Arterial.jpg

Arterial
Written by: Joel Kabot

       Walter Adamkiewicz knelt in front of the sunflowers that grew along the brick wall of the meat market next door, using an ancient metal can to water the dry earth that surrounded the thick, green stalks. It had rained that morning, so there had been no need for the usual 6 a.m. watering, but the July heat had been strong all day, and the plants needed their evening session. So there he was, just after dinner on a Saturday. The air around him in that little part of East Utica soon grew thick with the pungent smell of Upstate topsoil, overwhelming even the exhaust and emissions from the cars and factories on Broad Street.

       Although he also had a large garden on the opposite side of the driveway, next to the beech trees that grew along the busy four-lane road and berry bushes that bordered the sidewalk next to the shed—all perks allotted to him as the apartment building’s part-time on-call maintenance man—Walter cared for the sunflowers most of all. He did so because his parents, especially his father, had prized them too above all else, since they had reminded his parents of home. Although they were from different villages—from different empires, even—the sunflowers in both were the same, they had told Walter, growing in carefully tended rows just beyond densely packed wooden houses.

       Walter continued along the brick wall, pushing back the plants’ paper-like leaves to water them so that not one square inch of soil stayed dry. He would not have to wait long to see one village for himself. Father Mazur was organizing a late-summer trip to Poland, and Walter and his wife, Helen, were among the couples that had signed up. Travel to communist Poland had been possible now for some seven years, since 1956, Father Mazur had told his parishioners. It was time they took advantage. For Walter, there was not much of a debate. It was an extravagance, to be sure, but worth it.

       Walter heard the light canvas-shoe footsteps of his daughter, Sandra, and half-turned to her. He was struck by the sharp contrast between his own sweaty gardening clothes and Sandra’s freshly ironed dress, especially as he saw in her, as he had since she was a baby, those unmistakable Adamkiewicz eyes: narrow and dark, dark brown, almost black, set deep beneath her brow and matched by hair of the same color. They were his father’s eyes, and his own. From what Walter had seen, girls usually took after their mothers, and boys their fathers, but it was the opposite in his family. Joseph, Sandra’s much younger brother, had fair coloring and wavy blonde hair, just like Helen’s side. But Sandra was definitely an Adamkiewicz. It was almost a shame, he often thought, that she would lose her name when she got married, since no other name would do her justice. But that was how it had to be.

       “I’m going out with Robert,” she said. “I wanted to let you know.”

       “Where?”

       “Movies. He’s picking me up.”

       “Did you tell your mother?”

       “No. She’s at the neighbor’s, anyway.”

       “Did you tell your brother?”

       “I did,” Sandra said. “Not like I see how that matters.”

       Walter nodded and looked at Sandra. She had something more to say.

       “Robert and I’ve talked about him coming over for dinner sometime,” she said. “What do you think?”

       Walter looked away. He heard a train blow its whistle as it ran alongside the dry canal beds and the construction site for the new East-West Arterial. As a child, he had often played among those tracks, sometimes talking to the hobos that camped there, feeling sorry for those driftless men without homes.

       “Dad? What do you think?”

       “You know what I think. I don’t approve.”

       “He just wants to meet you.”

       “I’ve met him.”

       “For a long period of time, I mean. You know, officially. Where you can talk.”

       Walter took off his hat and wiped his forehead with the clean side of his glove. Then he looked back at Sandra.         “Robert. What is he? Is he anything?”

       “You’ve asked me this before. He’s Scotch or something. English.”

       “You couldn’t find a Polish boy to date?”

       “None that are like Robert.”

       Walter wasn’t sure what she meant by that. Poles made the best husbands, from what he could tell. They worked hard. They never got into trouble.

       “He’s not even Catholic,” he said. “What would your children be?”

       “He said we could raise them Catholic.”

       “Could?”

       “We will raise them Catholic.”

       “He has to convert.”

       “He doesn’t want to convert, Dad.”

       “Then he doesn’t want to marry you.”

       Sandra did not say anything. Walter could feel her staring at him, but he did not look back at her. Instead, he stood up, wiped his pants at his knees, and walked to the apartment toolshed with the watering can. He did not want to talk any further about Robert. Sandra knew where he stood on the manner. An Italian or a German would have been bad enough. She could have at least found a Catholic; he might not object to a non-Polish boy if he were a good Catholic. There were even different kinds of Catholics. Ukrainians, for instance, had their own rite. The Syrians, too.

       He dunked the watering can into the rainwater barrel, an old oil drum his father had brought back from work one day. Walter only used rainwater for his plants, just as his father and mother had. He was not sure what made rainwater better, but he knew it was important to continue the tradition.

       By the time Walter returned to the row of sunflowers, Sandra was gone.

 

       The next day, after Mass, the Adamkiewicz family sat at the kitchen table for lunch. Helen had cooked a Krakus ham and a Pulaski Market kielbasa. It was, as always, too much food, but it was important to celebrate Sundays. None of it ever really went to waste: On Mondays and each successive day until it ran out, Walter and Joseph would take sandwiches of the leftover meat to work and school, respectively, both with liberal doses of horseradish. Walter’s factory job was on the other side of town, in West Utica, so he could not go home for 

lunch like some of his friends could, especially the ones who worked at the General Electric plant on Broad Street, but his carefully packed leftover sandwiches, tasting as they did of Sundays around the kitchen table, almost made up for it.

       The family had been silent for some time, and Walter thought of discussing something serious, something he hadn’t even mentioned to Helen.

       “I think Sandra should go with us to Poland,” he said.

       Sandra looked up but didn’t say anything.

       “Oh, Walter,” Helen said. “We don’t have the money.”

       “We can find some. I could take another shift next week.”

       “You shouldn’t tire yourself out before the trip, dear.”

       “I wouldn’t get tired. It’d be worth it.”

       “No, thank you,” Sandra said. “Don’t do that on my account.”

       “Why not me?” Joseph asked. “Why can’t I go?”

       “You’re too young,” Helen said.

       “I’m not that young. Besides, I got a 100 on my Polish history quiz.”

       “Maybe next time,” Walter said. “But now it’s Sandra’s turn. It would do her good.”

       “I can’t be away for that long,” Sandra said, reaching for the kapusta.

       “Why not?”

       “They don’t like it at work.”

       “Everyone’s entitled to a vacation,” Helen said.

       “I’m still new. Junior employees shouldn’t take two weeks off.”

       “It’s only really a week and a half,” Walter said.

       “Still. It’s too long. You don’t want me to get fired, do you?”

       “No, but I could talk to your manager. Explain things. She isn’t Polish herself, is she?”

       “No. Italian. But I can’t go, Dad. I really can’t.”

       “It would do you good,” Walter said. “Give you some pride in your heritage.”

       “Sandra has pride in her heritage,” Joseph said. “She was Marie Curie in the eighth-grade play.”

       “That doesn’t mean anything,” Walter said.

       “Sandra was Marie Curie and Eddie Bujak was her French husband.”

       “We know, Joey,” Helen said. “Do you want more potatoes?”

       Joseph shook his head.

       After the meal was over, and Joseph had gone to his room to read comic books and Sandra had gone to meet friends—she didn’t say where—Walter sat at the table while Helen washed the dishes. He absentmindedly gathered some crumbs with the side of his hand, collecting them into a small pile. The table’s off-white tablecloth was decorated with images of American landmarks, such as the Liberty Bell and the Capitol Building. The crumb pile was just to the right of Mount Vernon.

       “What do you think about this Robert fellow?” Walter asked, turning halfway in his chair.

       “Well, I don’t really know him,” Helen said.

       “Neither do I. But I don’t like him.”

       “You can’t dislike someone you don’t know.”

       “It’s not him I dislike, Helen. Not personally. Just the idea of him.”

       “He might not be so bad,” Helen said, coming over to take the butter tray and salt and pepper shakers, the last items remaining on the table.

       “How can you say that?”

       “I just can. Maybe he’s not so bad.”

       “Do you want your daughter to marry outside of her culture? Outside of her faith?”

       “No,” Helen said. “I don’t. But what will we do? Disown her?”

       Walter did not say anything.

       “You know these kids, anyway,” Helen said, returning to the sink. “One minute, they’re together; another, they’re not.”

       “We can only hope,” Walter said.

 

       On Wednesday, Walter and Helen went to the third and final meeting for those taking the Poland trip, held, like the others, in the St. Hyacinth basement. They had gotten there early, like they did for most things, and Helen helped Anna Piatek, the parish secretary, start the coffee urn and lay out Italian pastries from Star Bakery. Walter sat in the first row of the neatly arranged folding chairs and drummed his fingers along his knee.

       Soon the others arrived: the Biernats, the Kubeks, the Szymaszeks, and the Wisniewskis. All were couples close in age. Helen was especially happy to see Caroline Biernat and Betty Szymaszek, her best friends in the Holy Rosary Society. They talked and gossiped over pusties and cannoli until Father Mazur called the meeting to order. Anna Piatek then handed out copies of the itinerary to each couple while Father Mazur went through it, line by line.

       Based on consultations from the Cosmos Travel Agency in New York, which had links to Orbis, Poland’s state tourist board, the twelve-day trip would include roughly three days of travel, three days in Warsaw, and four days in Cracow—including a day trip to Częstochowa—with the remaining time open for whatever each couple wished. If a couple had no particular place of interest, they could accompany Father Mazur to Gdansk and the Baltic coast until the group met again in Warsaw to fly back home.

       “Any questions?” Father Mazur asked, walking away from the little podium from which he had been speaking and toward the small crowd.

       Walter raised his hand, the first to do so. Father Mazur motioned to him. “Father,” Walter said, “on our free days, are you sure we can travel anywhere? Without supervision?”

       “Do you mean,” Father Mazur said, “will the communists allow it?”

       Walter nodded.

       “Yes,” Father Mazur said. “Cosmos, via Orbis, has assured me that travelers will have free rein of the country. Unlike the Soviet Union, one can travel independently. There are no ‘closed cities,’ as the Soviets call them.”

       “Will we get help in planning our travel, then? For train routes, bus tickets. . .”

       “Yes. Orbis will ask you, soon after arrival, where you want to go, and advise the best methods of transport. It should all be taken care of.”

       Walter nodded again and leaned back in his chair. That was all he needed to hear. He took out a pen from his suit pocket—he had changed from his factory clothes before coming to church—and circled the unscheduled days on his mimeographed itinerary. Barring anything unfortunate—one could never trust the communists and what they said, Walter knew—one of those days would be the one on which he finally visited Bohoniki, his father’s village. He was excited to see the big cities, and especially so to see Our Lady of Częstochowa in person, but Bohoniki was the real reason he and Helen were making the trip. 

       It was still light out when Helen and Walter got back to the apartment, so Walter stayed outside. Weeds had started to show between the cracks of the backyard sidewalk. It was always better to remove them at once, before they got too big. 

       “Do you have to?” Helen asked.

       “I don’t want it to look unkempt. Especially while we’re away.”

       “Why don’t we just watch some television? Or you could listen to a ballgame?”

       “It won’t take too long.”

       “No one will even notice, dear.”

       “I noticed.”

       “You’re wearing your suit.”

       “I’ll take off my jacket. And I won’t kneel on the ground.”

       Helen smiled and shook her head. “Well, I’ll be inside,” she said, climbing the concrete stairs to the building’s small vestibule.

       As he used a flat-head screwdriver to dig into the cracks, down into the roots, Walter thought of Bohoniki again. It was special, not just because it was his father’s home, but for another, important reason. By Walter’s count, there were two villages missing from their itinerary, through no fault of their own: his mother’s village, in Soviet Ukraine, and the village of Helen’s parents, in Soviet Lithuania. He would never get to see those places, to walk the land his mother had walked, to breathe the air his children’s grandparents had breathed. Only in Bohoniki could he walk the land of ancestors. Only in Bohoniki could he possibly meet long-lost relatives. His father’s family had scattered in the years before and after the war, but a great-uncle—the youngest of seven, so not much older than Walter’s father—had kept in touch and only recently passed. Walter knew this from a cousin, who wrote him two years ago. After first hearing in the fall of Father Mazur’s trip, Walter had twice sent letters to the cousin at the return address but had not yet received a response. He thought of writing once more, telling him the exact days he would be in Poland, hoping to make contact before they left.

       When it was dark and the weeds had been pulled, Walter went inside and sat at the kitchen table with the Observer-Dispatch and a Manhattan on ice. Like his father, Walter was not much of a drinker, but he did sometimes enjoy a solitary Manhattan at night, or at parties when he needed to be social, sipping it slowly over an hour or two. He always added at least three cherries, his favorite fruit, and when the drink was at its end and watered down, he would sometimes mash the cherries with a spoon and the Manhattan became almost like the cherry kompot his mother used to make.

       Headlights shone through the side windows, and a motor that sounded like Walter’s Plymouth hummed in its approach and then stopped. Walter soon heard keys jingling outside the door.

       “It’s open,” he said.

       Sandra walked in, smiled, and kissed her father on the side of his head. “Hi, Dad.”

       “Your mother said you were with friends,” Walter said.

       Sandra sat down and took the first section of the paper. “Yeah. A few of the girls from work. We went to Regal’s.”

       “We were right near there. Your mother and I had a meeting at church. About the Poland trip.”

       “Yeah?”

       “Yes. There might still be time. For you to go, that is.”

       “I really can’t be away for that long.”

        Walter sighed and loosened his tie. “You don’t really want to go.”

       Sandra looked up at him. “No.”

       “It really would do you good. I mean that.”

       “I know, Dad.”

       “I just want the things that are important to me to be important to you.”

       “They are.”

        Walter started to say that her recent choices suggested otherwise but stopped himself.

       Sandra opened the paper to a full-page advertisement for the Boston Shop, the department store on Genesee Street. Walter could read the upside-down text. They were having a sale on sport shirts and sunglasses.

       “I’d like some amber jewelry, though,” Sandra said. “If you could. Terri Zmuda’s husband’s cousin went there and brought her back an amber necklace.”

       “I’ll tell your mother to look for some.”

       “I’d like that,” Sandra said. “Especially some earrings.”

       Walter leaned back in his chair, but, suddenly self-conscious, brought himself forward again. He looked at the box score for the Cardinals game—some were saying it was Stan Musial’s last year, and Walter wanted to appreciate every last game that Musial played—but could not concentrate. Instead, he just stared at the rows and columns of text until their distinctive shapes receded into a blur. He considered telling Sandra the things he worried about at night, but he did not know how to start the conversation. It was almost too personal, too embarrassing. How could he say that he knew his wife’s soul, because she was Polish, in a way he could never know an Italian’s, or an Irish woman’s, or a German’s—or even a Ukrainian’s, if she were Orthodox? It was a Polish soul like his mother’s, the soul of all the Polish women he knew. How to say that without growing red in the face? How to make it sound real, that it was something, not just romantic nonsense a poet might write? How to say that Robert could never understand something he was not born with, did not possess innately? Sandra might be too young to know that, but that was why children had to listen to their parents: they had wisdom the children lacked. Sandra needed to listen, to heed his advice, to end things with Robert. It was better for everyone, especially for Sandra. She didn’t know it yet but would in time. So far, Walter had only really made his displeasure known. It should be enough, he thought, but there were other steps he could take. He just did not want to take them if he did not have to.

       He looked again at the box scores, and the numbers came into focus.

       Two weeks later, Sandra drove Walter and Helen to Union Station where they met the rest of their group and the train to New York. Sandra waited at the station until everyone was on board, standing by the tracks until the New York Central started eastward. Then, that night, the group flew from Idlewild Airport to Paris and the next day from Paris to Warsaw. The latter plane was full of émigrés and first-generation descendants like Walter, and Helen struck up a conversation with the woman next to her. The woman was from Chicago and traveling, for the second time, to her aunt’s in Katowice. She did not have much to say about Katowice, but highly recommended Cracow.

       “You’ll love it,” she said. “It’s like a fairy tale. As if it’s not even real.”

       “Oh, that sounds lovely,” Helen said. “Doesn’t it, Walter?”

       “Have you been to northeastern Poland?” he asked the woman. “To Białystok?”

       “No,” she said. “But I’m sure it’s lovely, too, as long as they don’t have any factories.”

       Toward the end of the flight, when he was sure the green country outside was Poland and not someplace else, he looked up from his National Geographic and pressed his forehead against his window like a little boy would, in awe at the Polish land below. He saw the small villages as his parents had described them: the white-painted wooden houses huddling together as if to stay warm, and the large fields in between, interrupted occasionally by empty country roads and small winding streams. Soon, the pilot announced the descent into Warsaw, and the green land became gray and black and populated. Below, Walter thought, it was as if you took Polish East Utica and multiplied it hundreds of thousands of times. It was a city of Poles, and Poles only.

       “That’s Warsaw?” Helen asked, leaning over him for a closer work, her blonde curls brushing against the stubble of his cheek.

       “It should be. Or a suburb, at least.”

       “How amazing to see it in person.”

       “You missed the countryside,” Walter said. “I should’ve told you. It was beautiful. The land of our people.”

       “The land of our people,” Helen repeated.

       At the airport, as Walter’s feet touched Polish soil, or at least Polish tarmac for the first time, an Orbis representative met them all and partitioned the group into a convoy of taxis. They sped along the highway into the city, past minibuses and small communist-made cars. At first glance, the city was not particularly attractive, Walter thought, with most buildings looking modern, yet tired, indistinguishable in their gray concrete and devoid of any ornamentation. Of course, Warsaw had been destroyed during the war, and one must be glad that anything existed at all. Still, it was something of a disappointment.

       Feeling hot, he rolled down his window to the city air.

       “Breeze is not good for you,” the driver said in Polish, looking back.

       “Where did you hear that?” Walter asked.

       “Everyone knows that,” the driver said. “You’ll get sick.”

       Walter looked at Helen, who shrugged. “I’ll be fine,” he said.

       The driver shook his head, then reached for his own crank handle in response, tightening it even further.

       Walter turned again to the city as it passed by. The taxis soon left the highway and merged onto a busy street, three lanes in each direction. The buildings were the same as before, but now he saw the people alongside them as they walked in the late afternoon heat. Men in suits and women in dresses hurried home from work. Young people ambled slowly, sometimes arm in arm, and schoolchildren in matching uniforms scurried among them all.

       It was, Walter thought, just a normal day for everyone else, but not for him. All the people he saw, and all the people he couldn’t see, were just living their lives. Everyone outside, every one of them a Pole. Every single one. Everyone was Polish, but everything still seemed so normal. It was not normal for everyone everywhere to be Polish, Walter thought, and yet no one here thought anything of it. It was as if no one was really Polish at all.

       Walter shook his head and rubbed his eyes. It had been a long journey, and he was tired. He was not thinking right. Fatigue had him confused, he knew. He was thankful when the taxis ahead slowed and turned into the curved driveway of the Grand Hotel.

       “Please close your window,” the driver said as he parked.

       The next morning, the group went to Warsaw’s Old Town, which had been faithfully reconstructed after the war. Walter and Helen walked the market square and admired the pastel façades of the Baroque townhomes. Later, they toured the Wilanów Palace, home to King Jan Sobieski, the greatest of all Polish kings. They visited the Barbican, the fortified medieval gates of old Warsaw, and posed for photos in front of the Palace of Culture and Science, even though Stalin had built it. Later still, they mourned the heroes of Poland in Powązki Cemetery and lingered over the art in the National Museum. They walked the riverbanks of the Vistula, watching the sunset on a warm summer night.

       Walter was very happy to hear Polish spoken everywhere, just like it had been in his neighborhood when he was a boy, and grateful for the chance to walk the Polish capital. But something was wrong. He did not feel at home, like he had thought he would. Warsaw, instead, felt very much like a foreign city. It belonged to others, not to him. In some ways, he thought, it was like Montreal—a place they had vacationed the year before—which felt both familiar and strange at the same time.

       He found himself missing Utica.

       The third night, after more guided tours, he was quiet all through dinner. He picked at his vaguely French chicken dish, which he had ordered because the hotel did not serve Polish cuisine.

       “Are you okay?” Helen asked.

       “Yes. I am.”

       “You don’t look happy.”

       “I’m fine. I just—”

       “Yes?”

       Walter sighed. “Maybe I’m tired again. With all the traveling.”

       “I’m sure Cracow will cheer you up,” Helen said, taking his hand in hers.

       Cracow came two days later. The woman from Chicago was right: It was beautiful. Walter enjoyed sitting in the market square, eating herring and pierogi. He even ordered some beer, which he found much more flavorful than what his friends drank at home. He walked along the academic buildings of Jagiellonian University and through the nave of Wawel Cathedral, praying at the tomb of St. Stanislaus. His chest swelled when he listened to the famed Cracow trumpeter play a truncated melody in honor of a thirteenth-century predecessor, killed mid-song by the Mongols. He bargained for trinkets at the souvenir stands in the city hall, buying amber jewelry for Sandra and an engraved Polish highlander walking stick—a ciupaga—for Joseph. He wrote them separate postcards from the main city post office, both with aerial scenes of the city. He labored over what stamps to buy, finally selecting a profile of Chopin for Joseph and an illustration of a bright yellow flower, Adonis vernalis, for Sandra. The latter was not a sunflower, but it almost looked like one at a quick glance. Walter hoped it would remind Sandra, in some small way, of her grandparents, and how they lived and what they lived for.

       All in all, there was no denying that Cracow was much nicer than Warsaw, and that it felt, really, much more Polish. But it was still not his. Really, Walter thought, Cracow was probably not that much different than Prague, or Budapest, or, more likely, Vienna, given the Habsburg influence. He could’ve been in any one of those cities, and a part of him almost he wished he were, since he wouldn’t be so disappointed.

       He told this to Helen.

       “We’re in a foreign country,” Helen said. “Of course it feels different from home.”

       “But it shouldn’t.”

       “Oh, Walter. Isn’t this always the case when you leave Utica? Don’t you feel like a stranger when you visit New York City?”

       “No. I don’t. I don’t feel like a foreigner in New York. I feel like an American.”

       “But did you feel at home in Tennessee, when you were in the C.C.C.? In Atlanta?”

       “No. But I didn’t need to. I knew it was someplace different. It was supposed to be different.” He paused. “This shouldn’t be.”

       Helen patted him on the back. Walter could feel her soft fingers through his thin wool cardigan.

       “I’m sorry, Walter.”

       “I’m sorry, too.”

       The next day, the group waited in line to see the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. The shrine was crowded, and it was hot outside while they stood, silently, for the chance to be in her presence, but Walter did not mind. He was glad that communism had not yet affected Poles’ reverence for the Virgin Mother. He was glad, too, for the bus ride through golden fields and small towns. He had fallen asleep on the train ride south to Cracow—and the train windows were dirty, anyway, with rings of caked layers around the edges so that the actual viewing area was much smaller than the frame would suggest—but on the road to Częstochowa, he could see the villages and countryside that resembled the view from the plane into Warsaw.

       Everything outside was what really mattered, he thought as the bus made its return trip. The cities were fine, but his were a rural people. That had been the problem all this time. Only when he left the city could he feel like he was truly in Poland, in his Poland. It was so obvious, and yet it took this long to realize it. His parents had not talked of majestic Renaissance cities, of course, but of simple village pastures. There was nothing wrong with those cities, nor anything wrong with him. They were just a different part of Poland—a necessary one, but not his, nor his family’s.

       That night, on a carriage ride through Cracow, alone with Helen—Helen had always loved horse rides, ever since their honeymoon in New York City and the obligatory trip through Central Park—Walter could only think of the countryside their bus had passed.

       “Remember,” he said to Helen, “we are of village stock.”

       “I know, dear,” Helen said, patting him on the leg.

       He smiled, one of his first real smiles in Poland, and put his arm around his wife. He was excited not by the ancient city that surrounded him, but for what lay ahead.

       On the tenth day, after Mass, some went to villages around Cracow or farther out to cities like Tarnów and Rzeszów. The rest of the group, Walter and Helen included, returned to Warsaw. From there, Walter and Helen continued on to Białystok, the closest big city to Bohoniki. After a night in Białystok, they took the train for an hour and a half to Sokółka and waited for a bus to Bohoniki, as the Orbis representative had told them to. They were only four miles from Bohoniki and just ten miles from the Soviet border.

       The bus that arrived was empty, and the driver did not speak after Walter told them where they wanted to go. Walter and Helen sat together on bench seating, watching the land as it alternated between field and forest. Soon the bus slowed at the intersection marking the small village of Drahle, but just as quickly accelerated as the village disappeared behind them. The bus slowed again for a sharp bend in the road—it was almost a right angle—and there it was, a worn sign with the name Walter had waited so long to see:

BOHONIKI

He clutched Helen’s hand. It was a cool day, and rain from that morning’s showers darkened the road, but Walter started sweating.

       The bus drove past small wooden farmhouses. A compact building, Eastern in style, with a turret above its black-shingled roof stood apart on the right. It must be the local Orthodox church, Walter thought, given how close they were to White Russia.

       The bus stopped in front of a small metal bus shelter and the driver opened the doors. Walter and Helen stood up.

       “Do you know where house number thirty-eight is?” Walter asked the driver in Polish.

       The driver shook his head.

       “How about the cemetery?” 

       “Ahead on left, through a path of trees.”

       “Is it the only one in the village?”

       “Only cemetery in Bohoniki, yes.”

       “Thank you,” Walter said. He turned to the door.

       “They call it mizar,” the driver said.

       Walter was almost off the bus but stopped. “Excuse me? Who does?”

       “The people here. Well, some of them.”

       “Okay,” Walter said, not sure how to respond.

       “Back in four hours,” the driver said, shutting his door.

       Walter and Helen stood on the side of the road as the bus drove eastward toward the border.

       “He was awfully strange,” Helen said, tying her plastic bonnet to protect her hair from any rain that might still fall.

       Walter nodded absentmindedly, having already forgotten the driver and the bus ride, unable to concentrate on anything but the land in front of him.

       It was a small village, as Walter had expected, but the houses that lined the road were well-kept. Behind the houses was farmland and cows, both dairy and beef cattle, grazed in the distance. Here, finally, he saw sunflowers, their vibrant yellow contrasting with verdant stalks, descendants, no doubt, of the very plants his father had seen, had so often talked about. Beside them were fields of green interrupted by small clusters of trees, and Walter was impressed by how lush it all seemed. It might have been the morning rain, he thought, but the land seemed different than the countryside around Cracow, which was almost sepia toned.

       Nearby, chickens and geese patrolled a section of fence, as if they were suspicious of the two newcomers who stood, unmoved, at the bus stop. A goat somewhere neighed in the distance, and a dog howled in response. Across the road, starlings pecked at seeds, just as they did in Utica.

       Walter had never heard back from his cousin. Still, he knew he must look for house thirty-eight, the number listed as the return address on the letter informing him of his great-uncle’s death. Walter and Helen walked the unpaved road of smooth, sunken dirt, stopping before each house to see if a number graced it. The numbers started in the forties, and soon they stood before thirty-eight, a yellow-painted house with dark red trim that stood in the shadow of a tall oak tree. Walter opened the gate and knocked on the door, waiting. He was very nervous. But there was no answer. He knocked again, and an old woman, much older than Walter or Helen, came from behind the house carrying a basket of laundry.

       “What do you want?” she asked, seemingly annoyed.

       “I’m looking for Szymon Adamkiewicz,” Walter said.

       “He’s not here.”

       “Where is he?”

       “How should I know? The Recovered Territories, somewhere.” 

       “The Recovered Territories?”

       “That’s what I heard.”

       “Aren’t you—” Walter began, then stopped. “Aren’t you an Adamkiewicz?”

       The woman looked at him. “Certainly not.”

       “Then why—”

       “My daughter got this house after Szymon moved west, after his grandfather died. You might try him in Wrocław. That’s what I heard.”

       “Okay,” Walter said.

       “If you’ll excuse me,” the woman said, turning away from them without bothering to finish her sentence.

       “Of course,” Walter said.

       Walter and Helen walked back to the road and stood there, outside the former Adamkiewicz gate.

       “She was even stranger,” Helen whispered.

       “Yes,” Walter agreed. He tried to take stock of what just happened and what it meant. He had not expected, really, to find his cousin. There was a reason his letters had gone unanswered, and it was simple: His cousin had moved to the formerly German lands of western Poland, too far away, given short notice, for Walter to reach now. He was almost ashamed of the thought, but he was really not disappointed. Without family, Walter was free to explore the village as he wished, remembering his father’s stories as he walked and not listening to someone else’s.

       “Where should we go now?” Helen asked.

       There was only one answer. They might have license to wander, but there was one place they had to visit.

       “The cemetery,” Walter said. “We should see my great-uncle’s grave.”

       They started back toward the bus stop, following the directions given by the driver. They came to a clearing that spanned both sides of the road, and then a door for an earthen cellar, beyond which rose small hills, the first spots of elevation in an otherwise flat landscape. Walter would have not done so elsewhere, but here, in Bohoniki, he saw the hills and wanted to climb them, to see the place in its entirety.

       “Helen,” Walter said, pointing. “We can get a good look at the village if we go up the hills.”

       “Ok-a-ay,” Helen said. “Don’t you think we—” she began, but Walter had already started on the path of trampled tall grass that began before the cellar.

       “Come on,” he said, turning back to her and holding out his hand.

       Soon they were at the top of Bohoniki, the many acres of pasture spread before them. It was beautiful country, Walter thought, and almost endless. He could see farmers in the distance, small figures moving among rows of low-lying green leaves. He could not make out what crop they were tending.

       They followed the path into the trees, the needles of evergreens brushing against their legs. The dirt of the path was thin and sandy, and Walter thought of the weak soil of the Adirondacks, just north of Utica. There, among tall pines and lakes so dark they looked black, he had gone camping with his father, fishing with homemade rods and sitting late into the night around the fire. Later, as a young man, he had gone north on summer trips with other Polish youths from East Utica. It was there that he had kissed Helen for the first time. There, so far away, but just the same: cold mornings and the fresh smell of summer rain, a place that seemed so much like this very place. Walter felt a rising in his chest. This was his father’s village, and it reminded him of home. Alone out of all the other places in Poland he had seen, this place felt like home. He turned back, once again extending his hand to Helen. Now, more than ever, he wanted to see the Adamkiewicz name in this village, among this land.

       It was a five minute walk, past more wooden houses, then to the row of trees in the distance. Just before the trees, on the opposite, right side of the road, a statue of the Virgin Mary stood in an alcove; to its left, a stone crucifix rested on a rectangular base. Both were draped in garlands of rose and daisy.

       “Bohoniki must be very devout,” Walter said.

       “It is a lovely shrine,” Helen said.

       They turned and walked across to the trees. Tall pines and birch grew along both sides of the road to the cemetery, with fields of potato plants just beyond. The road was not paved, and worn tire paths separated a middle row of grass from the fields. Small puddles had formed in the dirt of the road, and Walter and Helen had to watch the placement of their feet.

       “This is a very long walk,” Helen said.

       Walter nodded, trying to avoid a puddle. He had bought new shoes at the Boston Shop, just for the trip.

       A small Soviet-made car came from the direction of the cemetery, and the driver, a middle-aged woman with chestnut hair, drove to the far side of the road when passing Walter and Helen. Walter nodded to the woman, and tried to make eye contact, but she gave no response.

       “Maybe she was a relative,” Helen said after the car had passed.

       “Maybe,” Walter said.

       Finally, they came to a small, dusty clearing, and the cemetery lay before them. A low white wall surrounded it, the top covered in most places by a red metal imitation of terra cotta. The main green-painte gate was closed, although the left-side gate was open. Helen went ahead through the side entrance, but Walter walked to the small metal sign on the far right. Underneath the metal terra cotta, below an embossed crescent and star and flowing, cursive-like script, were the words:

CMENTARZ MUZUŁMAŃSKI W BOHONIKACH

Walter felt a tightness in his throat. He looked at the sign again and reread the capital-letter Polish words, concentrating on the second one, remembering the bus driver and what he had said, and the building that resembled the East—a church with no cross. He looked back through the trees, hoping to see the shrine to Mary, but could not see her statue.

       There must be a mistake, he thought. Either this was not the village or this was not the cemetery. He wiped his brow and ran his fingers through his black hair. Many villages shared churches, that he knew. Bohoniki was small, after all. There were obviously Catholics in the village, for they had built the shrine. He just had to find the shared church and the shared cemetery. Maybe it was in Drahle, the hamlet they had passed, or the village beyond, the name of which Walter did not know.

       Helen walked back to the gate. “Are you coming?” she asked.

       “I—,” Walter began. He swallowed to wet his throat. “I don’t think this is the right cemetery.”

       “What? How do you mean? This is your village, right?”

       Walter breathed deeply and exhaled. He moved away from the sign. “Yes,” he said. “I mean, I was always told. . .”

       Helen came to him and put her hands on his. “Are you all right, Walter?”

       He nodded, not really looking at her. “Yes. Yes, I am. I’m fine.”

       “Don’t you want to see the cemetery? It’s really quite beautiful, with the hill in the middle and all the pine trees.”

       “Yes,” Walter said. “Although I’m not sure we’ll find. . .”

       “Oh, Walter. I know this must be very exciting. We’ve come all this way, and now here we are, right in front of the cemetery. I can’t imagine.”

       He nodded but did not speak.

       “Let’s go, then,” Helen said, taking him by the hand. “Let’s go inside.”

       The cemetery was not at all like the one for St. Hyacinth’s, which was located in suburban Whitesboro and had manicured lawns full of precisely arranged plots. The one in Bohoniki appeared to be overgrown, with graves scattered among tall pines. Walter and Helen first walked toward the left, where new tombstones stood before raised graves, almost like a mausoleum. The names were in Polish, at least with Polish endings, but unfamiliar roots. Above the Polish characters, however, was a flowing, cursive-like script, and above that, the crescent and star. Walter did not see a cross, or an engraving of the Virgin Mary, on any grave in the cemetery. He found himself thinking of old National Geographic articles on the Holy Land and North Africa.

       “What does the crescent mean?” Helen asked, but Walter did not answer. He just held up his hand as if to pause, as if to wave off the question, and continued walking.

Some of the newer gravestones bore small photographs of the deceased. When Walter stopped before one, he felt as if he were looking at a variation of his father—at another, an older version of Sandra. None of the engraved names, so far, announced “Adamkiewicz,” but the photographs showed the Adamkiewicz eyes.

       The land soon sloped upward, to almost a forest of pine, and the graves there were older, often worn and illegible. Walter knew he must look for a new headstone, among the newest in the cemetery, but he kept climbing toward the older graves, those with only single, rough rocks denoting burial. He continued until he was in the middle of the cemetery, as high as he had been before when they saw the farmers and he had thought of home. Now, though, his previous excitement was gone, replaced by something else. He stopped to catch his breath.

       “Do you think it’s here?” Helen asked. “In this cemetery?”

       He stood with his hands at his knees, hunched over. He then straightened, looking past Helen to the east side of the cemetery, his left, where they had not yet gone.

       “Yes,” he said, his voice almost a whisper.

       He started toward the other graves, Helen close behind him. They walked slower than before. The stones he saw bore surnames like Emirowicz. Dzemilko. Given names like Mustafa and Timur. They all seemed too foreign, almost, and he started to think again that maybe he was wrong, that it was all wrong: This was not his people’s cemetery, but another’s, and he had only to go to the next village and there he would find Adamkiewicz headstones, many of them, crowded together beneath stone crosses.

       Or, instead, he could see his name before him, and his great-uncle’s first name as well, beneath the same flowing script and the same crescent and star as all the rest. There it stood, new and bright with lacquer even in the shade of tree branches, even on an overcast day:

STEFAN

ADAMKIEWICZ

s. ZOFII i JANA

UR. 1884 R.

ZM. 1962 R.

POKÓJ JEGO DUSZY

       There it stood, in a line with two other graves. There he stood, for how long he did not know, cold, drawing deep breaths, tears forming at the corners of his eyes. Helen came to him and put her hand on his back.

       “I know how hard this must be for you,” she said.

       He knelt down, crouching, staring not at the headstone but at the leaves and twigs that lay upon the granite surface of the grave. Then his knees began to give, and he reached for Helen to help him up.

       Standing, he turned to the two adjacent graves. The nearest was older than his great-uncle’s and belonged to a Leon Adamkiewicz, who died in 1931. The other was older still, with a date in the nineteenth century, the letters written in Cyrillic and almost gone, the crescent barely visible. There was, however, a visible Roman “A” followed by a letter that resembled a “D,” another Roman “A,” then “M,” “K,” and “E”. Strangely, then a “B,” before the word descended into unknown letters:

AДAМKEBИЧ

So there, too, lay family. Walter did not know Cyrillic, but he knew that.

       After some time, he backed away from the graves and found a bench on which to sit. Helen sat next to him, close, her hand once again on his back. He wanted to find the graves of his grandparents, but no longer had strength in his legs or his heart. Instead he sat, without thinking, his head down.

       “I know what the crescent means,” he said, finally.

       Helen looked at him without speaking.

       “It means they weren’t Christian.” He paused. Five days before, they had stood before the shrine of the Black   Madonna, protectress of all Poland, and now they stood in a cemetery without a single cross. His cemetery, because it was the cemetery of his father’s people. “It means they were Muslim,” he continued. “Followers of Muhammad.”

       “I see,” Helen said.

       “It means they weren’t Christian,” he said again. He looked at the Adamkiewicz graves, stared at them, so that eventually he did not see them clearly at all, and they were just blurred stones that could be in any cemetery, any forest, any land where the pines grew tall from loamy soil.

       When he let things come into focus, he looked at his watch and stood up. More than two hours had passed since they had left the bus.

       “We don’t have much time,” he said. “We need to go back into town. We need to see their temple.”

       Walter and Helen walked hand in hand to the door of the Eastern-style building. It was locked, however, and Walter did not know what to do. He went to the windows and looked in on a room without furniture, and then walked around back, along a hedge of trees. Finding nothing that would help, except more windows looking in on another bare room, he returned. He saw a young man in a gray jacket and a wool flat cap walking away from Helen, toward the house across the street.

       “What did he want?” Walter asked.

       “He wanted to know what you wanted,” Helen said. “I think he went to get the keys.”

       “Oh,” Walter said. He stood with Helen by the door, waiting. The sun came out from behind the clouds, but the warmth did nothing for him.

       Soon the young man in the hat came back with an old, hunched man who seemed to walk with difficulty. The young man looked like any Polish youth—his nose long and angular, his hair sandy brown. The old man was much smaller, and his thick, white hair was a strong contrast to his weathered skin.

       “This is the groundskeeper,” the young man said to Helen.

       The three of them followed the old man to the front door, where he labored to insert the key and turn the doorknob. For a moment, Walter did not know if he wanted to enter.

       The old man motioned to their feet.

       “He wants you to remove your shoes,” the young man said.

       Walter and Helen did so, and then went inside. Walter closed his eyes. Once through, he opened them to a hallway of plank-wood walls that reminded him of log cabin interiors in the North Country. The carpet, a rich oriental pattern, felt thick and plush beneath his shoeless feet. The narrow hallway led to a large room, but the old man first pointed to a small room on the left. There, framed prints of crescents and embroideries depicting a castle-like building lined the walls. A thin lace curtain covered a long, rectangular opening in the wall it shared with the larger room.

       “This is where the women pray,” the young man said, and then turned to Helen. “But it is no problem,” he said to her. “You may come with us.”

       Like its neighbor, the plank walls of the large room were covered with framed script writing and pictures of a many-spired castle. A small set of stairs led to a semi-enclosed pulpit. A balcony ran above the curtained opening and its curved spindles that bridged the two halves. Small glass chandeliers hung from the ceiling. There were no chairs, only one bench pushed to the side.

       “What is this place?” Walter asked the young man, although he knew.

       “This is the mosque of the Tatars,” the young man said.

       “The Tatars.”

       “Yes.” 

       Walter opened his mouth to speak but did not. He had many questions but did not know if he could ask them, if he had the strength to. He felt dizzy. He reached out to the knot-covered walls but recoiled when his hand touched the smooth surface. He did not know how to act in a mosque. He had never been in one before.

       The young man looked at him. “Where are you from?” he asked.

       “America,” Walter said.

       “Ah. We like your President Kennedy very much.”

       “Thank you.”

       “Why are you here?” the young man asked.

       Walter looked away to the window that faced the hedge. “My father came from this village. His great-uncle, Stefan Adamkiewicz, is buried in that cemetery.”

The old man’s face brightened, and he spoke for the first time. “I knew Stefan,” he said.

Walter turned, suddenly. “You did? Did you know his nephew—my father? Józef?”

       The old man smiled again. “I knew Józef, too. But not well.”

       Walter took a deep breath. “Was he—Tatar?”

       “Of course,” the old man said. “All the Adamkiewiczes are Tatar. His mother was a Christian, but he was still a Tatar through his father.”

       “I see,” Walter said. He felt the dizziness return. To counter it, he pressed all his weight into his feet, into the fibers of the carpet; he closed his eyes and waited. He recovered. He opened his eyes and looked at Helen, his beautiful Helen. There was only one logical second question, the question he must ask. 

       “So my father,” Walter began, almost unable to continue. “My father—he wasn’t really Polish?”

       “What do you mean?” the young man asked.

       “My father—he was a Tatar, you say.”

       “Tatars are Polish,” the young man said.

       “But his father was Muslim.”

       “Yes,” the young man said.

       “Poles are supposed to be Catholics.”

       “Not all. Some Poles—the Tatars—are Muslim. There are Orthodox Poles. There are still some Jews.”

       “Yes,” Walter said. “But the Tatars—the Tatars are different. They come from Mongolia.”

       “Tatars are descended from the Golden Horde and Turkic peoples,” the young man said, “but that does not mean we are not Polish. Tatars are among the most patriotic of Poles. There was a Tatar regiment that fought in the war.” He paused. “My own father fought in the Tatar regiment.”

       The old man nodded. “We were granted these lands by King Jan Sobieski, the greatest of all Polish kings, for our military service,” he said. “That is why we are here, today, in Bohoniki.”

       “I see,” Walter said.

       No one said anything for a while. The four of them stood in the sunlit room until Walter went toward the pulpit. He examined its green and white railing and the rosary-like beaded necklaces wrapped around both posts. Next to the pulpit, a text lay open on a book holder, low to the ground. Walter bent down to the script-covered pages, which numbered 101 and 100.

       “That is over a century old,” the old man said. “Our holy book. A Koran from Kazan.”

       “Kazan,” Walter said. “In Russia.”

       “The capital of Tatarstan,” the young man said.

       Walter looked at the ancient pages, where circles and dashes resembling a kind of Morse code alternated between the curved letters he was now used to seeing. He realized that, including the Cyrillic on the oldest Adamkiewicz grave, he had encountered two foreign alphabets in his father’s village. For so long, he had expected Bohoniki to be a bastion of complete Polishness. Now, he was not sure what to think.

       After some time, Walter stood to face the others, and the old man then turned toward the door, the group following him into the sun.

       “This is a beautiful building,” Helen said.

       “Thank you,” the old man said.

       They waited while he slowly turned his key and locked the mosque.

       “Are there any other Adamkiewiczes in the village?” Walter asked. “I know Stefan had a grandson, called Szymon.”

       “No,” said the young man. “Szymon moved to Wrocław after his grandfather’s death. Many of the Tatars have moved away, or married Christians.” He paused. “But I chose to stay.”

       “I see,” said Walter.

       “Would you like some tea?” the old man asked. “I have photographs to show you.”

       Walter looked at Helen, who nodded her head.

       “We would like that very much,” he said.

       At the old man’s home, they sat around a small table. From a yellowed folder, the old man produced photographs of Tatar congregants standing in front of the mosque. The oldest photographs dated to the 1920s, so Walter’s father was not to be found, but Walter’s great-uncle, Stefan, stood tall in three of them, all taken before the war. Walter had never seen a picture of his great-uncle before. In each photograph, Stefan wore a dark suit, a dark tie, and an eight-panel cap. He had the Adamkiewicz features, visible even in an old, grainy photograph.

       Szymon appeared in two photographs. In one, bareheaded, he knelt next to his mother, looking serious and cradling a book in his arms. In the other, he was older, but still just as serious. He wore a military uniform.

       “Did he fight?” Walter asked.

       “He continued the tradition of the Tatars,” the young man said.

       Walter held the photograph close to his eyes, trying to memorize the face of a cousin he had never seen—a cousin who was, by appearance, unmistakably family.

       Then the old man took out a photograph darker and blurrier than the others, of a group of old men, each with long mustaches. He pointed at one of the men, wearing, like the others, what looked like a fez in addition to his elegant suit and tie.

       Walter knew immediately who it was. “My grandfather,” he said, in a whisper, in English. “Mój dziadek.”

       The old man nodded.

       Walter started to cry. “Mój dziadek,” he repeated, bringing his hand to his eyes and wiping the tears away. “I never knew him.”

       “He was a good man.”

       “Thank you,” Walter said.

       “You can have this,” the old man said, pointing to the photograph.

       Walter almost began to say that he could not, for he could not take what was not his, but that would have been a lie. He simply bowed his head.

       Soon it was time for the bus to Sokółka. The young man asked for Walter and Helen’s address in America, which he promised to send to Szymon in Wrocław. Walter asked for Szymon’s address, too—he would try writing him again, to ask the questions he could not ask now—so the young man hurried home, in the direction of the cemetery. Walter and Helen walked to the bus shelter with the old man. The young man returned with the address written in the margins of a torn newspaper page. He then stood with the old man, waving, as Walter and Helen 

boarded the bus and headed west. Walter watched them from a side window until they disappeared from view.

       Walter did not say much on the bus ride back, or on the train to Białystok. In their second-class cabin, Helen looked at him with worried eyes. He held her close. He was not sure what to think. All this time he had believed one truth about himself, one seemingly incontrovertible truth: He was Polish, completely. He was one thing, and better for being that one thing. And Polishness was nothing without Catholicism, Roman Catholicism.

       The train pushed southwest, through the lands of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Like in Bohoniki, cows wandered the countryside. White storks nested in tall trees and telephone poles. Hamlets and villages and small towns passed by, looking alike, all probably with cemeteries that resembled St. Hyacinth’s, at least where it mattered.

       He wondered about his father. He was raised Catholic, surely. He was a Catholic in Utica, that Walter knew; he received the last rites in the hospital. But what did his father ever reveal about himself? Did he ever tell his wife that he was Tatar, descendent of the Golden Horde and Turkic peoples? Maybe it was unnecessary. Maybe Walter’s mother had always known. Maybe it was something the earlier generation just knew about a person, as its members were really from the land and its history, and Walter was just from a Polish neighborhood in Utica, an American.

       Walter wondered about himself. He was no less of a Catholic, but he was less of a Pole. At least by blood, no matter what the young man and old man had said. Was he also, then, less of himself? He stared at the land through dirty windows. For so long, he had wanted to visit this country. For so long, and now he wished he had not. He wished that Father Mazur had not organized the trip, that his father had not talked so much about Bohoniki and the fields that surrounded it. Walter wished, almost, that his father had not been his father.

       He shook his head at the thought and crossed himself for the offense. He turned away from the window, desperate to think of something else. What came to mind was not much better. He could not help but think of his daughter and her Adamkiewicz eyes, and of Robert, to whom he refused to speak a word. They had been together almost a year.

       That night at dinner, he could not stomach much more than soup and left early. He told Helen to stay, to enjoy the hotel restaurant. They rarely dined out back home. 

       He thought he might have trouble sleeping, but he woke to the alarm the next morning, refreshed. It was still dark outside. Their train to Warsaw was an early one, leaving at half past six. Helen stood at the edge of the bed, already dressed, her light curls matching the faint yellow of her sweater.

       “I wanted to let you sleep,” she said.

       Walter nodded, thankful.

       “Do you want to get breakfast?” Helen asked.

       Walter sat up in bed. “No. I’ll take my time.” He reached for his glasses on the nightstand. “Can you bring me back something?”

       “Of course, dear.”

       After Helen left, Walter stayed in bed, the covers and sheets pulled close. He did not feel sick, like he had the night before. More important, he did not feel less Polish. And he did not feel Tatar. At least, not yet. After all, some things had not changed. He was still a baptized Catholic, as were his wife and two children. He still lived in a Polish neighborhood in East Utica. He did not have to let things affect him, if he did not want them to. In a way, Walter thought, he was continuing the real Tatar tradition: He was completely assimilated and felt completely Polish.

       He stopped thinking about anything but the train and what he must do before they left the hotel. But soon he was unsatisfied and restless. He got out of bed and walked to the window. He opened the window shade completely and then the window itself. The sun had not yet risen, but the light of early morning had already begun. In front of Walter was a city intersection and a park, beyond that an Orthodox cathedral. Behind the hotel, not too far away, was the market square with its reconstructed town hall. It had been the Soviets, not the Germans, who had destroyed it in 1939. The Poles had finished rebuilding just five years ago, and so now it stood, new, yet old, a place of pride, a symbol of the indomitable, unconquered Polish spirit.

       Walter could see the map of Białystok—at least the central part—in his head, his mind for cartography strengthened by all those National Geographic inserts. He knew that in this corner room, standing as he did, he faced Bohoniki, a place with other indomitable, unconquered Poles, who just happened to be Tatars. That, Walter knew, was exactly how they saw themselves.

There was something to be admired about them, he thought. Something to be admired about the lonely mosque and the still-functioning cemetery. There were not many of them, and, aside from the Sandra-like eyes in the gravestone photographs, or in the photographs of his great-uncle and cousin, they did not all look that different, that distinct—at the very least, they did not look out of place in Poland, just as his father had not looked out of place in East Utica. Yet, there they were, how many centuries later.

       They had to have known, he thought. They had to have known that someday it would be like this, that there would be only the lonely mosque and the scattered families and the assimilated descendants. They had to have known that upon settling in a land of foreign people, foreign languages, and foreign faiths that they would change, that what it meant to be an Adamkiewicz—a name not yet given, at that point—would someday change. And yet, there they were, not wholly the same, but with Arabic on their gravestones and a crescent atop their mosque.

       Outside, the morning light grew stronger. A sudden breeze carried the scent of pine to his window, and at once he was both in Bohoniki and the New York wilderness, in America and in Poland.

       He thought of Polonia, and the little Polish neighborhood of East Utica, and the inevitability of it all. It was inevitable. He did his best to resist, but even he, himself, was an example. He was not of this land, but of a land much farther away, no matter how similar in natural appearance. He was, at heart, an American of Polish culture who lived in a city of not just Poles, but also many others. His own children spoke Polish poorly and could not read or write it. His future grandchildren would not know the native language of his parents—the only language, in fact, he had ever heard his mother speak. At best, they would call him Dziadzi and Helen Babci, as his friends’ grandchildren, some born to non-Polish fathers or mothers, called their grandparents. That was what would happen.

       But the Tatars—his people, now, or at least partly—gave him hope. The mosque, the cemetery, the old man, and especially the young man—they all gave him hope. Maybe someday, generations from now, there would be Adamkiewiczes, whether by name or not, barely Polish by blood, but with an Our Lady of Częstochowa print above the kitchen table, their recent dead buried in St. Hyacinth’s although they had lived and died far away. As long as Robert could see that, Walter thought, it would be all right. As long as he could see how important that was, so that his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great and beyond would never hesitate when asked what they were. So that they, and others, would never not know the answer. Walter did not consider himself a difficult man. Robert, if he was reasonable, could see that. That was all a quarter-Tatar, all-Polish, all-American man could ask. Walter wanted more, maybe needed more, but that was all a reasonable man could ask. He wished it were another way, but it was not. It was the truth.

       He stood at the window for some time, facing Bohoniki, until he heard Helen open the hotel room door and call to him.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Joel Kabot has an M.F.A. in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. After graduation, he was a Fulbright fellow in Ukraine. Originally from Upstate New York, he lives in Baltimore with his wife and son. His fiction has also appeared in the Notre Dame Review.

 

From Belmont Story Review Volume 6: Destination