I Want This World

by Margaret Szumowski


“These poems are straightforward and accurate, imaginative and bold; they reveal a quest that crosses numerous borders of the mind and the body.” —Yusef Komunyakaa

Format: paperback

Format: paperback

7 in stock

ISBN: 978-0-9710310-2-9 Categories: ,

The December 2002 issue of Christian Century magazine reviewed I Want This World.

I Want This World explores what it means to be human and in danger across many landscapes: the costs of World War II to family-forced labor in Siberia, the Italian Campaign, prison camp in Murmansk, as a hostage in Africa and in the muddied politics in the Rio Grande Valley. We feel the complexity, terror and beauty inherent in each of these domains.

If I Want This World is about moments that overcome as well as those that make us shudder, it is also about delight and irresistible love. The poet laughs herself to collapse seeing the roseate spoonbills, the great crater, Ngorogoro, the immigrants’ shrine in the Rio Grande Valley, the way Poles crowd Chopin’s house every Sunday for concerts as if Chopin were still playing his Polonaise.

Margaret Szumowski challenges us to experience the ineffable. Reading about Bronislaw, Czechek, Victor, Christine, and Jan Szumowski, we wonder how to measure ourselves against the previous generation without feeling inadequately endowed with courage. To understand the effect of war on the human spirit, the poet gently brings us to enter the minds of another generation.

“These poems are straightforward and accurate, imaginative and bold; they reveal a quest that crosses numerous borders of the mind and the body.” —Yusef Komunyakaa

Margaret SzumowskiMargaret Szumowski grew up in Winterset, Iowa, the oldest of seven children. She learned to tap dance and twirl a fire baton – An experience that required wrapping the end of the baton in asbestos, dipping it in kerosene, then lighting it and hoping for the best. Twirling with fire and breathing the freezing air at football games led her to poetry.

She graduated from the University of Iowa and shortly thereafter took off for the Peace Corps and served in the Congo and Ethiopia. As a hostage in Uganda, she had the distinction of having her photo taken by Idi Amin – a sort of keepsake for him. Szumowski received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts, and at the end of her orals with Jim Tate, she commented on how much she enjoyed the program. Tate’s response: “Even more than being a hostage of Idi Amin?” accompanied by that great laugh of his.

Margaret Szumowski taught writing for many years at Springfield Technical Community College. Of all her teaching jobs, the community college was her favorite with students from age 16 to 80 and of all ethnic backgrounds. In 1998, she was recognized by the college for leadership and innovation. In 2001, she was honored with the Andrew Scibelli Chair for excellence in teaching. She studied with Marie Howe, Yusef Komunyakaa, Martha Rhodes, Mark Doty, Joshua Weiner, and Agah Shahid Ali at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, one of her favorite places.

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Weight .4 lbs
Dimensions 6 × .5 × 9 in


The sea wind blows and wants my windows open
though I have closed them for sleeping.
I know you always loved this place:
Remember how you rode the breeches buoy at Race Point
like a shipwreck victim, saved by your own courage.

It is still beautiful here.
This morning out on the foggy wharf,
gasoline reeked as they fueled up fishing boats,
readied schooners and whalewatch ships.

Remember? The humpbacked whale
came so near he bumped our boat,
his foul breath in our faces;
we saw mother and calf dance together.
One sparse day we clung to the rail,
eyes fixed to the horizon,
waiting for one glimpse of finback rising.

The wind at Race Point is so strong
it can lift a human from the ground,
and I want to be lifted in the wind.
You, too, my dancer.
I love to see you leap as if lifted by wind.

Lyrical child, as your lost uncle called you,
don’t you remember that if a ship
is wrecked and burning in the sea
there are those ready to go out on lifeboats
or hurl a line?

One dark summer in childhood
I seized a flashlight and was punished.
Take a flashlight, a lantern, take any light you can,

girl who collected moonshells, razor clams,
returned to the sea all shells with a snail
curled inside them, picked up fiddlers
and set them down again,
walked over dark marshes enjoying
your own feet clumping the boards.

Last night I did not dream about you
nor struggle to dock this body somewhere,
awakening with a jolt.

Surrounded by sea, I slept peacefully,
had coffee and a hot bagel, your favorite,
and I believe you will be well
as yellow-slickered fishermen
surf-fishing after a storm,
the red eye of the lighthouse flashing and flashing.


Who knows what this hairdresser has done before,
but O’Malley doesn’t mind, and she is scrubbing his scalp
in that tender
but serious way that hairdressers do,
restoring the man
in one short visit, ritual washing
and combing and cutting. How does she dare
touch his hair, I wonder. How does she dare
to think she can wash his hair
with her hairdresser’s fingers?

Father O’Malley
knows enough to avoid
The Head and Hoof Barbershop,
that bastion of tough guys
planning their next assault,
in favor of The Magic Touch.
He knows that there is some comfort
this ordinary woman can offer
good as a sacrament,
filling as a nice lunch.

Now I’ve decided to be a hairdresser;
it can’t be too late for me to don
the holy cape and open a salon
just for priests. They are so lovely
with their open arms and long robes
that I would gladly wash their hair
for free.

Do you renounce Satan, she asks.
Do you renounce the glamour of evil?
Yes, Yes, he says, surprised that the hairdresser
requires this spiritual commitment.

What a humble fellow, letting himself be baptized
by the hairdresser:
mysterious woman
who washed the feet of Christ
refreshing him
in some way all the good people of Holyoke
had not thought of doing,
as they came for blessings,
arms full of bright flowers,
daughters in quinceaneria dresses.
sons with big tattoos,
home-made cakes with purple frosting.
They hadn’t thought he might
be alone, ready for a simple washing at the sink
by a woman with sturdy fingers.
Is she the woman from hell
or the woman at the well?


Why do our shawls never slip from our shoulders
as we turn and turn and turn.
Our feet know the dance, our hearts know our husbands.

In our red blue green skirts we dance
and the whole dry landscape flowers
until we cannot believe how bountiful a desert can be,
bountiful as remembering great tenderness
in the midst of war.

Dark hair, long braids, we dance alone
and the whole village knows
we ache for our husbands.

Strange to be dancing, hurting
in bone, marrow, fingertip. We will always be married
to our husbands, see them everywhere,
carrying Ana to bed when she’s too tired to walk. Andres

turns to me with open arms, his body fragrant
and familiar. I know every muscle, warmth of his chest,
large strong hands, dark brush of his eyebrows, his sweat,
the smooth torn skin of his back.

Soldiers see my husband safe in my arms again, dancing
as though at our wedding. How close he holds me,
longs for me as my full skirt whirls about my legs.

Dry earth of this village sifts through children’s fingers.
We are beautiful and dangerous
as wild birds brightening the desert.


After our biggest fight ever,
I got up and mended her coat, burgundy wool
inherited from me. The pocket ripped
where I grabbed, trying to keep her
from the dark. It was like trying
to sew together a child’s ragged blanket.

At first, upset, I could find only
a link of black thread, not doing
much mending lately. Eyesight dim
as the moonless night,
I could not thread the bent needle.

Sewing the pocket back on was hard.
I had thoroughly ripped it off.
I wanted to buy her a new coat.
I thought to myself how surprising
that she wore my old coat, but perhaps she’d forgotten

or couldn’t imagine me thin enough
to wear it. So much shared and ripped
between us, so much to mend
in the middle of the night when I can’t even thread,
squint at the small space,
think how hard it is
to push all this
through the eye.


In Davy Jones Locker, they never sweat.
Exercise club for the dead, Ruby says.
Down here where the dead sailors live,
a whole world wakens. I’ll stop feeling sad
about the dead, dive down, see Ruby twining

her bony legs around sailors’ hips.
Being dead is just as much fun
as being alive. Finger bones clack
like rosary beads. Ruby calls them her tambourines.
Heaven is a wild dance under the sea.

They do the crab-walk, the bouillabaisse,
the baisez-moi with bony lips. Ruby wraps
her head with seaweed, calls her lovers
to caress and kiss and squeeze her.
You’re naked to the bone, Ruby. She swells

in her skeleton, a floozy under the sea,
wrapping herself with eels, flaunting her sacroiliac
to the barracuda. Oh how the dead enjoy their spectacle,
fluorescent fish lighting the coral cities.
They welcome our bodies, want to hug us
to their ridgy selves, invite us to their beds,
we deep sea divers who come to see the show.

This is no hot act at the local nightclub.
I love the wind and trees, the limits
of my oxygen. I will never let go
of the lifeline. Not even for Ruby’s
fandance with the red anemone.