Głosy (Voices) - Krzysztof Knittel

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The composition is dedicated to workers and students who were killed during protests in northern Poland in December 1970.

Jan Polkowski
Voices

(fragments)

***

Dearest Daddy how sincerely I hated you
for you went away and the rest of the world stayed right where it was.
For that, and probably too for the sting of poverty that followed.
We were helped out by uncle parish neighbours.
When I was old enough I picked bottles rags and scrap metal.
We ate stale bread soup hasty pudding potatoes
potatoes potatoes I hated you
because you were somewhere else and didn’t give a g for us.
When my hatred cooled I would glance at mama
who when she wasn’t sobbing was sobbing all the more.
Then the hatred came back making it easier to muddle through.
I thought you perished because you didn’t want
to drag such heavy loads up against the current
of grand words and so to be free of them
you let them shoot you through the heart.
But maybe you were more than a mere coward?
Poland. I don’t know how to speak of her.
I saw her in the closed eyes of my little sister
and when mama’s back suddenly convulsed
at the sharp turn of the future. In December I threw it all to hell
mimeographed underground stuff sat in gaol a bit.
Now I’m a roofer.
I make roofs for people.
For a few good years now although not too often
I visit you in the graveyard.
Son? (1960–?)

***

I look at my nails —
unevenly painted.
I paint them every day wipe the polish off paint them again.
Paint wipe paint.
Morning Mass and my fingernails alone keep me in one
piece. And thus I am able to visit my son’s
grave. My niece says: I know they killed your son.
It’s over now it only keeps on happening in your poor head.
I know that general gets under your skin in that aureole of
glory he wears but just spit on him.

But I can’t snuff out close out trample down anything.
The ghosts come round at night to yelp and mock
in the silence shining like a false mangled shadow.
They’re constantly transporting my father in a cattle car
toward the grey hordes of the steppes.
And I’m constantly in that same wagon bolted from the outside
returning from my home to Poland.
With two handfuls of my native soil
in an old bag of flour.
Mother? (1929–?)

***

I don’t know what it’s like to be an orphan. Mother, sister
two brothers — I was fourteen
when I became my family’s father and my own.
The sea hammers the poles. The sun grows in the springs.
People of moist salt run on unshakable.
Fire chases them into alleys closes cold lips.
I stand over the putrid water at the dirty port’s
shoreline. Never again no one
will I ever allow to push me over.
Son? (1957–?)

***
They took me to the graveyard they wanted to bury the body.
And from that time on each night the same ritual. He looked
as if they’d sewn him together from unmatching parts. Quick
quick they closed the lid. The wind dragged in the rain
from the sea and got tangled in the net of darkened ash trees.
You could hear the drops battering the spades
the spades battering the ground screeching against the rocks.
Someone else walked away from the well in the Samaritan woman’s flesh.
I remained. Like water. Dumb as an empty jar.
Wife? (1950–?)

***

Freedom. I thought of it on each warm night
I swam in the labyrinth of the sea or when with chums
we launched a ship. Or when walking at evening
in the halflight of televisions lonely as an arid tree
amidst fields prostrate in the swelter.
Was I free? I was constantly afraid lest someone
come up from behind me quietly and thwack me on the head.
And at last it happened a bullet in the back.
I had time enough to turn around I saw the green of a helmet
red childish freckles and eyes wide open in surprise
taking in everything without
end.
Shot dead? (1950–70?)

***

I didn’t tell you I was pregnant.
You are so similar both stubborn and impulsive
both unalive you and your son.
In my thoughts I keep repeating words: Our Father
Hail Mary and Eternal rest grant unto them
in hopes that one day they will become a prayer
in which I can wrap myself up like in Grandma Stasia’s sweater.
You have such weak hands like mouse tracks on the snow
although you’re a foreman building ships.
You have such clumsy feet and you swill your Bałtyk vodka
though you’re still drinking from me through your limp umbilical cord
you have such light little lips as if you wanted to tell
your son about everything that now will never happen.
You have such opaque eyes as if you wanted to take your father
into the heaven of my womb.
Fiancée? (1952–?)

***

I like a crowded church for then I can see no one.
Although I hide from God I don’t want to see me either.
I feel sorrier for Him than for myself.
I’m not afraid of death if it’s my death.
I like to stroll in the darkness along the fainting sea
snatching memories from the wind
cradling their feet as the sand cradles the calm shore.
To wonder at new details:
like how I carried you about inside me impatiently angrily
and you would kick me hard pushing me toward the future.
Silently. Just like today.
Mother? (1931–?)

***

[...] The bullet took a long time splitting the frost the rattle of rails
the crushed light of morning
mixed with the oil of the muddied sun
until it finally pierced my neck
through the window of the Tricity tram.
Well then you must believe it I lived through it all
in that one hour
for I haven’t resurrected after all
I ’m still always sixteen.
If I’m lying and none of this happened to me
as it must have happened really
believe this then — no world
ever really existed ever.
Shot dead? (1954–70?)

***

I myself don’t know why
I can’t bow my head anymore.
Certainly not just because despite those three operations
It simply can’t be bowed anymore.
Certainly not because my old man bent his
too often on any occasion but always to protect us.
Oh well I’m a cripple him they beat down by coincidence.
Mama couldn’t endure it didn’t want to be with him any more.
Now he stubbornly seeks a moment or a word
on which to hang the next new day of his life.
He’s quite an old man now.
On Saturday I think I’ll drop in on him
for a moment.
Wounded? (1953–?)

***

The sun’s not yet arisen it lies on the wet sand.
In the port of mussed bedsheets I keep watch and think of the child.

It’s still completely dark between my legs
but soon I’ll give birth. Birthing to the end of my days.

Above me and below me a quiet darkness spreads like the roots of love inside me.

I’ll give birth I’ll give birth I’ll stitch a blasphemy to you
and then the dawn will swallow me.
Wife? (1950–?)

***

The Christmas Eve opłatek mama in her ashen dress
sets down as custom dictates a spare plate
by the empty chair. Motionless she stares
right through us and the trembling air the barszcz the fish
the straw the r branches right through the frost-covered walls
to the street of white stone and the bent figure
falling beneath the weight of inexorable treachery.
Brother? (1958–?)

***

I know that you don’t blame me. Besides you, I had
three others. Adaś somewhat stunned at his own existence
Józio clever as no one yet in all our family
and Asia who spoke little — proof that goodness exists.
Your father expired quickly and since then I’ve had trouble
gathering my thoughts in the darkness. Work queues cooking altering
clothes. From adults to children from older to younger.
It seemed that I would never fall asleep just grow cold
needle in hand thimble on finger macaroni dough
pressed flat by a shard of my heart. I wanted to die
from shame that I’m alive. From implacable love from fear
of your sprawled shadow. Now I’m nearing
eighty so I guess it’s high time for you to forgive me. It was me
who fed with my own body that endless range of helpless
days. And I know that each one of them killed you over and over again
my son.
Mother? (1928–2009?)

***

Living in you I wonder sometimes have you come to understand
the fragility of life the panting of escape into planetary motion
we have a tenderness for words
such as constantly washes clean their wounds.

This I know that you still haven’t comprehended
how life repulses its own how strangely
the bright theme is snu ed wordlessly hummed
to forgetfulness.

But you simply couldn’t have known my son of the war of time
things laughter shrouded by a wing
pleadings terror of two hearts hidden
in your dreams.

You must have known that the world splits beneath the soaring
arm of evil and that one must swerve quickly into the psalm of the abyss
just as the heart twists in colliding
with an absent destiny.
Father? (1927–2003?)

***

Sleepiness sleepiness sleepiness the dying waves of steps
of angels walking naked in snowy helmets toward the tanks.
Well, many’s the one who wishes to have a glance at death, and then return
alive. To live and know. To understand all that one might of dying.
To know to be immortal in the body of windy time.

Sleepiness sleepiness sleepiness and the quite of an empty net
devoid of fish or promises of happiness.
From a bucking train someone calls me by name.
I want to get up and reply. I want to run
to embrace the winged form of the divine earth
with warm arms.
[...]
Shot dead? (1950–70?)

Translated from the Polish by Charles S. Kraszewski