Poem: ‘Ja Cie Kocham’

Bob Varettoni
2 min readFeb 21, 2024

In memory of my immigrant grandmother

Mary Baron, 1879–1974

When I was a boy,
JFK was president in Washington, DC,
And all the words were Polish in Garfield, New Jersey.

All the words were Polish
As I held my grandmother’s sandpaper hand,
And we walked to Sunday Mass at St. Stan’s.

All the prayers were Polish.
All greetings were Polish on the east side of Lanza Avenue.
Everyone around us, an immigrant.

Returning from church with Babci,
We stop to pick a chicken to slaughter.
She haggles with the butcher in Polish.

At dinner, I devour tender slivers of the chosen chicken,
Mixed in a soup with chunks of rice,
As pots of boiled cabbage simmer on her oven top.

I catch her eye in the changing colors of the kitchen window:
A flickering glow from the outline of a neon bottle
Above the door of the neighborhood liquor store.

Babci knows me, although we don’t speak the same language.
She knows I hate the smell of cabbage.
She knows I won’t, I can’t, complain.

English words were never spoken in Babci’s house.
English words were elitist and foreign.
They confused and intimidated her.

Her child, my mother, spoke English rebelliously when she was young,
Loving all the English words she needed for survival,
Instilling that love in me.

Now I am my mother’s keeeper.
We have both grown old.
My grandmother died long ago.

I sometimes catch Babci’s daughter
staring at ghosts outside her kitchen window.
So I whisper in her ear, although I know she can’t hear me.

I whisper the only three words I remember in Polish.

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Bob Varettoni

Posting here about writing, books, tech, family, baseball. More about me at bvarcommunications.com