Monday, April 10, 2006

Anna Swirszczynska: 9 poems


I renounce this fingernail
already worn
by my grandfather.
This head occupied
for two thousand years
by the bloody body of Julius Caesar.

The dead sit on me
like a mountain. The carrion
of barbaric epochs,
of bodies and thoughts decays in me.
Cruel corpses of centuries
that I be as cruel as they.

But I am not going to repeat
their dead words.
I have to give myself
a new birth. I have to
give birth to a new time.


I’m curled into a ball
like a dog
that is cold.

Who will tell me
why I was born,
why this monstrosity
called life.

The telephone rings. I have to give
a poetry reading.

I enter.
A hundred people, a hundred pairs of eyes.
They look, they wait.
I know for what.

I am supposed to tell them
why they were born,
why there is
this monstrosity called life.


There are moments
when I feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.
This comforts and reassures me,
this heartens me,
just as my tri-dimensional body
is heartened by my own authentic shadow.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Until now this has not happened
but it does not settle the question.


She is sixty. She lives
the greatest love of her life.

She walks arm-in-arm with her dear one,
her hair streams in the wind.
Her dear one says:
"You have hair like pearls."

Her children say:
"Old fool."


At night
mother opened a chest and took out
her white wedding slippers
of silk. Then slowly
daubed them with ink.

Early in the morning
she went in those slippers
into the street
to line up for bread.
It was minus ten degrees,
she stood
for three hours in the street.

They were handing out
one-quarter of a loaf per person.


I gave birth to life.
It went out of my entrails
and asks for the sacrifice of my life
as does an Aztec deity.
I lean over a little puppet,
we look at each other
with four eyes.

"You are not going to defeat me," I say
"I won't be an egg which you would crack
in a hurry for the world,
a footbridge that you would take on the way to your life.
I will defend myself."

I lean over a little puppet,
I notice
a tiny movement of a tiny finger
which a little while ago was still in me,
in which, under a thin skin,
my own blood flows.
And suddenly I am flooded
by a high, luminous wave
of humility.
Powerless, I drown.


sang all his life.
When he was young, in Warsaw,
all winter, in the unheated workshop
he sang, his brush
gripped with fingers blue with cold.

When he came back and told mother
that he had not gotten a commission
for a portrait from a photograph,
and there was no bread for tomorrow,
he would take up his palette and start
to sing.

In Krakow when he had reached
and, in a corner of his workshop,
high-ceilinged as a church

death was waiting behind a picture --
he would sing all morning
and evening.
He sang loudly and beautifully,
people would stop on the stairs,

When he died and his paintings
were removed from the workshop, I
started to sing.
-- What are you doing -- said my daughter.
Grandfather died and you sing
so loud you can hear it
on the stairs.

And I sang one after the other
all the songs he sang when he was young
and when he was ninety,
with death
waiting in a corner behind a picture
in a workshop as wretched
as any when he was young.

I sang for the last time
between walls
black from soot,
where he had suffered for thirty years
and where he was taken
without pain
in his sleep by death.
Who one night came silently out
from behind a painting in the corner.


Our embrace lasted too long.
We loved right down to the bone.
I hear the bones grind, I see
our two skeletons.

Now I am waiting
till you leave, till
the clatter of your shoes
is heard no more. Now, silence.

Tonight I am going to sleep alone
on the bedclothes of purity.
is the first hygienic measure.
will enlarge the walls of the room,
I will open the window
and the large, frosty air will enter,
healthy as tragedy.
Human thoughts will enter
and human concerns,
misfortune of others, saintliness of others.
They will converse softly and sternly.

Do not come anymore.
I am an animal
very rarely.


My body, you are an animal
whose appropriate behovior
is concentration and discipline.
An effort
of an athlete, of a saint, and of a yogi.

Well trained,
you may become for me
a gate
through which I will leave myself
and a gate
through which I will enter myself.
A plumb line to the center of the earth
and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.

My body, you are an animal
from whom ambition
is right.
Splendid possibilities
are open to us.


"The goal of words in poetry is to grow up to the contents, yet that goal cannot ever be attained, for only a small part of the psychic energy which dwells in a poet incarnates itself in words. In fact, every poem has the right to ask for a new poetics. This is created only once to express the contents, also given only once, of a poem. Style is the enemy of the poet. and its greatest merit would be non-existence. We could say in paradoxical abbreviation that a writer has two tasks. The first--to create one's own style. The second--to destroy one's own style. The second is more difficult and takes more time."

Selected poems from "Talking to my Body" and other unknown titles.


Katherine A said...

Eva, I would like to buy you Anna's book, Talking to My Body. Or make you copies. I don't have it but will buy it. She reminds so much of you. Her force, uncertainty, yet knowingness, and how there are no excess words in her work. The title also I like and makes me think of you.

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