Edward Stachura: Prose
In the morning I came to this big city. All day I wandered around, on its streets and bridges, of which the city is full. The second largest river of the country flows through the city, though not in one bed but in many canals which must join somewhere past the city, but in the city there are many canals, and hence many bridges, on which I wandered all day. And on the streets between bridges. On almost every bridge I stopped. I leaned against the railing and looked at the water for a while, without actually seeing it at all, that is I saw the water at the beginning, right after I leaned against the railing, but I don't think I saw it later, for I have these two lookings, and one of them was today, on almost every bridge: I looked at the water intently for a while, and saw it at the beginning, but later it somehow blurred, turned into air or fog, if it is so transparent. On almost every bridge I stopped, lit up a cigarette and leaned over the railing with my eyes fixed on the water, and saw it at the beginning, but later not anymore, for one of those two lookings of mine is a kind of cantseeing, forgetting yourself with the eyes, falling into craters which must be on the other side of the eyes. On almost every bridge I was falling into craters. Between one bridge and another I walked having nestled my head in the nest of my shoulders and my hands in the nests of my pockets. And even so it was quite cold. When will the damn winter be over? The damn winter. Good summer. You can sit down anywhere, on the sidewalk or lie down in the grass, doesn't matter, close your eyes, and the sun good, warm falls down on your eyelids, you have all the summer on your eyelids, for summer is the sun good, warm. And so you lie down on a stone slab in the city cemetery or in the grasses you lie between the sky and the earth, doesn't matter, and this is such good, warm freezing in the sun. Then, after you've made love to the sun, you get up. You are going to look for a river, for water into which you step slowly or jump in right away, I always jump in right away, I swim long, and when I get tired I roll over on my back and I float, moving my legs lightly, only to stay on the surface. And this is also such good, warm freezing in the water. Yes. Summer is good, winter is not.
Today all day I walked through this bad winter and through this very big city, to which I came in the morning. Before that, still yesterday, I was in a different city, also big. I wasn't there long, but I was a little. Some two weeks. More or less. I stayed with this guy-Peter. He lived only with his mother who left for a holiday in the mountains. I will also have to go to the mountains sometime. Maybe next winter. I'll have to find somewhere some good, warm boots, to have summer in my feet, since there's a lot of cold snow out there, and I will be walking a lot in the mountains, and bad boots wear out quickly, and especially in the mountains. In the summer I'm going to work a little at harvest, so I'll make enough for such good, warm boots for the mountains. But it's still far to the next winter. It's far to the summer even. And so the mother of this guy-Peter went to the mountains and he said that that until she comes back, I can stay with him. It wasn't too bad staying with this guy-Peter, but he talked a little too much. If he hadn't talked so much, it would have even been nice. I tried to teach him not to talk too much, but it didn't work. He asked me to take him somewhere with me, but what would I have done with him. But he also talked too much. He made me angry many times, and I whistled through my teeth, but I didn't forget about my gratefulness to him, so he must have talked too much. I only talked to him for a long time once. I talked to him about the couch, the blanket, the radio, and about the room in which they were, in which we lived, and in which I talked to him about this. It seems I talked in vain, I talked quite long because he didn't know himself what he had. Then his mother came back and I no longer had a place to sleep, so I said to myself that I can leave the city. In the train I didn't even have to hide from the conductor because I had a ticket, so I slept since I found an empty compartment and it was night.
In the morning I left for this big city, a city I did not know at all. I didn't even know why there were so many canals here. I had to ask one other who told me that this river, about which I knew that it flows through the city, is so branched out into canals, of which there are many, he doesn't know the number, but very many, and that the river is well-regulated, not like the biggest river in this country, and that it's all Germans because they like ordnung. All day I wandered on those bridges and on those streets between bridges, although it was quite cold, but I like to look at a city which is new to me. I will tell it a little. I walked in it all day. Now it is night and I am in the waiting room of the railroad station. I will tell about it some other time. Now I will tell the day and the city, and everything that I've seen, if I have seen well, for I have these two lookings, and one of them was today on the streets between bridges: I looked at everything with restless eyes, at the stores, houses, trams, shoes, coats, roofs, for this is the second of my two lookingsrestless looking at everything, since I never know what to do with my eyes, same as with the fingers, so I either smoke a cigarette, looking at something intently, that is, not seeing anything, falling into craters which must be on the other side of the eyes, or I keep my hands in the pockets and having nestled my head in the nest of my shoulders I walk, swinging right and left with my restless eyes.
I'm telling more. I have to say that in no other city, and I have seen many of them, oh, many cities have I seen, and not only in this country because earlier, when I was still little, but not so much, since I remember everything well, I was in a different country, and when I was moving to this country, in which I am and in which this city is, I passed through two more countries and many cities, which I saw from the window of the train so I have seen many cities, haven't I? but I have to say that in no other city have I seen as many ruined houses as in this one. I looked at the houses with great surprise and I couldn't get used to them although I had come across such houses from time to time. Very often. Some houses were half a house or a quarter, or not like a house. I have never seen. It seemed to me scary, and so it looked.
And so I have to say that I had a lot to see with this second ever-restless looking of mine. In every city which is new to me I find much to look at, but in this one especially. Mostly those houses destroyed by war, which I almost don't remember. I was still very little. I remember some, but not much. I was still very little and I was with my natural parents in a different country, in which I was born and to which I would gladly return and I could, for one does not contradict the other, on the contraryit supports it, I think. Still, I would not stay there for good. I would return back to this country, which I like very much, I don't know why. Despite everything. In this country I have been growing up the longest and it this country happened that greatest act of courage, of which I am proud beyond measure and which I carry about like my head and to many light but mostly dark places and I am always brave, noble and brave, although I have been to very dark places, oh, yes, countless places, most in this country, but in spite of that I like this country, for here I was born again somehow, but better, stronger. But just for two months, I would be very glad to go to that country in which I was born and which I remember well. Of the war I remember almost nothing, for then I was smaller and we lived in the south, in a little town where even during the war it was very quiet and there were no ruined houses as in this city where I am right now, that is, I am in the railroad-station waiting room in this city, for it is nighttime and somehow I didn't feel like looking for that other, whom I met at the seacoast, and who said: "Come and I'll find you a place to sleep." So when I lost that bed at this guy-Peter's in that city, I thought to myself: I can go forward, I can go backward, right or left, but I can obviously go to that young-other, whom I met at the seacoast last summer beautiful. I didn't think long, but decided right away for I know that very often you should not think at all but decide immediately, for decision is very often weakened by thinking and then it crumbles easily like a poppy-head.
I walked around the city all day. I'm not saying that I have been everywhere for the city is uncommonly big. I don't know if that previous city in which I was and which is the capital of this country, is much bigger than this one. It was maybe one, two, three o'clock when I felt hungry and stopped at a pub, for I still had some money and I wanted to warm up a little, since I had gotten quite cold on those bridges and those streets between bridges. I ordered tripe and started looking around the placefor I have these two lookings and one of them, the restless, was today in the pubsitting on a high stool by the bar, waiting for my tripe: by the tables others were sitting and eating, and drinking. They were not beautiful. The room was also patterned in dirt. The walls extremely in tetters. By one table two were sitting. One of them, the one with his back toward me, and better dressed than the one whose face, ugly, I could see, was saying:
"Dear sir. In the twentieth century the only sensible occupation is to fight for peace or to get drunk systematically. I chose the latter because I have a free will."
And the other:
They emptied their glasses and the other, the one with the ugly face, said again:
And the first:
"Why were we, the elder, deprived of the toys of our childhood? After all, we can't play with the atom bomb."
At the bar, another one was yelling:
"We did build the KDM, didn't we?"
I got my tripe and started to eat. I love tripe and it was warm in the pub. Tripe was also good, warm. Once, long ago, I couldn't imagine how others can eat tripe. I couldn'tI thought. Even if it is good, eating it I will certainly think where it came from and what was in it before. But once, and that was already after that, so I mostly walked hungry, I went to this pub in some city to have a beer, for I only had that much money, or rather I didn't have that much money because I was a quarter short, but I was very thirsty. The lady behind the bar said that it doesn't matter, that I would pay back when I can, and that maybe I am hungry, then she would give me tripe and I will pay her back when I can sometime. I was quite very hungry and I thought she must like me for she looked in my eyes very cajolingly, and that I could get free food from her for a while, and not only tripe, so I overcame the aversion. I slept in a shed in a garden. It was summer. And so I overcame the aversion and to make sure I said:
"I don't know how soon I will have money."
"Never mind. Never mind. I'll bring you the tripe now."
She gave me grub for a long time and I no longer slept in the shed in the garden, but then I ran away for I didn't want to get too comfortable and start rotting. That was the beginning of my taste for tripe, which I ordered today and ate with love, for I know that it's joyful union for me.
So when I had finished the tripe, I lit up a cigarette and started sipping my beer, looking intently at my mug which at first I could see and later maybe I could see also, only my eyes forgot themselves, for I have those two lookings, and so although I could see the mug, which was standing in front of me, after a moment of this intent looking I could only see it flat, and then I was falling into craters. But my ears were not falling into craters:
"Life, my dear sir, is like the game of poker. He who has money wins and can bluff."
"Just so. Cheers."
"We did build the KDM, didn't we?"
Then my eyes woke up and this other, restless looking started, but everything was identical, unchanged, so I had to leave the pub as I didn't know what to do with my eyes, and I had warmed up enough, and I had eaten enough, and I wanted to look at this city some more, so I had to leave the pub which was no more than a seed of the city, an eye of the city, a gut of the city maybe, but it was still one of the countless seeds, eyes and guts, and so it was only a fragment. That's why I leftfor this is little. I put my hands in the nest of my pockets and my head in the nest between my arms-branches, and I began to look around with my restless eyes, and around there were buildings, old townhouses that I liked very much, not ancient but quite medieval, or at least two hundred years old, judging by the bricks and patterns, and maybe not by the smell, but by the fact that among such houses I feel young, or at least I am not two hundred years old. And if I think that way, then I will always remain young, and certainly I will live young, although I could always have something to look at and somewhere to go to, not only for two hundred years, but even for two hundred and five or five hundred. Only how would I look then, how could I love myself, all hunched up, bold, with muscles like thread or butter, unable to jump over anything or to climb trees, unable to swim or to dance and sing, to do my beloved wandering, then how could I love myself, such a crab? Then I would have to fall in love with somebody else, with a beautiful, slender boy, I would have to fall in love with somebody else and beautiful and what would be left of me then?
But now I am brave, noble and brave, and I will only live that way, and I will always have energy in my knees like today in this city. I'm telling more of today, of the city and of the others, who differed little from one another, and yet were not like me, no doubt about that, a few times I clearly sensed the ones who were like me, but I decided to part company, for it's best to redeem oneself and to celebrate on your own, although not all those who were like me understood that, but those others were not like me, no doubt about that, and yet they differed little from one another, I repeat, the same smiles, not even sad, the same lack of thinking on their foreheads, in their posture, in their walk no thinking either, in their eyes no sign of meditation, no fear nor flash. I didn't see their hands, I admit, because it was cold and they all had their hands in their pockets or their gloves, but I saw their lips, for on the lips there are no gloves, so I didn't have to see their hands, for I saw their lips, and what's on the hands is on the lips.
I'm telling more of this city and this today, but less and less, for the twilight had already started to fall, the beginning of twilight, the advanced guards of twilight started to fall over the city and I didn't even notice that, standing on one of those bridges of which there are many, I don't know how many, but many, that I know and that passerby didn't lie. I didn't notice at all that darkness started to fall, the beginning of darkness, the advanced guards of darkness. I was standing on the bridge, smoking a cigarette and leaning over the railing, looking at the water, or maybe over the water, with this stubborn cantseeing of mine, this forgetting-yourself-with-your-eyes. I must have been falling into craters for quite some time, for I did not notice that the advanced guards of darkness are already around. And around there were also buildings, old townhouses that I liked very much, and there were the others, whom maybe I hated, although they live in those houses, maybe because of that among others.
For where am I to go now? I can go forward. I can go backward. I can go right. I can go left. But I can go to the railroad station. I don't have to but I prefer. Well, I don't prefer yet, for this is only the beginning of the evening. The advanced guards have already passed, the beginning is over, but behind it there is obviously the whole big army of the night, so there are still things for me to conquer, enough for a few hours. Then the biggest army of the world will comethe army of the night that I prefer to conquer in the railroad station in which I am now, although I'm writing as if I was walking while writing, or rather writing while walking.
I'm telling more of this city and this today, or rather now this evening, for the evening must be something different, something separate. Evening probably doesn't belong to the day and I think it probably doesn't belong to the night, although morning certainly belongs to the day. And so I started to move slowly through this evening and through this city, around which I wandered all day and not all night but rather a part of the evening, for more of the evening I spent in this pub called "Shelter" and about which I will start telling in about half an hour. I walked slowly, for why hurry? All those half-houses, quarter-houses and almost no-houses, to which I could not get used and which I encountered today from time to time, very often, looked even more terrifying, and now, in the evening, they were not even half-houses, quarter-houses and almost no-houses, but some strange creatures, huge antediluvian animals, reptiles petrified yet looking scary. And so I walked through the big army of the evening and I didn't feel like a soldier, but like someone else, I can't exactly, but not like a soldier or general, but like someone else altogether, and I was not on either side: the army of the evening or the city resisting the attacks, so I felt normal, as always.
And so I walked through the evening and I came out on a square, quite big, and behind it there was, and behind it there was something that you don't expect each step, but you expect especially: a dazzle-sight. And that is like manna from heaven for the eyes. I'm telling about it quietly, for I don't want to startle the sight that I want to tell about so I can't startle the telling either. That's why I'm talking quietly, and in that sight there was also quietness, although much deeper, mystical, boundless, but I'm still going to try. This evening dazzle-sight of mine spread between two corner townhouses that opened the market square of this city to my looking, which was neither one nor the other but a fascination, so it wasn't either falling into craters or scattering, so it was my third looking: very rare, mystical, boundless, but still my third looking, which wasn't there today, on the bridges and on the streets between bridges, which I hadn't had for a long, long time, for since that last, long-gone morning dazzle-sight nothing like that had fascinated me. I was looking with this third looking of mine at that piece of the air, between two corner townhouses, and it was bluish, but very differently, the way it is there, in the land of the dead, it seems to me. In the middle of that deceased, very dignified air was the tip of the townhall tower, white but also differently, not the way it must be in Arabia or Persia, it seems to me. And if it seems to me that way, then something like that should be in the middle of the jungle, such bluish and white palace which one enters by spacious marble steps, overgrown with plants and moss, and then one enters the first hall and plants the first step, and suddenly a startled bird will scream horribly, and the scream is repeated sharply over and over in further and further halls, until it dies, and again there is complete silence and emptiness, but you are not here alone and you are not here the lord, although you're alone, like a lord you're alone, but you're not here the king, for this is the kingdom of ghosts, you feel that well and you don't feel like a ghost, the most distant relative of all this, you are not of that tree, neither a branch, nor a leaf, nor a fruit, but you are not even the dung for the roots of that tree and you must look like a blown-out candle among those that burn bluish and white, but very differently.
I will stay in this city for a while. Maybe just for that dazzle-sight to which I somehow wander, for fascination, every eveningthat little piece of the air and that little piece of the townhall: a white tip. I'm telling more. After a while I recovered from this third looking of mine, which in this respect is like that falling into cratersmy first looking, after which I also have to recover my senses. I entered the square not quite recovered yet, with the rest of my fascination, for I had not lowered my head and walked those few steps with my head raised high, but with each step it wasn't the same, as if something was being taken away from the view, although I was getting closer to it, maybe because of that. That's how I entered the square. I lowered my head and this other scattered looking of mine started: the market square was more or less big, in the middle there was the townhall. I had seen that oftentown halls in the market squares in other cities. The townhall was surrounded with metal scaffolding. I had often seen scaffolding around town halls in other cities. The townhall in the center of the market square doesn't always have to be the center of the city, but I think based on history and customs, that the townhall is the oldest part of each city, most ancient. That's why the scorpions of time could bite out the most from the townhall. That's why it crumbles and needs support. That's why I was not surprised to see scaffolding surrounding the townhall, as I walked around. Then I felt thirsty. I like tea very much. I asked some young-other where the closest place was to get some tea. I noticed surprise in his face, as he was standing under a streetlight. "The closest is the "Shelter," he said, "but I don't know if they have this kind of booze there. This door here and then turn left. You'll see the sign on the door." I walked into the doorway which the young-other showed me, and which was very dark, just like the other one, in which I got cut on my arm with a knife, so I was walking quite carefully, although there was a tram stop and many people were waiting, but you never know. I lit up a match and read white letters painted on the door: "Shelter." That young-other must have read it during daytime and forgot that now it was evening, when he told me: "You'll see the sign on the door." The door was half-open and inside it was even darker. I was almost determined to go back, thinking that the young-other must have lied to me after all, although I was sure that he wasn't lying, when down behind the door I heard some people laugh. After a while a few young others started to ascend from down there, as I could see from the light of their cigarettes. They passed by me staggering quite a lot, and I had to move back, for there were four of them and I never start a fight. When they left, I lit up a match and started descending down the stone steps going to the left, and soon I saw light which you couldn't see from the doorway, for the stairs turned around. After the stairs there was a long corridor, with light but full of water, so I had to go on my heels, but still I felt water in my shoes, because my shoes...I'd better not even talk about this. In the corridor, or rather in the water, there were a few stairs up, and I welcomed them with joy, certainly not the way a shipwrecked man welcomes an island or his arm welcomes a wooden beam, which may be a long arm to an island, and so such welcome of the two arms is certainly joyful, but my welcome of the stairs was also quite joyful. I'm not lying. I never lie. I don't even know why I never lie. Maybe I'm ashamed. A few times I lied and I was very ashamed, I still am, although it didn't seem that I was lying. I am still ashamed. So I think that if I told more lies, I would be even more ashamed, more and more, if I told more lies and I would have to be all ashamed. Maybe there is also something else beside shame that keeps me from lying. Maybe it's the same thing that tells me not to steal, when I'm not hungry; that tells me not to hit the other unless he hits me first; that tells me not to kill the other unless he kills my father or mother, my brother or sister or the other brother; maybe it's the same thing that tells me not to kill myself, while I'm still breathing, though everything often seems bad to me, houses, fields, streets, the lips of the others and their hands, laughter and tears, everything's bad, and so I go and I'm filled with too much pain and with hatred, but I'm still breathing, I can't kill myself and I can't lie either, but I must love all children.
I'm thinking about it like that as if those stairs, which I welcomed with joy after that water in the corridor, were so long that climbing them I had the time to think about all that. I really am in the waiting room of the railroad station and I have a lot of time till the morning. And I'm talking about it only because sometimes I write as if I was writing while walking, and so I could actually have thought these thoughts about lying while in a different place, for the stairs were really short, five or six steps, and so if I sometimes write as if I was writing while walking, then walking up these few steps I really wouldn't have the time to write all that and then to think, and then to think about writing, for it is very difficult, all of it and this writing.
But the stairs I welcomed with joy. I'm not lying. I climbed up and was greeted by thick smoke and voices, and laughter, only not joyful, for nobody paid attention to me, and I also greeted that no-greeting with joy, for I don't like it when people turn to look at me, even if they don't look for something in my face, but just look. And so that no-greeting pleased me, or at least it did not add to my hatred which always fills me in the evening, I don't know why; or maybe I do. I walked to the bar through the thick smoke and I sat on a high stool, which I like very much, and I started to look at everything around with this second scattered looking of mine, and around me there were young-others, and men were drinking wine, but more they were yelling, and women were drinking wine, but more they were laughing, and they all didn't differ from each other. But this "Shelter" must have really been a shelter for airraids, which I almost don't remember. The same kind of entrance to it and iron door, strong, and the cement ceiling overhead. And those young-others and old-others, smartly dressed, constantly yelled something out and drank wine, poured by the barman, very tall, who after a moment came up to me and asked:
"So what will it be? Portoriko"?
I didn't know what portoriko was, and I asked:
"What is portoriko?"
He smiled and said:
"Portorikoportwainthe cheapest wineSovietsix fifty a glass."
"No, thank you very much," I said. "I'd like to drink some tea if possible."
"Certainly, sir. Jurek, tea for the gentleman," he turned toward the young-other, who served drinks from the kitchen: coffee, juices: tomato and pineapple (never heard of that), and tea, besides the wine, which the tall barman poured himself, and he often said to that little Jurek: "Did you say something?", although that little Jurek didn't ask him anything. Then they burst out laughing, the barman and the little Jurek, and that Jurek now asked the barman: "Did you say something?" "That the sky is rough stones?" And again they burst out laughing. I thought to myself that they must be playing that way, for why else would they from time to time say "Did you say something?", although the other didn't really say anything to the first one, nor the first one did to the other. And when somebody at the bar asked the barman: "Will you give me one on credit?", then the barman said: "For now, I have a stomach ache." Then I knew right away that the barman says so because he doesn't want to give him a drink on credit.
It was quite warm. Maybe partly from smoke it was warm. Because from this laughter probably not. For me at least it was not warmth, this laughter and yelling. I drank my tea, smoking a cigarette and looking intently into the glass, which at first I saw, but later I already saw it flat, and after another moment, I didn't see it at all, neither it nor that thing that is right next to it, like rays or something else that the eye sends, and that is now returning to the eye, but not only there, as if it was returning further, falling into craters that must be on the other side of the eyes. I only have to sayit was not looking backward: remembering something with your eyes, something that was in the old eyes, now passed, or rather in the old looking, for I don't know if eyes do pass. I don't know if everything passes. I don't think everything passes. I would prefer that not everything passed.
I sat like that, falling into craters or dreaming with open eyes, but even if I dreamed any dreams, they were the kind you can't remember after you wake up, for there are dreams like that, and often when I dream a dream like that I know in my dreaming that I'm dreaming and that when I wake up I will not be able to remember anything. For there are dreams like that. So even if I dreamed with open eyes today, tonight rather, sitting in the "Shelter" on a barstool, smoking a cigarette, when I recovered after a while I couldn't remember any dream and I wasn't even bothered by it. I'm talking about dreams as if around me there were whole quarters of white sheets and darkness, and silence. No. I'm at the railroad station, in the waiting room in this city, and there is nothing like that here. In that "Shelter" there was nothing like that either. Although there was sleepiness in that "Shelter," despite laughter and yelling, but it was heavy sleepiness, sticky, flowing like wine, floating like smoke, bad sleepiness.
But first of all there were in this "Shelter" many young-others who drank a lot and yelled even more, but when any of them yelled too much, a young woman yelled at him: "Hey, buddy, maybe you could calm down a bit." I thought that she must be the queen there, or at least somebody important, for she sat in an armchair at the wall and everybody bowed to her, and those who were the loudest calmed down at once when she said: "Hey, buddy..." And then she got up and I wasn't surprised at all that the loudest calmed down, for when she got up, I saw her. And she had power in her eyes and she was huge, and she must have been strong, and could have knocked down more than one man in this "Shelter," for I didn't see in there any who were well built. Almost all the young-others were not well developed and they had to hide a flat chest under their shirt. And I'm not surprised, for smoke in the air is not ozone in the air, and they came there every night, I suppose, and breathed this rotten air, so I'm not surprised that they had to rot in this breathing. I myself was also starting to drift into laziness because of this air, and so I asked the barman for the bill. He smiled and said: "One zloty and 57 groszy." And I guessed right away that he wanted to play since these little one- and two-grosze coins had been gone for a while. I said: "So far I have a stomach ache." And we both laughed. Then he said: "You're good. One zloty and 63 grosze." And I: "Did you say something?" But in the end I paid one zloty and 60 groszy and I left. I walked through the lake of the corridor on my heels and I climbed up the stairs and walked outside.
I was greeted immediately by different air, fresh evening, not the way it is in the field or in the woods, but quite fresh, much more than in the "Shelter," if there can be anything fresh there. I asked some old-other how to get to the railroad station and started to walk in that direction, and soon that little joy of having played with the barman at the "Shelter" was gone, and I was overcome by hatred, which always gets me in the evening, as if it was the only spoil of every whole day. And still I know that I did not look for it to tear into me, but for a bit of tenderness, for a speckle of tenderness I looked all day in this city, on its bridges, the streets between bridges, for I have always missed it, and that's why I had to kill all of that, and I had to leave all of that, all that I loved so, for there was no tenderness in them for me. And I wandered on to the land of Nod, east of Eden, and I've been wandering a thousand days, and a thousand nights.
Now I am at the railroad station, in the waiting room, where there is no tenderness. It is night and in it there is no tenderness. I'm looking at the others. Oh, to sleep! To sleep in this always accursed hour! To sleep to not envy anybody anything.
And then to wake up. To wake up later, when I don't think anymore, when I don't wander, when I never wander anymore, not even in thoughts. Someone will come to me, take me by the hand, take care of me, take me by the hand and say: "My name is Olga. Close your eyes. I'm going to tell you about everything."