods,” (about fishing as a young child with Dad) is a keepsake of a community poetry residency I did in Hurley years ago to celebrate the heritage of the Iron Range.

Simply put, Big Medicine does not get much Bigger for a poet returning 63 years later to his earliest roots.

Especially to all of you who sense a kindred sentimentality from this photo-narrative, thank you for making me feel a little less alone on this planet.


Paul Zarzyski

Paul Zarzyski

Paul Zarzyski

Paul Zarzyski

Paul Zarzyski


© Paul Zarzyski, 2014-2015
created 06.20.14