Poems by Bronka Nowicka

Paraphrasis
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from To Feed the Stone

(Translated from Polish) 

Popiół

     – Smakuje ci chryzantema? – zapytało dziecko kamień i włożyło do ust płatki zbite w kulkę podobną do miniaturowej kapusty. Każda chryzantema miała taką w środku, ta jednak była najokrąglejsza i najbardziej złota.Chrupała jak kapusta, ale smakowała cmentarzem.

    – Gorące – dziecko wsadziło palec w szarą górę, która usypy-wała się w popielniku.

     – Mróz – powiedziało i polizało oszronioną furtkę. – Krew– dodało.

     Poczęstowało się ziemią, a gdy ją przeżuło, powiedziało:

     – Czarne.

     Pisało patykiem na ciele: "czereśnie”, "czarodzieje”, "poranki”. Ze znikających ze skóry słów można było powyjmować mniejsze. Tym samym patykiem wydłubać śnienie z czereśni.

     Tak dziecko karmiło kamień, żeby żył.

 

Ash 
 

     —How do you like the chrysanthemum? — the child asked the stone and chewed on petals arranged into a tight ball resembling a miniature cabbage. Each chrysanthemum had one like that in the center, but this one was the roundest and most golden. It crunched like cabbage but tasted like cemetery.

     —Hot — the child poked its finger into a gray mount that formed in the ash pan.

     —Cold — she said and licked a frosted gate.

     —Blood — she added.

     She helped herself to soil and after chewing it, she said:

     —Black.

     She used a stick to spell on her body: “blackcurrants”, “wizards”, “mornings”. The words vanishing from the skin left behind smaller ones. With the same stick, you could pick ants from blackcurrants. That’s how the child fed the stone so it could live.


Pióro 

     
     – Czy nie wiesz, gdzie są martwe ptaki? – zapytało dziecko kamień, bo nikt, kogo pytało wcześniej, nie wiedział. Nie grzebie się ich i nie grzebią się same, więc powinny leżeć na ziemi. A że jest ich dużo jak ludzi, powinny leżeć jeden obok drugiego. Jeśli nie jeden na drugim. Nie tylko pod drzewami, ale też na chodnikach i ulicach, bo ptaki na pewno potrafią umrzeć w locie, skoro ludzie mogą robić to, idąc. Nie jest to coś, do czego koniecznie trzeba się zatrzymać.

     – Więc gdzie? – spytało dziecko, bo w całym ogrodzie nie było ani jednego ciała, z którego wyprowadził się ptak. Było tylko pióro. Dziecko dotknęło się nim i pomyślało, że wszystkie ptaki, które umarły w powietrzu, nie spadły. Zrobiły się lżejsze o siebie i zawisły.

     Dlatego może zdarzyć się grad bębniący o dachy wróblami albo czarny deszcz, który wypłucze z góry wszystkie wrony. Albo taka zima, że trzeba będzie odśnieżać gołębie. Może też nic się nie zdarzy i martwe zwierzęta zostaną w niebie, a ludzie na ziemi.

 

Feather

 
     —Do  you know where the dead birds are? —the child asked the stone because no one else she’d asked knew. You don’t bury them and they don’t bury themselves so they should be lying on the ground. And since there are as many of them as people, you should see one lying next to another. If not one on top of another. Not only under trees, but also on sidewalks and streets, because birds surely can die midair, if people can do it walking. It’s not something you need to stop for.

     —So, where are they? — the child asked because in the entire garden, there was not a single body vacated by a bird. There was only a feather. The child touched herself with it and thought that all the birds that died midair didn’t fall. They just got extra light and are hovering.

     That’s why there might be hail thumping sparrows against rooftops or black rain that will flush all the crows from the sky. Or a winter when you’ll have to plough through pigeons. Or maybe nothing will happen and the dead animals will stay inheaven, and people, on earth.


Bryła gliny
 

Dziecko przystawiało kamień do wielu rzeczy, ale żadnej nie ubywało. A skoro miały siebie ciągle tyle samo, znaczyło to, że nie są dla niego jadalne.

     Wtedy dziecko znalazło wgłębienie pod językiem, włożyło tam kamień i nie stało się przez to cięższe. Poczuło, że jest go mniej. Nie tak mniej, jak jest się mniej, bo się żyje i zużywa życie. Tak mniej, jak się coś z siebie daje.

     Dziecko szło po ogrodzie i patrzyło na to, czym był. Kamień jadł ten widok razem z dzieckiem, które już wiedziało: wyżywi kamień czymkolwiek, co przejdzie przez zmysły. Nawet bryłą gliny, jeślina na nią popatrzy, zwykłą trawą – jeśli jej dotknie. Może nawet samym myśleniem o trawie.

Chunk of clay 


      The child has offered many things to the stone but none of them diminished. And since they had the same amount of themselves, this meant that it didn’t find them edible.

     That’s when the child found a dip underneath her tongue, put the stone there and wasn’t any heavier for it. She felt there was less of her. Not less in the sense that you live and use up life. Less because you give away a piece of yourself.

     The child walked around the garden and studied it. The stone ate that view up along with the child who already knew: she will feed the stone on anything that will come through her senses. Even on a chunk of clay, if she looks at it ––ordinary grass, if she touches it. Perhaps, by merely thinking about grass.




The first thing about Bronka Nowicka’s work that resonated with me was her language, which seemed clean and effortless, yet at the same time left me with things to ponder and feel. Nowicka’s writing presents a certain lightness of touch, which reminds me of Italo Calvino and his famous lecture on “Lightness” in Six Memos for the Next Millennium: “there is such a thing as lightness of thoughtfulness, just as we all know that there is a lightness of frivolity. In fact, thoughtful lightness can make frivolity seem dull and heavy.” Calvino sees lightness as reflective of the vitality of the times, another quality that I think Nowicka’s work shares.

To Feed the Stone is about objects that we all have at home and a child, who we all once were (and maybe who some of us have at home). The book is a moving reminder of a child’s perspective; a child who’s surrounded by unmagical things; objects that are sad, ugly, serious or just ordinary. It’s that lens of a child that breathes magic into these objects. My nearly three-year-old son has helped me to understand the book better, and the book has helped me to understand my child better.

In the Polish original, the speaker or the protagonist is a child who is often referred to as “it”. Initially, I wanted to keep the neutral signifier without revealing the gender because it allowed the child to stay in this twilight realm: a sexless creature, intuitive and honest like ananimal; wise and surprisingly rational, almost like an extraterrestrial being.In the end, I used “she”, when necessary, to avoid confusing the speaker with inanimate objects, of which there are many in the book, but I still think that the child is best described as it –– its own kind.

In moments when I couldn’t adhere to the original because literal translation would sound flat, I was guided by what effect Bronka was trying to achieve and I took liberties with how I arrived there. An example is the poem “Ash”, where I needed to find a word contained within another word that would also be related to the plant world. The original was based on “czereśnie”  –– sweet cherries, a word that, when fading away, would leave behind the lexeme “śnienie”–– dreaming. Cherries and dreaming share little in terms of spelling, so I explored other fruits and was happy with “blackcurrants ,“ which also generously provided me with “ants”. Bronka was quite pleased with that solution and applauded my willingness to let go of the original and carve my own path.

To Feed the Stone seems like an impossible task, Sisyphean in nature. But the child doesn’t think that. She shows us that finding the access point and right sustenance allow us to feed something inside us. Something that has been ossified and indifferent for a long time, but is capable of tremor and amazement.

Katarzyna Szuster-Tardi

KATARZYNA SZUSTER is a translator. She earned her M.A. in English studies from the University of Łódź, Poland, and was a lecturer at the Department of Foreign Languages, University of Nizwa in Oman. She has translated various Polish poets into English, such as Miron Białoszewski, Justyna Bargielska, and Bronka Nowicka. Her translation of Bronka Nowicka’s To Feed the Stone is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press in 2021. Other translations have been published in Aufgabe, Free Over Blood, Moria, Biweekly, Words without Borders, diode, Toad Press, Berlin Quarterly, Seedings, Michigan Quarterly Review, Tripwire, and LIT.

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