Poems by Christina Lilian Turczyn: “Kites Over Havana”


Copyright Christina L. Turczyn 2016

Kites Over Havana

(After hearing Paquito D’Rivera’s piece, as performed by the Imani Winds Quintet)

As a child, the composer

dreamed kites over rooftops

their atonal,

ribbons of music loosed from string.

If rivers could fly, they would

look like this:

winding without thought, and hungry,

orchestras tuning flutes before rain.


Was freedom the weightlessness of dreams

drifting closer to clouds? Their paper


Was freedom

Billie Holiday’s voice let go

from grief? Was it everything she knew

but could not speak, the slow

climb of

note after note out of the body,

hand over hand, open danger

over tide?


Freedom? Green leaves struck

through with light,

thought without banks,

a woman dancing pain.

The body’s rooms of compassion?

The currents that carved their dimensions?

Was freedom recognition?

Here, a man lifted

a branch of shadow from his

lover’s face and saw his own, released

from geometries of silence.

Or was freedom the kite’s


through gradations of sky—

resembling water’s ripening


merely this imperfect life?

This life, a wing, a dress cast off

somewhere between air and earth

war an its telling,

thorn and skin?

–First published in Apiary Magazine Online, 2015


Poems by Christina Lilian Turczyn: “Thinking”

Copyright Christina L. Turczyn 2016


It would be like kneading dough, except that you would knead in the sky and the grains of shadow that collect in trees. You would knead in the cry of a man about to leave his country, the stars that turn in his body and lead him out of the forest at night. You would fold in fruits of darkness and rinds of sunlight. You would remember hunger, black holes for weight. You would add in bits of the morning paper for leavening. You would watch light bend at your table. You would watch your lover’s arm repeat the motion of light. You would think. You would love. You would braid the rivers of the earth.

–First published in Christianity and Literature,

Re: Poems by Christina Lilian Turczyn: “Matryoshka”

Copyright Christina L. Turczyn 2016


The outer woman dresses well, with impermeable patterns and bold red prints. Enamel flowers are all she can offer, painted as she is by other hands. This is a poem about the way things go unnoticed, about the way you are taught to dress well against all of life’s daily questions, not a thread hanging frightened from your hem. A poem about the way you memorize long lists of words, year after year, a kind of beaded amulet against the draft of other languages and their hints of prisons and spells. This is a poem about the precision of your speech, the affected pronunciations of an English grammar afraid of its own body, a wooden tongue afraid of its own roots.

The next woman listens. She can hear daydreams tick in quiet bones; can grow a huge belly full of the world’s complaints. It is a commonplace that women were born to listen, and they do. But who hears the riffs of rain blowing through their bodies? Who hears the silence, the sadness, the thorns? This is a poem about putting your grainy nature aside, opening yourself up until the many parts of you are scattered on the table because it is the only way you know to share your innermost self.

And you cannot even get to the outer woman from the innermost one, because they have not painted hands on your body. The next woman is closer to the center, and you will notice, in the world’s eyes, she is smaller. The woman within the woman within the woman does begin to write and sing and talk a great deal more than before, but this disturbs the outer shell. The outer woman is thin and easily broken. This is why men like to hold her. Yet the woman within the woman within the woman has been trapped so long she has a great deal to say. She is a nuisance at board meetings. She is not sporting designer poppies. If you stand closer, you will notice that she is not small; she has been stooping all her life in order to accommodate this idea of largeness. She is not small.

The woman at the center is wise and unpainted, difficult to grasp. Yet she rattles in all of the others like a thorn, so that no one in the city can sleep. She has no clothes. No one will hire her, though they take her apart to see what she is made of. Though she tries to warn the others, they do not understand her language. Sometimes she is thrown out for her vigilance. So she finds herself young or naked or homeless or crazy, a saint, a witch, a poet on the subway, a root without a tongue.

–First published in The Paterson Literary Review, 1999

Poems by Christina Lilian Turczyn: “You Are”

Copyright Christina L. Turczyn 2016

You Are

You speak at the level of bone; you are

political. You know the growing poem in a woman’s

throat is not far from her silence, thick as it becomes

with rape in wartime, buried manuscripts, inner rain.

You are in the place where a woman is. Her shadow

fits your body, and her shadow-arm is yours. Whenever

she moves, you move– whenever she dreams you,

you exist. You are political, you read her body’s

letters without claiming them, you know

there is no owning another’s voice. There is no

speaking a foreign language unless you have loved

in that language, unless you have made it familiar

by accepting the one untranslatable word as a word

that will never be yours, but the grain around which

your life will grow. You are political, you hear

the voice of sand, the black sand of forgotten tongues.

Without exposing her pain, you recover a woman’s history.

You stand inside her silence like slow music darkening.

–First published by Passaic County Community College, 2003

Re: Poems by Christina Turczyn: “There Should Be”

There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be

counted as warriors. I think that you thought there was no such place for you,

and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we

will have to make it, we who want an end to suffering, who want to change

the laws of history…

–Adrienne Rich

“Sources,” Your Native Land, Your Life


There Should Be

There should be a room in the deepest heart of the day,

in which we can cry, where webs of autumn shadow dissipate

against the shock of unexpected warmth: words of a stranger,

voice of a color, flame of a dance.

And yet, the heart grows tired, and the hands grow tired

as we are, the unemployed–

starting winter cars, slowly heating our windshields

for essential clarity of vision, as forests shed

their leaves, and thin lines of water become trees.

Tell me where this room is– not escape, but a meeting

of one survivor and another. Tell me

where it is I can watch the news of Robert Champion

without closing my eyes, and still see. I am looking

for that room; perhaps the place where warriors go

to weep is one where there are neither warriors nor victims,

a room where words have no walls. If here, or elsewhere

a woman calls for her missing son, then her song rises

in my voice like morning between rafters of stone.

–First published in The Chronogram, 2013

Poems by Christina Lilian Turczyn: “Untitled”

Copyright by Christina Lilian Turczyn, 2016


On the field beyond my porch, deer gather

like sparrows of silence at the edges of guilt.

One leaves the herd, flies, like a promise briefly


After the hedges shift, blue quiet settles in again.

It has been a long time since the deepest self

became a poem, lover, a familiar street. Ages, it seems

since we met, hands moving over braille of bodies,

reading what we could not speak, that you, a medic,

and I—broken—

could somehow drink deep water again.

How, when the world exploded around us?

When border deserts ran dry, women walked in heels

for work?

You carried me, as over

the river of my life.

“In case I had to,” you said, and I wished

you could let go of Viet Nam.

I wished that we,

could fall through the rifts in our lives,

like tears, in this moment balanced,

between today and today,

this hush of deer,

waiting for rain.

–First published in Riverine: An Anthology of Hudson Valley Writers,2007

Christina Turczyn–Poet and Painter


Thursday, September 13, 2012

(From the Laura Petrovich-Cheney Art Blog)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Christina Turczyn, Poet and Painter 

 In my dream, I walk a path over a bridge that seems familiar. I follow a thread that connects past and present. It drops into the water like a swallow’s wing, then surfaces again.

In my dream the air is quiet and clear, as after a rain. Memory is bordered by a rectangle of sky.       


In a recent exhibit, Laura and I had a chance to talk about places and memory. I’d shared that sometimes, in my work, memories resulted in landscapes, instead of landscapes summoning memories. We talked, among other things, about paintings that originate in memory. I have always found the tension between recollection and place to be very interesting. What are the topographies of our dreams? What are their substrata? When I paint, I let my thoughts flow onto the paper in the form of places. At times, I will observe a landscape and render its contours through an interpretive lens. At other times, memory takes the shape of lakes, roads, and unfamiliar terrain.      Do we remember places, or do places remember us? Can we revisit places in our visual work that we have never seen? In Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, theorist and critic bell hooks raises the issue of ancestral memory: Objects from the past carry, within their fiber, the ideas and life of the past. In so doing, they not only affirm the work of an artist as well as his/her history, but also resist temporal and cultural erasure.

Is it possible, then, that artists can render places they have never visited? Perhaps they have been “there” through museums, books, or the nuances of imagination. Perhaps they are connected to a place through historical trauma, passed from one generation to the next. The trauma of war. The trauma of dislocation, separation, grief. Artifacts serve as forms of witness, enduring past the edges of words. Likewise, buildings that survive devastation create a maze of meanings, only partly decipherable in the present.

As a daughter of immigrant parents, I experience a sense of continual returning. As many members of my family remained in their country of origin, we experienced, collectively, a sense of separation. In my own life, that awareness plays itself out as a search for home. A sense that nothing ever remains the same, and that if any purpose is to be found in journeys, beginnings lie within. In my home town of Passaic, I reconciled stories of the past and present. During major holidays, we remembered relatives who could not join us. We selected a time, went outdoors, and observed a constellation. “They can see that star as well,” my grandmother said.  So the stars within the blood etched a mirror.

I cannot say exactly why I paint or write. At times, it is to witness what exists, what speaks, what lives, what loves, or that which has been left behind. At other times, I paint to enter a space between the past and present, where cloud or winds weave through corridors. Wind speaks, creates an image. A building rises up from the rubble. I return home.

As bell hooks observes in Art on My Mind, “Subversive historiography connects oppositional practices from the past with forms of resistance in the present, thus creating spaces of possibility where the future can be imagined differently–imagined in such a way that we can witness ourselves dreaming, moving forward and beyond the limits and confines of fixed locations” (151).

(Photo above by Christina Turczyn: “Fractals of Rain”)


Article–Diverse Arts in Education: An Imaginative Path to International Understanding

Diverse Arts in Education: An Imaginative Path to International Understanding

 By Christina Lilian Turczyn

     As a child, I underwent a temporary, yet pervasive loss of hearing. All I can remember of that experience is a moment when I could no longer dance.Yet it was that early learning which allowed me to approach an understanding of diversity as a balance between synergy and difference, sky and earth. To fly from my worries was tempting, yet gravity rooted me in my community, time, and place. Since I had a dedicated teacher who encouraged me to stretch my hands up in the air like a dream-tree, I did not feel marginalized, silenced, apart.

It was not difficult, then, in the course of my literary studies, to consider paradoxes of universality and difference—to know, as the poet Joy Harjo writes in a series of interviews titled The Spiral of Memory, that “transformation is really about understanding the shape and condition of another with compassion, not about overtaking” (127). My youthful and informal education in the arts taught me about imagination, movement, unlimited possibility.And it was precisely imagination itself—the ability to see beyond the immediate and momentary—that connoted survival. Imagination, with its promise of flight, freed me to really live. The arts were my gateway to a multifaceted approach to education, as well as to a complex understanding of cultural diversity.

There is not a single poem of form that is written in the same way. Each author brings specificity to language, as it changes daily. Like skywriting, a performance is never actually repeated. Space, time, movement, feeling. Multiple perspectives. I think about the vocabulary of thousands of hand gestures employed in traditional Indonesian dance.

What better way to become acquainted with multiple cultures than to experience dialogue through art? Most recently, I revisited Ken Burns’ epic study, Jazz, a text which, among its rich offerings, discusses the history of the 369th Infantry Jazz Band in France, during World War I.  The musicians were led by Lieutenant James Reese Europe and, according to Burns, “won 171 decorations for bravery, more than any other American unit” (69-70). Perhaps the pride, history and innovation in which the band’s work was rooted contributed to its members’ success. Ken Burns later mentions that Lieutenant Europe observed, “We won France by playing music which was ours, and not a pale imitation of others” (70).

What kind of powerful, questioning art creates the courage of communication, within the context of war? I have often thought that what is required in current times is a space for peace—a space for cross-cultural songs, poems—of peace. I think of rivers, skies–and their deep listening, as well as of the currents that run beneath tense.  I think of myriads of accidental meetings that change peoples’ lives: A traveler visits a place, falls in love, and stays for many years. Someone receives a work of art and discovers the meaning the piece had for generations of a family.

In those spaces between words, people hear.