Friday, May 18, 2012

264 Letters of Poetry from Chicago to Pieszyce

Translated from Polish by Adam Lizakowski and Brian Mornar.

These letters of poetry were written between 1991 and 1994 in Chicago and come with a volume titled "The Legend of the Search of the Fatherland", published in 2001 in Dzierzonowie by Dzierzoniowski Osrodek Kultury "Pegaz".

Letter 17

Are you interested in politics?

No, I have a distaste,

am disgusted by politics.  I despise any ideology.

I think of politicians as crooks, thieves,

swindlers.  I’m bitter,

ashamed of their behavior.  Two percent

govern the whole country.

Money became accustomed to its own power.

Authority commits an offense.

I’m afraid of politicians.  I’m unsure

of my safety.  This country is

a personal enemy.  I would not give power

to the poets, but also I would not prostrate

to millionaires who do not read poems.

Letter 18

You have escaped to freedom—what’s next?

Now you have freedom—now, what’s next?

Do you feel not free?  You do not sin

through speech or writing.  You are to

preach the truth.  But no one

listens to you.  A fisherman throws nets,

bankers steal, politicians practice deceit.

Neither you nor I exercise our

freedom.  You cannot afford it.

I know its price.

Letter 19

Seven years have passed since the fall of communism,

and you are still in exile—why?

The very joy of writing generates more happiness

than sharing it with others.

The role of the artist in exile:

to be in exile is to suffer,

and not to stand up for fame and notoriety.

Artists are patient, long-lived,

love God first (although it escaped)

and then the homeland.

They stole a little from the past

to weave a banner of the present.

The immigrant has his own distinctive character

just like any other legendary land,

landscape, fingerprint—

that’s why we are not coming back.

Letter 20

Recently, much has been said about the Jewish people.

Have you met any Polish Jews in America?

In America, I met a number of Polish Jews

—how do I see them?

It has been said they are the spells of Angels,

with black fingers of ink,

eyes dray as the forgotten wells,

and dusty framed mirrors,

night in the thick frame,

lovers of old books and truths

who guard their secrets and memories,

and write new history.

Sometimes I think of them—

mystical birds from a distant time

shadowing my future,

descendants of the Biblical Creator

praying for the same thing:

a whole life upon a bed of roses.

Letter 21

Is it hard to be a Pole in America?

For several years I lived in Poland,

and it was hard to be a Pole among Poles.

Yesterday an American adolescent

challenged me to distinguish myself

from the stupid Poles.

He wanted me to give him

a dollar. I then offered him

just one dollar to save me

from a name-calling. I realized

what little Kosciuszko, Pulaski

are worth in American history.

For a dollar, you cannot buy for him

the recognition of a Pole’s worth.

I’m stupid, I thought, opening the car door.

I’m stupid, I thought, entering Highway 55.

I’m stupid and my stupidity is as big as America

from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

I passed Chicago’s downtown heading north,

and I’m stupid—and it’s interesting I thought—

I’m a stupid Pole, for those who need something from me,

there are also those who need someone to scorn

to feel better, to calm their neuroses.

I do not suffer because of this, and I am aware

that poor people need me

as bread, air, water.

Letter 22

Write something about America.

Write “something” about America? 

Can one who has only been here a few months?

(I have read many works on this theme.)

“Something” as great as America

is difficult to describe.

“Something” believes in the existence of

children born with silver spoons in their mouths.

America simply described as a dream,

or many dreams loosely connected:

severed head diving into the space of night,

and the racket trapped at the root of the spine

with the weights of feet.

I did not think about it for a long time at all.

Now I care.  Listen to my advice:

do not swim, my ship,

where the rushing waves

and shining Cyclades

 dream fantasy screams.

As a tortured soul, a guide, or mentor,

America does not speak to the soul,

she talks to wallets, banks, corporations.

The tower of ivory

you know—and I found nothing

in America, only surprise

Letter 23

You now have been outside Poland for so many years.

Write something about language.

My Polish language-jug, pour the words

mash the language of stone.

My Polish was flour for dumplings

and the mill and the brook murmuring secrets to the rain,

mowed hay smelling meadow,

Traces of stork feet.

My Polish was a woman with round breasts,

slender thighs, stomach, mind

and flat like a porcelain saucer.

My language—to understand it, I had to go through

a long and dangerous journey,

where the warriors were human bodies

with the heads of hawks and dogs with faces of devils.

Birds were laughing at me scornfully

with the factory siren’s voice.

Fish tails combing the branches,

I survived the terrors of surrealistic communism,

and I came to the paradise of capitalist modernity.

Language is not the key—it is always the lock.

Language does not describe things,

but the relationship between them,

reality ruled by giants.

An upstart tribe,

and the world changed

the remaining trees and people,

sidewalks and roads,

fish in the sea.

How many ruins?

In the air,

the smell of stink bombs,

iron pillars rotting in the mud.

Talk about the existence of things

in the pantheon of our memory.

Come to America, a salvation and a curse.

Letter 24

Write something about your visits to Pieszyce.

I go to Pieszyce as nineteenth century patients to the spa.

O! I spent many years talking about Pieszyce.

on the Pacific coast, on Lake Michigan.

Pieszyce is still the most important form

wherever I begin to fill it out—

a word – a burden in my mouth when I think

Pieszyce, the first letter of my alphabet

Pieszyce, the word is faster than my thoughts.

It can jump over walls and fences, gardens,

rivers and oceans.

Pieszyce are the memories and reams living under my skin,

mother tears of pearls and father drops of vodka,

a path among a row of chestnuts,

my grandmother’s lips whispering prayers.

Pieszyce is a story about what happened,

but did not have to happen,

about great hopes and pains,

the birth of a man

on the other side of the ocean

Where he did not know

who he is and whom he would become.

Temptation and danger are everywhere waiting,

and thoughts about war, full of images of the worst,

it was hard to chase.

In order to live I had to learn everything

from the beginning, and if someone can be saved,

it is only myself and the town Pieszyce in itself.

Letter 25

You walk a lot in Chicago.  Describe a neighborhood.

I have written about the streets named Milwaukee, Archer, Belmont, Michigan, Fullerton, and where I live in Logan Square.  Writing about the richness of these areas now is boring, just like writing about the poverty, which is the same everywhere.

This time maybe I’ll write about the Gold Coast.

Working class poet Carl Sandburg wrote about this district

and on one of the streets named in his honor,

there are beautiful and the richest houses upwards of one hundred years old

that do not feel the blood of murdered animals and the sweat of immigrants,

since everything has long been perfumed

and cleared, fine and dandy, the bathrooms are marble,

and mahogany staircases, and in the home not only smells

of dreams but old age, which likes the convenience

of comfort and space, the apartments have high ceilings,

well lit, through the transparent glass

you can see how millionaires are furnished.

If you have a house in such a place,

and with a library with a large fireplace

a servant will put a bookmark in a book

when your languid head will collapse into sleep.

Letter 26

Write, if you enjoy your stay in Chicago.

I greet the world from Chicago,

the place of which I am fully satisfied

despite my 10,000 kilometers from Pieszyce.

Though the bookshop window I look onto the face of the world,

and if I were a Chinese painter

I would paint him whole with a thin line.

I celebrate my freedom,

the freedom to sing my poems

more than anything.

I know it all, along with Anne created

all my own world and the cosmos

flowing in my veins—that is my life.

I greet the world each morning.
I greet the world each evening,

the sound opened and closed the door.

I am happy with it, his wealth of such great size.

I am glad that I put in it

my leg and took a few steps.