And four more prose poems.
BY MARIA JASTRZĘBSKA
IT WAS ALREADY 30 degrees in June. Blinking at the sun I walked out of Kino Atlantyk cinema onto the same full colour streets as those in the enhanced newsreel and saw teenage insurgents zig zag between buildings wearing red and white armbands. They’re obsessed with the past here, you know somebody whispered a few steps away or was that John? He told me younger poets needed me. Or someone like me. Good or bad? What else? The archbishop simply closed down the parish to stop a priest speaking out. In every kiosk there were headlines about a father who left his little girl to die in a locked car. He was tired and forgot, he said.
The old gent who remembers my grandfather walked me back to the main road. He always calls me by my old nickname which no one in England does. He walked slowly, stopping to lean on his stick and once I’d crossed the road we stood and waved to each other for a very long time. That summer, bunting from Bert’s Homestore in Brighton fluttered like flags of red polka dots and blue flowers on Hania’s balcony. The idea was to scare the pigeons off but I wasn’t convinced. I hurried round town to find a scarf and Bolesławiec crockery for my girls, even though you can buy it all in Lewes nowadays. My cousin managed to find me a discount on a PWN Polish-English dictionary which included delivery. When the man with fresh eggs rang the doorbell he was so surprised to see me instead of Hania he almost didn’t leave her any. I had a lot of explaining to do. John and I had coffee opposite Atlantyk. I had no idea it was the last time I’d see him.
Lucevan el stelle
A LIGHT IS on in the house opposite. Can’t you sleep either? But my voice won’t carry that far and I’d wake everyone here. I whisper instead: Come on, let’s sail together across the blue waters, calming. Let’s slip through passageways, leaving behind this tiresome stillness. I know you are not the neighbour flicking a screen, nursing a child, sickness, drink. You’re not the lover I’ve left sleeping, warm, curled on her side. Not the dead who visit when light is neither dark nor bright. You’re more ‘thou’ than ‘you’, memory itself, angelo I need. If we go fishing what might we find?
E non ho amato mai tanto la vita, my mother liked to sing. My mother who never wore trousers and was bewildered that I did. Vye do you vont to look like a mun? What made her identify with Mario Cavaradossi as he waits for execution on the roof of the Castle of the Holy Angel. Surely she saw herself as the singer he is in love with, as Tosca? Pacing her foreign shore, semi-detached house and garden she’d left everything she knew for. At night she had tablets to help her sleep, more tablets to help her wake in the morning. What have I got at this lean time?
Even the foxes are silent. Framed by the window, everything’s monochrome, all squares and straight lines – whited walls, closed windows, the roof of the shed dusted with what’s left of the snow. Only the immense trees jut out at uneven angles – curved, bent they stand tall and stiff as if they’d frozen while waving. Bare twigs at the top scratch the milky sky. E lucevan le stelle. Between branches stars shine, blurred. I’ve never been patient. Shouldn’t want to wish time away but long for a fall into oblivion. O! dolci baci, o languide carezze…Myself in your arms, myself in the arms of sleep.
What I Did When I Got Back
PLUCKED THE TUFTS above my eyebrows. Made myself coffee but it didn’t seem worth boiling the milk. Separated my clothes into colours and delicates. Remembered to take out the handwash jumper. Put one wash on. Fed the cat, brushed her. Put Kőln Concert on full volume. Emptied the sand out of my smaller bag outside the back door. Wandered down into the garden where I saw the leaves were all yellow, started making a list of what needed doing – something had eaten through the gooseberry. I texted friends. J got back to me straight away, didn’t say much, just still quite low. H must have been at work. Took the overtly lesbian bits out of a poem and called it Pines Broken Below Marina Baja. It sounded edgy with, I thought, a degree of gravitas at the same time. Unpacked my books and papers, left them lying on the floor. Since I had the shower to myself I stayed under for what seemed like days. Ran downstairs naked because I’d forgotten to get a clean towel. Dressed in the softest fabrics I could find, old jeans, faded baggy cotton and linen top, aquamarine. Put the lesbian bits back in the poem. Called it Pining.
The Future Will Be Different*
HOW ON EARTH does Felix survive with the two dogs? I ask my other cousin. They don’t like him, she answers, they really don’t but they don’t say anything. Felix climbs along the frame of my aunt’s bed. She gazes at me and then at the cat as if from a vast distance, the kind of distance which stretches, even swings, between mountains when you are looking from one peak across at the next. Remember us walking in the Tatras together, you took me there? I ask my aunt. She says: I can’t run around anymore.
My cousin says: They’ve built a playground for the new housing estates across the street but they put a fence round it and padlocked it shut because the developer sold city land to a private nursery so only those children get to go in – for two hours each day. The rest of the time local parents climb over the fence with their kids. First collectivisation killed those interwar dreams, now it’s privatisation. You know, it was only when I visited Dresden last year that I understood my own city. Instead of a street leading somewhere it just ends in a hole, a big hole, craters surfacing everywhere.
Your note in my bag
you hid it so well –
I’m just re-reading it now
Who would I be here?
If I hadn’t met you
would I still believe in hell?
*The Future Will be Different – Visions and Practices of Social Modernisation after 1918. April 2018, Zachęta, National Gallery of Art, Warsaw – exhibition about modernizing ideas, focusing around the needs of previously underprivileged social groups, women, children, workers and ethnic minorities
FROM A CERTAIN angle you can see how small men are, their foreheads, palms coated in sweat. Unable to keep still, eyes rolling, scrotums contracting, alternately cursing and yelping they shift from one foot to another. Urine splashes inside their trouser legs.
What they fear most is one another, yet their hands are constantly moving, as they pronounce or chant, telling shiny black beads, each engraved in miniature gold letters, and once, when no one was looking, their hands accidentally brushed.
Maria Jastrzębska’s fourth collection was The True Story of Cowboy Hat and Ingénue (Cinnamon Press 2018). Her translations include Justyna Bargielska’s The Great Plan B (Smokestack 2017). She co-edited Queer in Brighton (New Writing South 2014) and was writer for the Snow Q Arts Council awarded cross-arts project with filmpoems appearing online in Ireland, Italy, Mexico, UK and USA. A new collection is forthcoming from Waterloo Press.