sometimes i stand this way: the new polish poetry

Excerpt from Agitator
Tymoteusz Karpowicz

It was a lion that devoured
your trees in the garden
a goldfish
swallowed your hands

1958, translated by Malgorzata Sady.
Karpowicz was born in Lithuania in 1921.

I love the sense of something large or small creating an unbalanced amount of trouble in its wake. A building falls and only a field of flowers is crushed, no one is harmed. A fly lands on the tip of a glass in the store display and the entire thing tumbles. I also spent too much time reading The Chronicles of Narnia when I was younger, and tend to enjoy the idea of lions unexpectedly entering backyard gardens.

Memory of Your Hands
Malgorzata Hillar

When I remember
the touch of your hands
I am no longer the girl
who quietly combs her hair
and sets clay pots
on a pinewood shelf

Helpless I feel
how the flames of your fingers
kindle my neck and arms

Sometimes I stand this way
in broad daylight
in a white street
and I cover my mouth with my hands

so I will not scream.

1957, translated by Iwona Gleb.

This text feels like the wake of a panic attack, and reminds me of the insurmountable feelings you have when you first fall in love with someone. The feeling of being crushed under the weight of even a memory of feeling is very indulgent and happily reminds me of being a teenage girl. I also love the idea that you can control the impulse to scream by simply placing your hands over your own mouth. I know that I’ve used this imagery myself somewhere and perhaps that is why I enjoyed this poem so much.

I’ve been drawn to the Polish Books books section at the Jersey City Free Public Library, perhaps I am trying to find something about myself there. This is the first of three in a series I plan to write about, taken from The New Polish Poetry: A Bilingual Collection, 1978; Holton and Vangelisti eds. University of Pittsburgh Press.

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