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).
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,
The woman shouted back :
Bloody foreigners go back where you came from
and everyone looked down into their baskets
till we stepped back.
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.
THINK ABOUT IT
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)