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Picture 11123949, early 20th century photograph, image copyright Mary Evans / Everett Collection/Old Visuals

Peeling the Potatoes
by Maja Trochimczyk


for Grandma Maria Wajszczuk, née Wasiuk (1906-1973)



Her Grandma showed her how to hold

the knife, cut a straight, narrow strip,

keeping the creamy flesh nearly intact,

ready for the pot of boiling water.


Don’t throw away any food. The old refrain.

My sisters, Tonia and Irena lived on potato peels

in Siberia. She is confused. She knows

Ciocia Tonia — glasses on the tip of her nose,

perfectly even dentures — but Irena? Who is that?


They were all deported to Siberia. Not sure how

Irena’s parents died — of typhus, or starvation, maybe?

They used to pick through garbage heaps,

look for rotten cabbage, kitchen refuse

to cook and eat. They cooked and ate anything

they found under the snow, frozen solid.


The water’s boiling. Babcia guides her hand:

You have to tilt the cutting board

toward the pot, slide the potatoes in.

Don’t let them drop and splash you.


What happened next? The orphaned children

went with the Anders’s Army and the Red Cross

to Iran, Switzerland, Chicago. The kitchen

fills with memories. Mist above the stove.


Grandma piles up buttery, steaming,

mashed potatoes on her plate. Eat, child, eat.  


Ten years later, Aunt Irena came to visit.

She looked like Grandma, only smaller.

Her legs were crooked.



© Maja Trochimczyk

Picture 11123949, early 20th century photograph, image copyright Mary Evans / Everett Collection/Old Visuals



Maja Trochimczyk, PhD, is a Polish American poet, music historian, photographer, and author of eight books on music and Polish culture. Her nine poetry volumes include four anthologies, Chopin with Cherries (2010), Meditations on Divine Names (2011), Grateful Conversations (co-edited with Kathi Stafford, 2018), and We Are Here: Village Poets Anthology (co-edited with Marlene Hitt, 2020) as well as Rose Always – A Love Story (2008, rev. 2020), Miriam’s Iris (2008), Into Light (2016), and two prizewinning books based on Polish experiences of WW2 and its aftermath: Slicing the Bread (2014) and The Rainy Bread (2016, 2nd expanded edition, 2021). A former Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga, she is the founder of Moonrise Press, President of the California State Poetry Society, editor of the California Quarterly and Poetry Letter published by CSPS, and President of Helena Modjeska Art and Culture Club, promoting Polish culture in California. Hundreds of her poems, articles and book chapters have appeared in English, Polish, and translations into other languages. She has read papers at nearly 90 international conferences and received many awards from Polish, Canadian and American institutions, such as the American Council of Learned Societies, the Polish Ministry of Culture, PAHA, McGill University, and the University of Southern California. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee (2021) and winner of the Creative Arts Prize from the Polish American Historical Association (2016).


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