Peter also feels as though he does not belong within his culture, this idea is explored in “Feliks”, “10 Mary Street” and “Ancestors”. The use of alliteration in the first stanza of “ancestors” in the line “standing shoulder to shoulder” creates the feeling of belonging between the enigmatic and ancient “bearded, faceless men” and further serves to isolate the persona (or Peter) from them. This symbolises Peter’s isolation and feeling of alienation from his culture and ancestry. This feeling is further compounded throughout the poem and the line “how long is their wait to be?” symbolises Peter’s feelings of guilt at not understanding the “whispers” of his ancestors or of not staying true to his native culture, instead choosing to lead a life forever caught between the two. This idea is echoed throughout all three poems as Peter describes his struggles to belong to one or the other worlds and his feelings of alienation and isolation from both.
Peter shows these feelings of isolation and alienation from his culture and homeland in “Feliks” in the third, fifth and seventh stanzas. In the third stanza he uses the negative word “violently” in connection with the cultural handshake of his fathers polish friends. He does not understand the lands that they talk about and cannot feel the sense of loss his father does at their diaspora as he has never seen the farms and fields that his father so misses. The fifth stanza deals with his problems with his native language, as does the seventh. He says that he “inherited unknowingly the curse that damned”, or the polish language. The negative use of the words “curse” and “damned” show his further alienation from his culture through language. The seventh and final stanza leaves us with the haunting image of his father watching silently as Peter leaves his polish culture further and further behind while trying to assimilate; “pegging my tents further and further south of Hadrian’s Wall”.
The theme of assimilation is again brought up in the poem “10 Mary Street” in the final stanza:
Than a decade ago
We became citizens of the soil
That was feeding us
Inheritors of a key
That’ll open no house
When this one is pulled down.”
The “house” in this stanza symbolises their cultural identity and the act of pulling it down can be linked with the push for the assimilation of immigrants in 1950’s Australia. Many migrants did not embrace the idea of assimilation and resented being forced to leave their homelands behind not only physically but in memory and custom. Assimilation in a way “pulled down” the culture of the migrants and gave them a “key” or opportunity to a life that is meaningless. The result of this is that the children of migrants live in “house” that is half pulled down, they remember “remnants” of their parents culture (as with Peter Skrzynecki learning and forgetting Polish in the poem “Feliks”), however they are constantly trying to belong to the world of their new home, a world that they only half understand.
The idea of Peter belonging completely to neither culture is a theme that reoccurs within all three poems, as does Peter’s sense of loneliness, longing to belong and guilt at not belonging or denying his ancestors. The poem “Feliks” focuses on Peter’s relationship to his father and belonging in relation to Peter’s sense of not belonging to his father’s world. The poem “ancestors” focuses on Peter’s guilt at not belonging to his culture and heritage, at “denying his ancestors” and his blood. The poem “10 Mary Street” focuses on the idea of immigrants belonging or not belonging to their new homeland. Throughout these poems Peter Skrzynecki uses many language techniques along with the theme of not belonging to explore his ideas about belonging. From these poems we can surmise that all humans have a need to belong, whether it is belonging in their family, in their cultural heritage, their homeland or the land where they now live. We also learn that belonging is an ambiguous thing that cannot be easily defined or had, one cannot belong simply because one wants to, you either belong or you don’t and for some reason, no matter how hard you try it will always be down to the acceptance of others and not your acceptance of them.