Poems and Art by Christina Turczyn

ct hudson valley sunset watercolor by christina turczyn

Poet, visual artist and educator Christina Turczyn has been reflecting keenly on the world around her for most of her life. Water runs through her paintings—they’re watercolors, after all—and through her poems, too, lending a fluid quality to her recurring themes: human endurance through violence, dislocation and disease; technology’s capacity to link and sunder, efface and re-record; and the cool witness borne to it all by the natural world. A self-proclaimed “student of her students” and relentless observer of both natural and human phenomena, Christina lives in New Jersey, where she continues to serve her community by writing, painting, promoting the arts and championing inclusive education.


ct christina turczyn at cornell club
Christina Turczyn at the Cornell Club

I come for the deer—

this season, they kick up snow

in circles,

summoning clouds, 

an ancient path of constellations

in the blood.

“Let your body remember,” my Tai Chi

master reminds me, as scars

are a calligraphy of absence.

It is all in the breath:

Geography of skin.

What we know is on the other

side of bone.

Here, the pandemic creates silence,

prolongs the wait. I am

hurried out of the hospital, and still

am happy for the twentysomething,

who forgot to go to work, then arrived

after too much wine.

The nurses keep

laughing, but his friend comes to take

him home.

No one would do this for them,

as they 

miss the secret—

undercurrent, stone.

Elsewhere in cages children go quietly to sleep,

without any knowledge of the depth

that being held up by a river brings.

Today, the deer summon a storm.

They thunder through the woods,

white water,

just listening.

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Virtual Water

Light climbs slowly up a vase—a ragged leaf, more solid than my surroundings. This is tangible light, not the kind that illumines my laptop at night with a bluish underwater glow. The universe. All stories bend, the farther away from us they travel.

A river runs away from a spring. Someone is filming the water, as a masked fisherman pulls up his catch. Trees move in the water of the sky, breathe.

ct early spring watercolor painting by christina turczyn

People escaping their countries are drowning.

What would you do with virtual water? Virtual wars? Virtual salvation, virtual games, virtual rain, and virtual love?

Distance is safety, while in another country, a photo reaches a photo. My mother dies. Her sisters are gone. It is too late.

My student’s father carries a portrait through Viet Nam. The portrait survives him.

When I was twenty, I drove to Sandy Hook, kicked off my red sneakers, and swam. Now, I paint a door to the sea. In the background, the water is rough. There is no chair to infinity, no sand—just a door through which I pass when I want to have a real conversation.

I am walking on an idyllic street lined with blossoms. I photograph the long, stretched shadows. Past the Wild Bird Emporium children play, while parents carefully tend their wings. The ice cream truck drives down the dead end—a melody wafts over grass. Too green. The street is empty. Stone bunnies on a lawn are outfitted with protective gear. Behind me, an ambulance breaks up the silence.

It was my letter that survived the flood in my friend’s home. Only my letter survived. We are all just an inch above the flood. We are all just an inch above the deep, quiet water.

Much of it is hidden. From the outside, the building I live in is quaint. Inside, an old man tends an eagles’ nest on his computer screen. All I see is a forest, yet I feel the presence of the hunter.

Is the nest everything this man has put away? He, as well, dived into the brook near the mill here, years ago. An avid painter of trains, he offers me his book.

I find a re-defined park not yet closed in the pandemic. Not a park, exactly, but an extension of the library.

I sit on the bench, watch the fisherman. Thirty-five years have passed. He casts his line. The friend of the letter calls. I am dancing to Rose Royce. “I Wish Upon A Star.” This is before our friend dies, way too young. I would bring him water, books, seasons, records—anything, but the stream runs through my hands.

Every year, I have asked myself why he could not call. Why?

There are rooms in my body where constellations sleep.

He walks with my friend to school. They are children. Then, they are walking towards the dorm. They are still running, laughing. Today I am resting on my uncensored bench in Ho-Ho-Kus, letting the dust of light touch my shoulder. It has been traveling for a very long time to find me. Centuries, perhaps. 

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simone henke left and christina turczyn
Christina and (L) Simone Henke — her husband Holger, is on the NJ Fulbright Association board.

What is love but language renewed daily? It is not the act of renaming, but rather, finding the hidden name in someone else, coaxing it out of them. What is language but belief, branches of sentences tending toward no conclusion, a single leaf turning in the windless sky? Renaming is an act of violence; peoples renamed are pried from their histories—unable to look in the mirror of the past, they do not recognize their beauty, but always look for affirmation elsewhere. This is a tragedy. 

It happens to many women who “take one day at a time” because they have been convinced that no future exists for them. 

With Doors Wide Open 

I have heard that in war-torn countries, people take brooms to their porches after a bombing, sweep away bits of debris during that millisecond before the bombs fall again. 

My mother knew the word for war. The language did not matter; once you had experienced devastation, you could never go to a tearjerker again. “Tragedy is for the young,” she says, as a challenge to what many people think. Her youth was spent in D.P. camps in barracks, and she associates tragedy with youth, questioning the existence of horror films when so much terror resides in real life. “It is no escape,” she tells me. “One needs an escape.” “You realize,” she says, “that we left our home with the doors wide open.” 

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Winter Coat 

Leaving the camp,  

a mother takes her daughter by the hand.  

They walk along the path toward school.  

A warm sleeve of wind envelops her,  

until cold weather comes.  

First the pain.  

Then the numbness.  

Then the education.  

Walking past the distant hills, she feels  

bread in the heart,  

hunger in the heart of bread—  

counts deer tracks, sees  

galaxies of deer circling mountains, 

life scaling stone. 


by Mekiya Walters

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