First, Warsaw: this is where it all began. The house I spent my childhood in is gone, demolished to make room for the widening of the street of Powstancow Slaskich. The fields on the other side of the street have been turned into a huge "osiedle" (subdivision) with thousands of inhabitants in ugly apartment blocks. There is a massive signboard in the exact spot where our house once stood and the cherry tree once grew. The little street, "alejka" is still there, lined with yellow iris of our neighbors.
My childhood is gone, of course, but it was a strange feeling to see its material traces erased. I asked a high-school friend to drive me through the narrow streets of Osiedle Przyjazn, where the faculty of the Warsaw Polytechnical University used to live after the workers who built the Palace of Culture had returned to the Soviet Union. Quite a few houses still stand, the streets are lined with maple trees, I remember walking on the curb, picking up the yellow leaves...
The builders of these old towns, and those who restored them to their colorful and welcoming charm, tell us that we should cherish the past, though never forget what pain was wrought upon us.
We should not forget what made us who we are. I talked about remembering and being either petrified by grief, loss and guilt, or just remembering the past moments, as beads on an necklace. I even wrote about that lamp I photographed in Jelonki, Warsaw, with the snowflakes twirling in its yellow glow. This poem first published in Miriam's Iris is a suitable tribute to a travel back in time and into the future of being an emigre in California. On the occasion of this long, sentimental trip through my favorite landscapes, I decided to reproduce it for my readers.
The hummingbird builds its nest.
Its thin beak – the stem
of a multicolored jewel
sparkling in the sun
(a copy of its own similitude) –
holds the glistening body aflutter.
Rose bushes wear diamonds,
well-polished – their colors change
with the breeze
like the bird’s shiny feathers.
My Californian garden
tries to seduce me
with precious necklaces
and melliferous strains
from the mocking bird
the scent of gardenias.
“All right” – I say –
“Don’t play games with me.
I’ve seen it all before.”
Pearls scattered on the meadow
tremble on the blades of grass,
hide in the hearts of clover.
The sun shines straight through their ovals,
translucent, in a bright shade of green.
Stalks bend under their glassy weight.
Tempted by curiosity,
I destroy their perfect balance,
depriving the world
of its well-deserved splendor.
The droplets fall
to the ground and disappear.
How shall I ever be forgiven?
My wickedness – unthinkable.
Dead leaves seek shelter
under thin panes of glass.
Ice covers pools of rainwater.
The stillness mocks past intimacy
when noisy reds, yellows, and browns
flew up from under my feet
in an autumn park
of maples and poplars.
I changed the future of the world
with one step of my boot:
the pane cracked,
the air bubbles shifted,
a the harmony was gone.
With glee I crushed the worlds
that did not need me.
I shudder when I look back –
a trail of footsteps
filled with muddy water,
dirt splattered on the geometry of ice.
The magic of white butterflies
twirling in the glow of street lamps
makes me dizzy. The black sky turns.
Bright spots move faster still.
I’m afraid. They chase me –
larger – whiter – denser
stars, monsters, snowflakes?
My scarlet fever began that night. V.
Winter morning reveals its treasures.
Leaves, cones, twigs, tree-trunks,
even pebbles on my path
wear bristling coats of crystal ice.
The pearl-grey sky is a bride’s dress,
waiting to burst open with new life.
The clouds settle on their beds.
Houses, bushes, roofs, fences,
dress in white muffs,
scarves and blankets.
The fence boards,
stiff like British soldiers,
present puffy hats to the Queen.
I admit it. I cut their heads off
with my red-gloved hand,
leaving behind a line
of headless corpses –
oh, silent horror!
The damage that cannot be undone –
melting the universe of beauty
with one breath
that changed a snowflake
into a dirty spot on my glove.
Slowly walking into
the immaculate field of whiteness,
I scarred the snow’s pristine expanse
with clumsy footmarks.
Again: plunging into
the smooth expanse of a lake,
I broke its sleepy obsession
with mirroring the evening sky.
I paid for my guilt with exile –
a foreign country, a borrowed name.
Crystals do not charm me in the desert
where Joshua trees parody my gestures
of praying for snowflakes
by stretching their twisted limbs
into the purple sky.
No hope for maki, chabry, and rumianki.
My childhood flowers
won’t be found on the meadow
painted yellow by the spring
across the barren slope
I see from my kitchen window.
I’ve dreamed of being happy
in the sweet impossible,
with Italian cypresses, ice plants,
and a white fence around my house.
But my memories trap me.
Only the hummingbird
floats around, twitching its tail
like a miniature goldfish.
Maki – wild, red poppies (Papaver rhoeas); chabry – blue Centaurea cyanus, and rumianki – white chamomile daisies, grow in the meadows and fields of Poland and throughout central Europe.
And here's my bouquet of "niezapominajki" from the Royal Baths Palace at Lazienki Krolewskie. Do not forget me, or so they say...