Where Do You Come From?
I come from the stories my mother never told me
and the black-and-white photographs
buried deep in drawers
I come from the grandparents and great-grandmother
I never knew
from Croatian names, Katica, Antun, Marija
I never heard my mother say
soft Croatian words
I learned from strangers
I come from unspoken memories that flew to her in the night
she sat at our Colorado kitchen table, counting,
starting with her thumb, jedan, dva, tri,
etiri, pet, šest…
I come from her olive skin
from her despair and deep laugh
from the village beside the Sava River
where I have never walked
where she was born
in a house I have never seen
from the mornings she awoke thinking
of her parents lying beneath the Mirogoj earth.
I come from the hospital on the hill
where she spent a teenage winter with TB
that wouldn’t leave her lungs
alone, lingering for years.
I come from her green eyes, warm hands
and strong legs, which carried her up steep steps
beside the blue funicular up
to Gornji Grad, up to school, breathless.
I come from the mornings
she turned around and stared
at her city
Catherine Victoria Kapphahn was born to a Croatian mother and American father. She spent her early childhood in Alaska, Peru, Singapore, Spain, and Indonesia. Eventually her parents settled down along the Front Range Mountains of Colorado. At twenty she packed her bags and moved to New York City. Less than two years later her mother died of cancer, and Catherine lost the last woman in her family and her last connection to Croatia. Afterward, she attended Hunter College, where she began writing about her mother. Presently she is finishing her MFA in Nonfiction Writing at Columbia University, where she is writing the story of her mother’s death and the story of her life. She continues to explore the relationship between writing and healing, and is a strong believer that stories can help people through unbearable times. She has taught writing workshops at Hunter College, The Harlem Educational Activities Fund, Globe Institute of Technology, and Double Discovery Center at Columbia University. She teaches inner city high school students and immigrants from all over the world. Catherine is a founder of Six Degrees, a writing group of six women working on their first books. She lives in New York City with her husband René Georg Vasicek, also a writer, and their dog, Sonja.
If you would like to help Catherine with her research, she would be delighted to hear from you. She is searching for Zagreb-specifics from the1941-1954 period, and would also like to correspond with people who have any memories or experience with tuberculosis. Her e-mail address:firstname.lastname@example.org . If you e-mail her, she promises to send you a small list of her Zagreb questions.