The High Window is grateful to Karen Kovacik for kindly agreeing to edit this selection of work. Those interested in widening and deepening their knowledge of contemporary Polish poetry check out Six Polish Poets ed. Jacek Dehnel (Arc 2009). It contains a wide selection of Polish poetry translated by various translators, including Karin herself.
Justyna Bargielska • Wojciech Bonowicz • Krystyna Dąbrowska • Jacek Dehnel • Jacek Gutorow • Łukasz Jarosz • Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar • Julian Kornhauser • Ewa Lipska • Artur Nowaczewski • Tomasz Różycki
Daniel Bourne Robin Davidson • Piotr Florczyk • Maria Jastrzębska• Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska • Karen Kovacik • Antonia Lloyd-Jones • Mira Rosenthal • Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese
Justyna Bargielska: Two Poems translated by Maria Jastrzębska
TRAUMA ABOUT A SMALL DOG
We were brushing our teeth and I said to my husband
I’m scared I won’t know if I’ve died. Because
is dying to dream dreams which seem sort of not your own,
or is it more like two thousand
minute black pearls rolling behind us
into the chute? Keep dying, said my husband,
you’ll find out. Sail on, bright lump of earth,
I added to myself, don’t think just now
about the leaky eye through which they’re spying on you
as they prepare to swarm aboard. But it frightened me
that small dog’s duel with a tram
as my husband said: don’t look. Behind the screen
of my hand the dog rose. He was so great,
inviting us all into his
split open belly, where already waited
a priest, bare trees and a city buried in sand.
THE ZOO IN OO
An orgasm has to hurt, said the controller
because a woman without a crisis is not a woman,
she’s a spinning mule. Oh just once give me
rubble instead of an orgasm, the right amount of rubble
will fill any hole.
I’m currently working on the life of another woman,
one who doesn’t think different is beautiful at all.
When asked if she knows Italian, she says: not today.
On a forest path she mistakes her heart
for a tart wearing crocs. On a road with no right of way
she mistakes her heart for the heart of Merciful Jesus.
On the motorway she mistakes her heart for the heart of a corpse
which nothing will dissolve.
Give me some rubble for once, as much as I need
or, I don’t know, shall we do it together?
Born in Warsaw in 1977, Justyna Bargielska has published eight poetry collections and two works of fiction. She is twice winner of the Gdynia Literary Prize – in 2010 for her poetry collection Dwa fiaty [Two Fiats] and in 2011 for her short fiction, Obsoletki [Born Sleeping] – and, among many other awards, winner of the Rainer Maria Rilke poetry competition in 2001. Her most recent collection is Selfie na tle rzepaka [Selfie against a field of rape] from Biuro Literackie, 2016. Her literary drama Clarissima was premiered in Zakopane in 2014. She lives in Warsaw and teaches at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.
Wojciech Bonowicz: Poem translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese
MY DREAM WITH WATCHES
We were eating watches from tin bowls.
The watches had eyes, like everything in a gulag.
Each crack scrutinized us with its frozen eye.
The dead went to sleep in furrows and on riverbeds. Nobody
had watches on their wrists. This was our only food.
Besides, ice that could not be moved,
the wall of ice, on it my breath swaying at dawn.
Wojciech Bonowicz (b.1967), Polish poet, journalist, editor, non-fiction and children’s writer, has published six collections of poetry. His first book, Majority’s Choice (1995), one of the most important debuts of the 1990s, won two awards in major poetry competitions. His fourth volume, High Seas (2006), was awarded the prestigious Gdynia Literary Prize in 2007 and shortlisted for the most important literary award in Poland, the Nike Prize. Another volume Polish Signs (2010) was nominated for the Silesius Poetry Award. Echoes (2013) was shortlisted for the Nike Prize, the Wisława Szymborska Award and the K.I.Gałczyński-Orpheus Award. His most recent volume, Second Hand (2017), was shortlisted for the 2018 Wisława Szymborska Award.
Krystyna Dąbrowska: Five Poems translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Mira Rosenthal
An aged woman dances flamenco.
In her effort a former lightness smolders.
She is tall and slender like a humpbacked heron,
her skirt has frills and ruffles, her cheeks are sunken in.
This aged woman dances like a young one,
a girl who perished during wartime.
After the show she wipes off the make-up, takes off the wig
and dress, then puts on pants and a jacket
and becomes the person she is off stage:
a male one – the dead girl’s brother.
The aged man goes back to his home.
He wove it himself from scraps of the past,
photographs, posters and news clippings.
In between hang the dresses, which he sews by hand:
multicolored birds of paradise.
And his sister’s portrait, fresh flowers beside it.
Before the war, they travelled through Europe,
a celebrated teenage dancing couple.
Then came the ghetto, escaping, separation.
He told himself straight that if he had survived
it was only to be her embodiment in dance.
The aged dancer brews a pot of tea.
Silence. It’s time the lights went out.
Quite soon he’ll go to bed, but first, just as he is,
with no costume or powder, he dances tap in the kitchen doorway
to the beat of the bone-hard rattle of castanets.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
CITY OF THE DEAD
On clotheslines stretched between the tombstones
a woman hangs out her freshly laundered linen.
Her arms are raised as if in mute lament
to peg up a pair of panties or a T-shirt.
Petticoats and bed sheets dance among the graves.
Around stand mausolea, with people living in them:
the lodgers of the dead and sentries of their repose.
A non-stop patter of children
playing soccer, with tombs as their goalposts.
A mother calls them to dinner, and her voice
mixes with the praying carried on in the chapel.
Sunlight. Dust of the desert. The clothes dry quickly,
wafting the dregs of moisture onto the graveyard earth,
In the doorways of mausolea neighbors sit at tea,
spending their afternoons in the meager shade of tombs,
tethered to them just like the clotheslines.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
TEN DOUBLE EAGLE GOLD COINS
A young doctor’s first earnings,
first expense of a young poet,
ambitious boy from New Jersey—
William Carlos Williams.
He’ll remember that stack of gold coins
handed to him on the ground floor
of a Mexican villa, while upstairs,
surrounded by relatives, an old man died.
For four days they had traveled by train:
Señor Gonzales, sick of lung, wishing to reach home
before death, and his roving guardian angel,
the tense, fledgling doctor.
Perhaps they’re best portrayed as two
sides of the same coin: one, a veteran
of life, breeder of sheep, head of the railroad,
covered with a blanket in a seat by the window,
the other, someone peeking through that window,
between the giving of injections and the massaging of legs,
curious about an unknown landscape.
In Williams’ Autobiography, he recounts
how he feared Gonzales would not last the journey,
and before the express could cover the distance
from New York to San Luis Potosi,
the patient’s heart would stop, and then
the son who was travelling with them,
distrustful from the start, so full of anger
at a doctor from a country that had spurned him,
would arrange to have the bungler lynched.
But then, in turn, Williams also describes
the Señor’s benevolence, how he repeated gracias
each time the doctor tried to help him,
and how he was supportive, the patient, gray-haired
tough guy determined to win the race.
The poet ends with this: they won, it turned out
well—by some miracle; Gonzalez at home
said goodbye with a smile and a handshake.
And the money that Williams received?
What happened to it? He muses to himself.
As if he could forget that he used it
for the printing of his very first book.
Translated by Mira Rosenthal
Today in his apartment everything has changed.
The horrible empire furniture is all
but imitation, though more or less correct—
those pieces he used were sold when he died.
The rooms of his flat, once filled
with phantom voices pleading for a poem,
now total silence. Nothing but the brass bed
can claim to be authentically Cavafy’s.
Likewise in his city everything is different.
He could no longer find those dark taverns,
Greek and Egyptian faces mingling within,
as many languages as found at the Tower of Babel—
now only Arabic remains, the one so foreign to him.
Lining the street, where boys for hire once lingered,
now theaters and fast food joints extend. Only the sea
hums like it used to hum between two headlands,
and like hands amid sheets flicker two small boats.
Translated by Mira Rosenthal
A VISIT AFTER MANY YEARS
There were several of us in that second-floor workshop
in a prewar building with a garden.
We painted flowers, fruit, the old
woman Marta from around town.
I also remember a stuffed pheasant
(sheet made to resemble a snowy field)
and of course the skull: changing with the light,
mocking my attempts at drawing.
The walls were covered to the ceiling
with our teacher’s oil paintings full
of animals in surreal, vivid colors.
She lived with her parents,
an attractive mother in a wheelchair, a taciturn father,
and lots of cats and dogs around.
Our Saturday lessons lasted two hours,
but she often allowed us to stay past.
In spring we went outdoors.
Once, at the lake, instead of painting the landscape
we made a woman out of sand
with red clay hair.
She wore braids back then,
said what she thought, smiled rarely.
Solitude, lack of success she masked with sarcasm
but treated us twelve-year-olds with gravity
and a gruff warmth in our debates about art.
Her sadness seemed to us very romantic
like her garden, overgrown with clumps of irises
and blue delphinium in abundant grass.
Today—the grass is mown.
Building largely remodeled.
Parents no longer living.
No more lessons.
She is painting and selling.
She emphasizes the selling.
Only at the gate
as we say goodbye, does she ask:
Do you remember that woman of sand?
Translated by Mira Rosenthal
Krystyna Dąbrowska (b. 1979) studied graphic art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She translates poetry from English (including the work of W.C. Williams, W.B. Yeats, Thomas Hardy and Thom Gunn) and writes radio plays. She has produced four collections of poetry, Biuro podróży [Travel Agency]; Białe krzesła [White Chairs], awarded the Wisława Szymborska Prize and Kościelski Foundation Prize for emerging writers in 2013; Czas i przesłona [Time and Space], and Ścieżki dźwiękowe [Soundtracks].
Jacek Dehnel: Four Poems translated by Karen Kovacik
ONE OF THEM DOUBLE
I. Hortus conclusus
(us at ten and twelve)
to my brother
Our garden gathered in a tight-knit square
east, west, north, and south: house to the east,
to the west a fence, which faced a black ice forest,
to the north the road, a neighbor to the south.
We lived as in a herd yet separate, our sphere
split into “by the fence,” “walnut tree,” “out of bounds,”
and “on Jurkowska’s side.” Each spring we found
fresh uses for wilted shoots of lupine
(they made good bullets), pods of columbine,
spongy jasmine sprouts, and massive stones
oppressing nations of beetles. The pond
etched by thin ice. The breadth of loam
and crown of air. Our remoteness seemed
complete—sturdy fence, locked gate,
sky propped on trees, all in fixed frames
wrought from parents’ and grandparents’ commands.
We grew. At the gate, a secret pulse beamed,
which sought to steal us. On the gold expanse
of sky, the first cracks went undetected.
In the end, no cherubim or flaming swords:
we left on our own. Beyond the dandelion yard
stood a foreign world: sharp in sight and sound,
boundless if not cost-free, its house constructed
of some different brick, open like a wound.
Train Gdańsk – Warsaw, 2 November 2004
(me at sixteen and a half)
He held a locket with a tuft of hair
from his nineteenth-century Europe,
that capricious lover—
and, in truth,
he sought the pinnacle of art
when he opined, pursing his lips:
“Alas, I’ll never look like the boy,
cameo profile in a wine-dark frame,
from the time of Augustus—”
and with a knife he slowly peeled a pear.
Warsaw, 19 February 2001
(me at seventeen)
No anatomical figures exist from that atlas:
painstakingly etched with notes and diagrams,
transparent overlays of fossilized skeletons,
so now I can’t assemble all these bones:
fresh outline of a cheek, nights spent
with sketchpad and books, their endings then
a mystery to me, though I knew
how they began. We’d to to Oliwa Park
differently than as children, differently than now.
I can’t recall, I’m so distant from myself
at seventeen as if I were an archaeopteryx,
which if it existed no one can be sure,
though we believe it could have from watching birds.
Warsaw, 9 February 2003
IV. Mappa mundi
(me at twenty-one and a half)
Everything’s begun, but incomplete:
the first wrinkles, shadows, and spots
are not flaws on a frame of film, but contours
of a map with border and legend
on broad parchment.
One can’t tell
which scars will heal, subside, get overgrown
without a trace, mere memory
of an ancient wound, and which will last
and spread, break open to reveal
the lining of the skin’s coarse grain.
From surface signs one can’t foresee
when the deep descent will begin,
when after fifty, one will plunge down
with wrinkled hands, a hernia,
bunion-contorted feet, asthma, dry skull
which for a second more will drift
on the surface like a xxxxxxxxxxof air and thought.
Warsaw, 6 December 2004
Jacek Dehnel, born in 1980, is a poet, novelist and translator. In 2005 he was one of the youngest winners of the Kościelski Prize for promising new writers. He has published nine volumes of poetry and thirteen of prose. Several of Dehnel’s books have been translated into other languages. Available in English are the novels Saturn (Dedalus, 2012), and Lala (Oneworld, 2018), both translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, and the poetry collection, Aperture (Zephyr, 2018), translated by Karen Kovacik. With Piotr Tarczyński, Dehnel is also co-author of three crime novels set in turn-of-the-century Krakow. Dehnel is a literary translator, who has brought into Polish Philip Larkin’s Complete Poems, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.
Jacek Gutorow: Four Poems Translated by Piotr Florczyk
A CHILDHOOD MEMORY
Crickets lizard spiders
Fortified bushes of wild lilac
A crow keeping an eye on it all—
Lonely, in a windblown burqa
Once the city’s map has been impressed
upon your heart, and the box of bells
falls silent with the last chime—
turn your head, line up
with the filigree clouds
and the files of cypress trees
and try to forget, skip the beat
of time, the mist pulled over
the local Olympus.
Let the river’s zigzags lead you
beyond the element of being, while the welts
of shadows fall upon your face—
a soul’s column with a shattered capital,
a thick braid of time, a life
stored in the memory bank
and also that silly pebble
found somewhere by the Tiber
between the colors of twilight.
THAT GUY LOOKS LIKE W.H. AUDEN
in one of the photographs in The Oxford
Anthology of English Literature.
I’m not sure how to address him
to remind him of that which
he doesn’t know. He shields his face
from the sun, yet I read on,
look between the letters, the blank void.
Something’s always falling in there: a flower, a yell.
The echo carries further than the sense.
RÓŻEWICZ: A FAREWELL
I abandon poetry without regret
As if pushing off the shore
Imagination is silent
To walk away from poetry
Is poetry, too.
Jacek Gutorow is an award-winning Polish poet, critic, and translator. A selection of his poetry translated into English, The Folding Star and Other Poems, was published in 2012 by BOA Editions, as a Lannan Translations Series Selection. Gutorow lives in Opole, Poland, where he teaches British and American literatures at the University of Opole.
Łukasz Jarosz: Two Poems Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Yes, I used to think in pictures. But I wanted
the picture to say more – a woman at the window
behind her lace curtains, a pensive man watching
the piglets feasting on last year’s apples by the sty.
Kalina drawing a heart that has its eyes tight shut,
wiping her cheek clean of my kiss.
I used to think in pictures; I’d see the doctor running
from the patient and someone sending for the priest. The eyes of the snake
that’s been stretched across my shoulders to have our photo taken.
The boy who’s hidden in a man, the woman concealed
in a mother: a young couple and their grubby, sated child
daily devouring their time, their money and their sex.
With my parents I’m cleaning my grandparents’ grave.
I’m using a rice-root brush to rub off foaming moss.
I take the buckets to fetch water, I stand in line
for a tap that’s finished with a piece of hose.
By the gravestone, as they’re praying, I hold my thumbs for luck
in the belt loops of my pants. I sensed that a thought would lead me here.
It’ll push me the right way towards feeling relief, for at last
I’ve been found, like in a game of hide-and-seek.
I’m cleaning the marble, I’m carrying water.
In the real world a tall spruce, a hand brush. In the dream world
someone’s felling an apple tree I often gaze at from the kitchen window.
Łukasz Jarosz (b. 1978) is a percussionist, vocalist and lyricist for bands including Lesers Bend, Chaotic Splutter, Panoptikum and Katil Ferman. He teaches Polish at a primary school and lives in the countryside near Olkusz. His first collection of poetry was Soma, published in 2006, which won first prize in the W. Gombrowicz Young Writers’ Competition. It also won the Young Cultural Foundations prize. He has published nine more collections since, in 2013 was joint winner of the Wisława Szymborska prize, and has twice been nominated for the Nike, Poland’s most prestigious literary award. His work has been published in translation into Croatian, Italian, English and German.
Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar: Three Poems Translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese
IN THE MORNING
to wake you up, in the morning; with the weight of my half-asleep fingers,
before the alarm clock goes off, before the journey; before
waiting rooms and platforms
claim us as their own, envelop us in a metal hull,
in cold. Light is only just mounting its installations,
depositing from the dark our folded clothes, books
and the salt
of a seashore daybreak
is spilling on the inner window-sill. Clouds stronger and stronger,
complicated: a rejuvenated massif, overhung
with cauldrons of dales, and days; avalanches weathering in mid-leap
above the seagull wings, a rockslide of the dark,
of memory, which – like plotting paper – has arrested details,
nervate particles; this gesture,
the way you unstrap your watch and slip it off
your wrist, is merely a black box record found
in the shallows of night, in the runnels
of sleep; touch like an opening
of a syllable, drawing it out into whisper…
To wake up, to listen –
how tendons of those hours break, the minutes return
and lead, deprived of chronology,
an autonomous life (the magnetic needle quivers:
you brought the newspaper and for the first time we could
inspect these photographs: chain links, warped,
of dying galaxies, ammonites sinking into the silt
of a cosmic trench. Above us, still of the night,
the labyrinth of steep cataracts, ledges
damming up light: mercurial watercourses were carving a slope
and sun, like a karstic spring, was spilling over a small glen
into the sea. Splattering on the paper, through the sieve
of a yellowing plum tree, on the table set for breakfast;
coffee steamed, the cat sniffed at the wire rack for smoking fish,
he stretched under your hand. Through the galaxies,
as if through damaged shells,
darkness was flowing, rinsing their chambers
of planetary sediment.
The one who is – inside me – a house with double skin of glass.
Who puts me, a frozen river, to her lips.
Licks the sweat from stones.
The one who has lips whitened from gathering squalls;
in her eyes steely light, up to the horizon.
The one who has wolf’s fur, finishes her wounded young off, watches
me crawl towards water –
glinting, sharp sea pounds against the coast
and the shreds of life, like foam, settle on the granite heads;
memory, the storm surge, carries in her hulk loose rubble: debris, shards,
above this blood.
Sky that happens and goes by, washes out in a void and frost.
The one who has my face before birth.
The one who chokes the flow of oxygen.
Opens me up along the healed stitch,
clears the snow inside me – she who dreams me. Knife without a handle.
Breath of the avalanche which brings me forth.
(These poems are reprinted from Marzanna Kielar’s Salt Monody, trans. Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese (Zephyr Press, 2006).)
Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar (b. 1963) holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Warsaw University and has published four poetry collections: Sacra Conversazione (1992), Materia Prima (1999), Monody (2006) and Navigations (2017). She has also two selected volumes to her name. Her work has won many awards, including the Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna Prize for the best debut of the year (1993), the Kościelski Foundation Prize (1993), and the Hubert Burda Preis (Germany, 2000), and has been translated into twenty-three languages. The bilingual Polish-English book that draws on her three first collections appeared as Salt Monody from Zephyr Press (2006) in Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese’s translation.
Julian Kornhauser: three poems, translated by Piotr Florczyk
Remember that beautiful poem
where Williams described the wheelbarrow?
I often return to it,
to its white and red
colors, and when I read aloud that
one short sentence, broken
into eight lines, it seems to me
I’m standing still in the rain
in the town of Rutherford.
In the Rothko Chapel
a crucifix stands next to a menorah
and the long-haired lama calls out in prayer
black matte walls
silence like a holy obelisk
in front of the sacred place
takes us back to prehistory
whose “rotations have reversed”
we walk slowly and with dignity
the roar of sin rings out
around the place
because after all
the city in whose eye
this chapel is stuck
the seams of water are bursting
the freeways dig their long claws
into the glittering body of the river
the black panels
like a pastor’s daughters
I look at myself in them
trusting that I will see more
they don’t reflect light
the smell of dogwood burns in them
God in several incarnations
waits behind the curtains
the gates are creaking
I slide open one curtain
then second and third
my skin changes color
the misty eyes of the sage
the pulse of the ceiling beats
around the pool
blacks and whites
are holding hands
the sharp triangle of the obelisk
rises into the sky
for Jerzy Kronhold
I’m half of your heart
that beats from time to time, usually early
in the morning. I’m half of the Star
of David that shines over my forehead.
I’m half of the pink color
that poets don’t like. I’m made up
of two unequal parts: of laughter, when
I open my eyelids, and of sadness, when
I close them. I usually know how
to forget about one of them, and then
I’m that auto-lyrical iron
with which you straighten out hatred.
Julian Kornhauser, born in 1946 in Gliwice, is a Polish poet, prose writer, literary critic, essayist, translator, and professor emeritus of Slavic languages and literatures at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. One of the most prominent representatives of the New Wave or Generation ’68 literary movement, he was active in underground political activities during the Communist period and signed the “Letter of 59” against changes to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Poland that would see the country align closer with USSR. He has won many awards, including the Kościelski Foundation Award (1975), the European Poetry Award (1989), the Award of the Association of Polish Translators (1997), the Karski Eagle Award (2015), the Wroclaw Silesius Poetry Award for lifetime achievement (2016), and the Balaton International Poetry Award (2017). He lives in Kraków.
Ewa Lipska: Three Poems Translated by Robin Davidson and Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska
Euro City on the Heidelberg-Hamburg line.
Chronic love rushing
through submissive squares of fields
the lingering infection of Europe
the banality of evil.
the Führer of philosophy.
He’d be a train as punctual
as faith is ambiguous.
March. March. The long-distance march.
Fanatical tangles of passing stations.
under fate’s open sail.
not having regained death.
already stand on the platform,
invoking their baggage.
They carefully unpack ideologies
drowned out by the backhoe of being
philosophy’s foster auntie.
Reprinted from The New Century: Poems by Ewa Lipska, translated by Robin Davidson & Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska, Northwestern UP, 2009.
My translators. They: my sequel.
heap of time on the table.
The thick jam of dictionaries.
A Cyrillic morning
swathed in a fog of Germanic suede.
A Romance antelope
at the edge of my poem.
Paths heading à rebours
for no reason.
transplanting of words. Theirs.
in this brief epic.
am in love with so many languages at once.
Letter by letter, I soak up the dampness in Nässjö
as I meet my bastard poems in the woods.
voices. This hovering over books.
Making predictions from the abyss of pages.
Syllables lifting off from Heathrow.
Will they inherit something from me?
My fear? My appetite
for endings? The plunging
necklines of meadows? Or purple fields of amethysts?
leaky reality: a paradise for hackers,
gossips and politicians.
Reprinted from Scattering the Dark: An Anthology of Polish Women Poets, edited by Karen Kovacik, White Pine Press, 2016.
Dear Mrs. Schubert, there are cities that could
testify against us. We abandoned them
suddenly and for no good reason. Terrified addresses
and hotel beds chased us on highways.
Do you remember the dilated pupils of Venice?
Offended Manhattan? Ambitious Zurich, relative
of Thomas Mann? The cities of our birth harbored a grudge,
yet behaved proudly. They knew we’d be back.
Like all children of repentant old age.
Ewa Lipska (b. 1945 in Kraków, Poland), with her first collection in 1967, became associated with the Polish New Wave [Nowa Fala], along with poets Stanisław Barańczak, Ryszard Krynicki, Julian Kornhauser, and Adam Zagajewski. The author of twenty-six volumes of poetry, Lipska has received numerous awards, including the Robert Graves PEN-Club Award for lifetime achievement in poetry, and her poems have been translated into more than 15 languages. From 1991-97, she worked for the Polish embassy in Vienna, directing the Polish Institute. A selection of her work, The New Century, translated by Robin Davidson and Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska, appeared from Northwestern University Press in 2009.
Artur Nowaczewski: Two Poems Translated by Daniel Bourne
Jack Kerouac, at forty seventh years, died:
he knew the lungs of the city the breath of Desolation Peak
the mouth of the desert and the tongue of the asphalt; and jazz
—the swollen spaces, the pulse in the temple and in the blood.
He had come to know life in its naked forms,
now he threw off his body to start an even more distant journey.
his eyes were dead, but they remained unsated
his senses departing like the waters, but
who else could be born from such a death?
the hungry others, now grab hold of his books
and feed themselves with them. but with his eyes, with one
swig of oxygen, he remains flowing onward, an unstoppable
current of awareness, scouring out trails
in the dark valley of the letter.
I go through this dark valley but I don’t kneel down
I stand before the desert and I call out for you: Jack!
the rhythm of your speech is like a version of your face.
it filters deep into the veins, the wrist of the world bent over
the surface of a sentence.
the best minds of your generation
long ago reached that place where the world has ended
and here, where that world still abides, your words keep their beat
filling up the sun and if ever they start to die away
the air will tremble
each time someone’s lips will try to hold the wind.
Fence railings like old teeth, completely rotten,
just a small wiggle and the road opens up
to an ancient garden, God plastering layers of light
on the dirt of the playground, in the gaps between the bricks, the Hans
Christian Andersens hatch out, each in a frock coat, the size of a cricket.
Chain link after chain link, window after window, unwinding each day
on my road to school. Stop. Time to look at that white house, what
lurks behind that bench, how that beetle wanders
the very edge of the curb, as many worlds as you can find
in the fractured shadows of a window smeared with grime.
Yes exactly. Here. Now. Each wall around me so beautiful,
though each wall in time becomes riddled with such sadness.
Wrzeszcz Beauty! Or whatever Beauty you might be,
the grayness of Sosnowiec or the art deco of Gliwice,
the harshness of neo-gothic, a tapestry of styles, the stitches
closing together in every place you look, the beginnings of fairy tales,
the symbols of nothing and everything.
This world, which abides here with me.
Artur Nowaczewski, born in 1978 in Gdańsk, teaches at the University of Gdańsk in the Institute of Polish Philology. H has published three collections of poems, Commodore 64, Elegia dla Iana Curtis [Elegy for Ian Curtis] and Kutabuk, along with two memoirs, Hostel Nomadów [The Hostel of Nomads], a finalist for the prestigious Angelus Prize for Central European writing, and Dwa lata w Phenianie [Two Years in Pyongyang], about North Korea, 1989-1991, where he attended a Soviet middle school at the very end of the Communist era in Poland.
Tomasz Różycki: Three Poems Translated by Mira Rosenthal
A MOMENT OF DISTRACTION
Let’s see, let’s see—a moment of distraction,
and here we are, Cimmeria, having been whisked away
to the New World, following Columbus’ tracks.
The nation sleeps in a maze of skyscrapers
in darkness, turning over as in the grave,
hiding right in front of the world. Proportions
off, a frog’s perspective. And the man who acted
like a giant back home, who walked with his head
in the clouds with the birds, here is kind of small
and has to jump to reach, must whine, clear his throat,
rub his sore neck. Hello! I’m here! I’ve come all
the way from the country of Gulliver, a Jew,
strange wherever he goes, and this beard
is a thousand years of customs—maybe you
will find it useful that I can distill spirits
from water, sugar, blood, time, and any kind of fruit.
Remember those wild days in the dorm—how
did time evaporate? Driven from bed
only from such great hunger as results
from a hundred amorous acts till we lost count
of days, hours, nights. And on the only working burner
in the shared kitchen, we reheated pasta
and tried to divine from the darkness outside
the window whether it was Wednesday still or yet
another Thursday. And along the way time changed
to summer, all our small eternities got lost
at the movie’s last showing. In the Avenues, fumes
and then the scent of spring: forsythia and dogwood—
is that your hair? I do not know if what
has happened comes from making love, the body’s
exhaustion, or the tricks of that small death
when time, the operator, is just a number. NO END
This world, it has no end—I know, I checked:
across the ocean, a new land and people
looking to the horizon for perspective
as it sags and as it lifts. And places full
of other dreams in a weekend city, festive
cafes and cinemas glowing with collective
heads. No end to crying in dim waiting rooms,
no end to the journey, even when sleeping.
This world, it’s ending—I know because I checked:
across the bed where you toss and turn again
at half past five in the morning—light’s numb fleck
coming through the window—and you stretch your wet
hand out but meet nothing, nothing’s there again.
Not a warm body, not even any walls.
And this is when I want to tell you, I am.
In this unimaginable way, I am.
Tomasz Różycki is the author of eight volumes of poetry and two prose collections. His work has been translated into numerous languages and anthologized widely. Over the last decade he has garnered almost every prize Poland has to offer, as well as widespread critical acclaim in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany. In the U.S., he has been featured at the 92nd St. Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, the Princeton Poetry Festival, and the Brooklyn Book Festival. Mira Rosenthal’s translation of his volume Colonies won the Northern California Book Award, was a finalist for the International Griffin Poetry Prize and the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, was long-listed for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and was named a notable translation of the year by World Literature Today. He teaches at Opole University and currently holds the prestigious DAAD Artist-in-Residence fellowship in Berlin.
Daniel Bourne’s books of poetry include The Household Gods and Where No One Spoke the Language, and his poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Ploughshares, Guernica, American Poetry Review, and Field. Since 1980 he has lived in Poland off and on, including in 1985-87 on a Fulbright fellowship and in 2013-14 on a New Directions Initiative fellowship to work on a group of writing projects with Baltic-coast Polish poets and visual artists, involving environmental issues and literature of place. His translations of Polish poets have appeared in such journals as Salmagundi, Colorado Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review.
Robin Davidson was a Fulbright fellow at Jagiellonian University in Kraków in 2003-2004. The recipient of a 2009 Fellowship in Literary Translation from the National Endowment for the Arts, she is currently at work translating a new volume of Lipska’s verse, Droga pani Schubert [Dear Mrs. Schubert], with Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska. She is professor of literature and creative writing for the University of Houston Downtown, and recently served as poet laureate of the City of Houston.
Piotr Florczyk’s most recent books are East & West, a collection of poems, and a translated poetry volume, Building the Barricade by Anna Świrszczyńska, which won the 2017 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award and the 2017 Found in Translation Award. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California. For more info, please visit: http://www.piotrflorczyk.com.
Maria Jastrzębska co-translated Elsewhere the selected poems of Iztok Osojnik with Ana Jelnikar (Pighog Press 2011). She translated The Great Plan B by Justyna Bargielska (Smokestack Press 2017), and her translation of an extract of Obsoletki [Born Sleeping] features in Best European Fiction (Dalkey Archive 2016). Her most recent collection is The True Story of Cowboy Hat and Ingénue (Liquorice Fish/Cinnamon Press 2018) and her selected poems The Cedars of Walpole Park were translated into Polish by Wioletta Grzegorzewska, Anna Błasiak and Paweł Gawroński (Stowarzyszenie Żywych Poetów 2015).
Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska is a Polish poet, essayist and translator (among others, of Alice Munro’s The View from Castle Rock, Thomas Merton’s Raids on the Unspeakable, and Ewa Lipska’s selection of poetry The New Century, which she co-translated with Robin Davidson). The author of seven poetry volumes and a collection of short stories, she’s the recipient of prestigious literary awards in Poland (including the Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński Literary Prize and Krakow’s Book of the Month Prize for her collection of poems Trzy ołówki [The Three Pencils]. Her poems have been translated into English, Hungarian, Spanish and Hebrew.
Karen Kovacik is the editor of Scattering the Dark, an anthology of Polish women poets (White Pine, 2016), and the translator of Jacek Dehnel’s Aperture (Zephyr, 2018) and Agnieszka Kuciak’s Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist (White Pine, 2013), longlisted for the National Translation Award. The author of two volumes of poetry, Metropolis Burning and Beyond the Velvet Curtain, she was the state of Indiana’s Poet Laureate from 2012-2014. She has received two fellowships in literary translation from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Antonia Lloyd-Jones is the 2018 winner of the Transatlantyk Award for the most outstanding promoter of Polish literature abroad. She has translated works by several of Poland’s leading contemporary novelists and reportage authors, as well as crime fiction, poetry and children’s books. She is a mentor for the Emerging Translators’ Mentorship Programme, and former co-chair of the UK Translators Association.
Mira Rosenthal is a past fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and Stanford University’s Stegner Program. She publishes work regularly in such journals as Poetry, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, Threepenny Review, and Oxford American. Her first book of poems, The Local World, received the Wick Poetry Prize. Her second book of translations, Polish poet Tomasz Różycki’s Colonies, won the Northern California Book Award and was shortlisted for numerous other prizes, including the International Griffin Poetry Prize. Her honors include the PEN Translation Fund Award, a Fulbright fellowship, and a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies. She teaches in Cal Poly’s creative writing program.
Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese writes with/in English, Polish and Danish. Her multilingual texts have appeared, among others, in Wretched Strangers (2018), Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History (2014), Metropoetica. Poetry and Urban Space: Women Writing Cities (2013) and such journals as Cordite Poetry Review, Envoi, and Long Poem Magazine. Her English translations of contemporary Polish poetry have been featured in various anthologies, journals, and on the London Underground. She co-edited Carnivorous Boy Carnivorous Bird: Poetry from Poland (Zephyr Press, 2004), and her translation of Krystyna Miłobędzka’s Nothing More (Arc, 2013) was shortlisted for the 2015 Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize. Wójcik-Leese co-curates ‘Transreading’ courses on translated, multilingual and transnational poetries for the Poetry School in London. She lives in Copenhagen.
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