Maria Jastrzebska

Born in Warsaw, Maria Jastrzebska is a poet, editor and translator living in the U.K. Recent collections include Syrena (Redbeck Press) and I'll Be Back BeforeYou Know It (Pighog Press).

Babcia Zosia

Oj Babciu
I never got a chance to tell you.

No bo niby jak, kiedy?

I loved your gravelly voice

even lower than Babcia Kicia's

and everyone thought she was a bloke.

"Eye um nott sur, Eye um madam!"

she'd bellow down the phone.

You rasped like a jazz singer

in some smokey dive bar,

gruff with sex.

Your voice didn't match how you looked -

cropped silver hair and sensible shoes.

I heard stories about you,

widowed young, no kids, driving

ambulances in the war, oj Babciu.

Za malo, za malo o Tobie wiem.

Your clothes were shabbier than ours.

We had our first electric fridge,

you put food out in snowdrifts on the sill.

We watched Dr.Who, while you tried

to get the BBC World Service on your radio

when the Russians didn't jam the signal.

You promised you'd be back to see me

but you didn't sound sure,

'if I can save enough pennies', you said.

Oj Babciu. I already knew.

babcia - gran, granny


The big shop -

I helped carry the bags

which left my hands stinging,

red stripes across the palms.

Sometimes she'd leave me

by the check out,

while she dashed back

for something she'd forgotten.

As the queue inched forward

I'd stop breathing:

what if she didn't get back in time

what would I say to the cashier?

But this time we were together

when another woman slipped in front of us.

My mother wasn't going to let that happen,

complained loudly.

The woman shouted back :

Bloody foreigners go back where you came from

and everyone looked down into their baskets

till we stepped back.

Bladdifor aynerr.

The grown ups would pass this word

between them like a novelty,

scoffing - something to get used to

like soggy sausages or smog.

I refused to go there again,

so my mother went on her own,

each week carrying all the bags home.


How do you think

I got here? Blown in

on a yellowing leaf? Do you think

we seeped into your cities

or your suburbs with the rain?

How do you think it happened?

Do you think we rode

the backs of waves, shattering -

flotsam jetsam against white cliffs?

Or did we spring out of the earth

from seeds you'd sown

and then forgotten.

Every one of us came here

for a reason. Ask

your ministers, your generals.

Ask them what treaties they signed

ask what they bartered and stole

what game they used us for.

Or will you go on thinking

we simply fell out of the sky

and that is why we smoulder still?


"Europa" -I'll Be Back Before You Know It (Pighog Press 2009)

"Babcia Zosia" - Ambit magazine and Images of Women anthology ed. Myra Schneider & Dilys Wood (Arrowhead Press)

"Fridays" - Smiths Knoll, Second Light

"Think About It" - in my collection Syrena (Redbeck Press)


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