Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Aleksandra Byrska : four translations from the Polish by Mark Tardi


Are you flying with us to rescue koalas?

In my dreams, I’m on horseback escorting a bus full of kids. A haunted
ranger beelining across the country
to the cold Polish sea.
My left hemisphere’s already pure glitter,
chaff snowing with the colors of the rainbow.
Let’s go pick the pouchy bears from the trees. Give out
candy free hugs colorful pictures.
We’ll cover the ashes with popcorn, well build
castles & swimming pools for the animals.
The simple point of life –– to have a koala in your crib.
In the right hemisphere, flames,
hot coal underfoot.
An alarm in the frontal lobe,
the bus is veering off the road.

The Teacher Doesn’t Like Us

I close my eyes. So the body’s rebelling in the service of the system. Specialists can’t
figure out –– if I’m falling asleep or losing consciousness.
Then the tired neurons cower within themselves, withdrawing dendrites. This is how I
imagine it.

I open my eyes. I fail for a
living, change forms,
migrate to spores.
Youll listen
write, recite. And write again.
I’ll teach you
that you must never use
the acquired reflexes.

About the Behavior in Class

Do I have a soothing effect on you?

A herd of unicorns galloping across your synapses, the cold high sea
waves. A sharp wind. Yes.
The wan light of the screens. The silent herd sucked into smartphones. Door
closed. Yes.
Little pink tablets with benzodiazepines. Bardzo sweet. Yes.
Roaring herds disguised as animals in the corridors. No.
Your affectionate friendship with the garbage can. No.
Toilet paper installations. Nie, przepraszam.
Get away from the window. Sit down. Conjugate:
Im broken. Youre broken. Were all broken.



floating in sticky warm water, the head
ache moves from forehead to back
a hot liquid thick with existence
sticks to the skin, pulls the hair

sand in the throat irritates the esophagus
opens the burning eyelids
it’s everywhere
irritates the nostrils, sticks behind the nails
the chalk


the branchy cycads, the evergreen araucaria,
soft ferns,
strange creatures with fragile shells
drifting in warm waters
I carry you with me everyday

calcite in the lungs
calcite on black clothes
calcite behind the nails
calcite particles under the eyelids
layers of calcite that insulate hearing


Good morning kids
don’t trust the teacher

Mrs. O. inhaled the chalk
calcite –– a substance
from the world of dinosaurs, ferns,
mighty turtles, the hot sea

calcites a tool of the Prussian school
don't ask what she is

so Mrs. O. is dangerous
her enthusiasm has been exhausted
they mock her on street corners
drag her name thru the online mud

Mrs. O.s a tainted individual
schooling twisted her spine
now the system distorts her face


I sit down in the corner of the classroom & raise my eyebrows mockingly
I look at myself fighting under the blackboard

a precise dance with chalk in hand
sweeping, energetic movements
so let's dance dear parts of speech

me at the blackboard & me at the back of the class
we eye each other
we raise our eyebrows


–– I already know why you always have dirty pants.

And what shall I tell you, child?
A fairy tale about ammonites and osteochondral fish?
Cretaceous, Jurassic, Triassic.
Outbid you for grief?
Permian, Carboniferous, Devonian.
Or shall we play?
There are so many dark tales about the extortion
of so-called respect.
Silurian, Ordovician, Cambrian.
Think before you repeat yourself.

–– Wash your hands before you go back to your desk.

Aleksandra Byrska (b. 1990): a graduate of literary criticism at the Faculty of Polish Studies of the Jagiellonian University, and now a PhD student at the Faculty of Polish Studies at the Jagiellonian University dealing with Polish prose after 2010. She edited the cultural magazine Fragile and is the author of the play Śnieg [Snow] published in the anthology Nasz głos [Our Voice] by the Helena Modrzejewska National Stary Theater in Kraków. She is a speech therapist and also works as a Polish language teacher.

Mark Tardi is the author of The Circus of Trust (Dalkey Archive Press, 2017), Airport music (Burning Deck, 2013), and Euclid Shudders (Litmus, 2004). His translation of The SquattersGift by Robert Rybicki is forthcoming in 2021 from Dalkey Archive Press.  Prologue, an award-winning cinepoem collaboration with Polish multimedia artist Adam Mańkowski, has been screened at film festivals throughout Europe and the United States. He was a writer-in-residence at MASS MoCA in January 2020 and will be a research fellow at the Harry Ransom Center in 2021. A former Fulbright scholar, he is on faculty at the University of Łódź.

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