Death of a Bookman # 14 / The General is dead. Long live his story…

 

 

  

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

  

The death of General Jaruzelski, one of the last great anti-heroes of the Cold War, has just been announced. And considering he stars in one of the stories from my collection Damn the Source, I thought it was apt to publish it here.
 

Years ago, as they started relaunching the James Bond franchise with Daniel Craig in the starring role, I wondered what happened to all the spies who suddenly found themselves out of work when the Iron Curtain fell? Where did those killers go? Home? Their paymaster motherlands no longer wanted them. Would they stay where they were, in London for example, and go on spying for the new regimes? Or find new employment? Or just go completely mental and go out in a blaze of violent glory?
 

This story is an attempt to answer the question…

 

* * *

 

WARHEAD

 

Satellites streamed images of the old General’s demise from the other end of Europe straight into Adam Staropolski’s North London living room. Slow-mo, constant repeat, pixellated blow-ups on all Polish news channels. The same ghastly scene of a bald, speckled man of eighty, thick dark glasses slipping from his nose, breathing his last on trial for high treason.
 

After a whole night of watching and drinking, Adam’s failing eyes were having a hard time focusing. He had seen enough of General Jaruzelski, his old childhood friend, in the dock for the supposed crime of crushing Solidarity and declaring martial law those thirty years ago, to know his demise had not been accidental. Someone must have slipped something into his prison breakfast. Or his customary glass of water. Or even the little microphone pinned to his lapel. Death injected or vapourised or swallowed. None in their game cared about traces of evidence, not since Litvinienko and his execution in that little sushi place in the heart of London. A radiation pill in a cup of black tea, flown over all the way from the Kremlin. The insane cheek of it. Litvinienko been ex-secret police too. FSB, KGB, and so what? With his Putin-backed killers still at large, nothing and no one could think themselves sacred or safe.
 
The sound of envelopes crashing through the letterbox in the hallway jolted him. Christmas was almost here, but was it too early for the real post man? Could it be a set up? Sarin in a greetings card? Even an old-fashioned letter bomb, pretending to be a seasonal gift?
 
Swaying, Adam rose from his armchair and walked through a forest of empty Guinness bottles towards the window and the old television set stood by it. Early light streamed through the lace curtains, piercing the low crowd of brown glass all around his slippers. During the weeks of hearings, as he had got drunker and drunker and the number of empty bottles grew, he had stopped taking them into the kitchen and simply let them collect on the living room floor, entertaining himself in breaks between hearings by arranging the little brown soldiers in various patterns. Simple military parades at first, lined-up regiments of empties, in honour of the old general. Then more complex arrangements, a detailed map of Britain, stretching out across the carpet, and now a large eagle, the Polish national emblem, cut in half by the path he had left to the TV.
 
Now there was nothing more to see. No need for further distractions. He turned off the screen, but the old tube held on to the image of the former head of state slumped in the dock. Or perhaps Adam was only imagining it? Having watched the dictator, the demagogue, once Poland’s most hated man, dying in full view of a thrilled public a hundred times over, it dawned on him, what they had done. The media. The stations. Maybe even the new secret services. Mocking that historic day in ’81 when, in full uniform, the General had put himself on national TV reading out his martial law decree. On all channels. Constant repeat. Followed by tanks and arrests and killings. And now they were getting him back. Screening the footage of the old man expiring a thousand times over again and again, an act of the most modern vengeance.
 
Adam felt giddy. If they could do that to the General, mock this publicly, this viciously, they could easily come for him. Even here, in London, a thousand miles distant. He walked back through the glowing glass bird, stopped beside some fading pictures scattered on the coffee table next to the armchair. Teenage Adam and the twenty-something Jaruzelski outside of occupied Warsaw in ’44. A year later, both of them riding a captured Tiger tank through the rubble of Berlin, Adam beaming, Wojtek poker-faced. Official photos from the Fifties and Sixties, two old friends now serving a Communist Poland. Jaruzelski climbing the army ranks, always in uniform, loyal from word go. Adam, then still called Aron, in a sharp, dark suit, part of the new political police force set up to scour the People’s Republic of Poland, hunting down the last of the partisan freedom fighters left over from the real war.
 
Adam gathered up the photographs, the only evidence he had left of his old life, then drew himself straight, staring out the window, expecting surveillance or even snipers to be waiting across the street. In that one moment of fear in his own house, he chose: no more waiting – he would strike before being struck. He would demand protection from the Polish embassy. Though he had not stepped through those doors since 1989, once he explained his past, showed them the photos and the papers, code words, letters, negatives, they would have to offer him sanctuary. Ship him to Poland, probably. Under another new name. One last chance to start over again.
 
Adam turned to look at his old living room. Everything perfectly English. Immaculately staged. The furnishings, the books, the piano, just like his accent. No pictures of any family. No evidence of tedious passions or hobbies. Nothing to show the unnatural machinery under the surface.
He caught himself looking in the massive mirror in the hallway. The ever dapper, ever tall, ever devastatingly handsome devil. At seventy something, he still could charm the pants off anything. That smile, teeth gleaming their porcelain lie. The baritone that melted thought and turned the stupidest remark into the wittiest come-on. And now the panic in the eyes as the front door rattled and another batch of junk mail dropped onto the hallway floor.
 
Hurriedly, he slipped on some shoes, grabbed his long overcoat, stuffed the photos in its inside pocket and left through the kitchen. On his way out, he pulled a long bayonet knife from the hiding place behind the fridge. The final souvenir from the battlefields of Russia, Poland and Germany. He secured the custom-made leather scabbard on a belt across his chest, concealed beneath his mac. It felt good, the weight of the weapon against his rib cage. Felt like the best and the last of him.
 

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 18.49.37
 

 

download the complete story in PDF here
 

 

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the book can be ordered here – Damn the Source
 

Marek Kazmierski

Founder Editor
 

The elephant in the room is weeping, the King stark raving naked.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

 

 

DAMN THE SOURCE / sample chapter / WARHEAD

 

 

As Poland’s infamous General Jaruzelski celebrates his 90th birthday, here for your reading enjoyment is a sample chapter from Damn The Source, the latest OFF_PRESS book.

 

Adam Staropolski, an ageing ex-spy, is taking a final walk around London, a city which was his political playground for many years. Now, as his best friend General Jaruzelski lies in a morgue in Poland, the capital bites back.

 
 
 
WARHEAD
 
 

“Satellites streamed images of the old General’s demise from the other end of Europe straight into Adam Staropolski’s North London living room. Slow-mo, constant repeat, pixellated blow-ups on all Polish news channels. The same ghastly scene of a bald, speckled man of eighty, thick dark glasses slipping from his nose, breathing his last on trial for high treason.

 

After a whole night of watching and drinking, Adam’s failing eyes were having a hard time focusing. He had seen enough of General Jaruzelski, his old childhood friend, in the dock for the supposed crime of crushing Solidarity and declaring martial law those thirty years ago, to know his demise had not been accidental. Someone must have slipped something into his prison breakfast. Or his customary glass of water. Or even the little microphone pinned to his lapel. Death injected or vapourised or swallowed. None in their game cared about traces of evidence, not since Litvinienko and his execution in that little sushi place in the heart of London. A radiation pill in a cup of black tea, flown over all the way from the Kremlin. The insane cheek of it. Litvinienko been ex-secret police too. FSB, KGB, and so what? With his Putin-backed killers still at large, nothing and no one could think themselves sacred or safe.

 

The sound of envelopes crashing through the letterbox in the hallway jolted him. Christmas was almost here, but was it too early for the real post man? Could it be a set up? Sarin in a greetings card? Even an old-fashioned letter bomb, pretending to be a seasonal gift?”
 
 
 
 

Read the rest of the chapter by clicking on the image below:

 

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About the author / Marek Kazmierski escaped communist Poland and settled in the UK as a child political refugee. He decided to become a writer, then worked as a librarian, a stripper and a prison governor, among others, to have something to write about. Today, he is translating, publishing and running a series of insider art initiatives. Not Shut Up, OFF_PRESS and Intersection are his babies.

 

eMigrating Landscapes Interview / Marek Kazmierski

 
 
DTS PR cover
 
June 2013
 
 

This is your first full-length publication. Please tell us a bit about what your literary career has been until now and how this collection of short stories was put together?
 
It’s pointless to talk about “careers” when discussing writing. Maybe even harmful. I’ve wanted to be a writer, little else, since my university days. I then spent ten years working, travelling, doing all sorts of reckless research to have something to write about. It wasn’t until I finished a novel and tried to get an agent that I realised the world of publishing is far more complex and, in places, insidious than expected. I did what I was told to “become a writer” – penning columns in newspapers, attending and running creative writing workshops, getting short stories published here and there, teaching, lecturing, etc. Even though I was still working in refugee centres, prisons, bars and the like, just not to know I had not lost that sense of connection with life outside of literature. This collection came out of a desire to prove something else as well. To show I can write in different voices, from different perspectives, as opposed to what a lot of contemporary writers, especially men, do – writing from their own solitary and often ditchwater-dull perspective.
 
These stories are various tales on displacement, on migrants, nomads, people who are looking for their place, but not always finding it. To what extent is it your personal experiences of an emigrant, but also someone who lives in London, the European centre of migration on one hand and on the other to what extent is it the result of your observation of the social and political change in Europe of last 10 years?
 
All the stories in the book are true in the sense that they happened either to people I know or read about in the press. As true as literature can ever be. Ten years ago, I didn’t know a single Polish person on this island. Now, I know hundreds, and that is just those involved in cultural animation and social work. But the book is not about the here and now alone. I meant it to be universal – through experiences of a specific group of people in a specific time and place for it to say something about reality to anyone anywhere on the planet. Young, old. Free, oppressed. Simple, smart. I believe in literature as “essential entertainment” – layered so that anyone can get something out if in a myriad of ways. I would run a marathon if I had to face the prospect of having to read Joyce or Hughes or Milosz again. They wrote books for their high-brow pals, and that is death on the page for me.
 
Among the ten central characters those who stand out are outsiders, for whom the symbolic disconnection from a “source”, cutting off from their roots, has had a rather negative effect. Do you agree with this reading of the book?
 
I have to. In spite of how “dark” the book looks and reads, I am a blessed with a sunny disposition. Painful experiences wash off of me, and things other people find depressing I often find inspiring. But on a more macro level, I don’t expect art to cuddle. If the people we read about don’t hurt, and aren’t sometimes destroyed by their own folly, we will never take anything from art other than distraction, a betrayal of what the power of storytelling can and should do. Especially that now, after a few decades of consumerist comfort zone, the world is starting to spin in all sorts of worrying directions.
 
Read the rest of the interview here: eMigrating Landscapes
 
 

Wooden / a short story by Joanna Kornelia Flisek



Wooden


A collection of wooden pieces resembling human faces may be placed in a box, extracted and laid out on a windowsill, then meticulously counted and caressed, or else scattered on the floor in anger. Bits of wood resembling human faces could be sticks that drifted ashore or were found in a forest among dead branches or in one’s backyard, next to the gates, or the dustbin, or the neighbour’s car. Fragments of physiognomy contained in her own collection were not immediately obvious, slight stains representing wrinkles and tightly shut eyelids, the depressions of sunken cheeks. Yet, she always knew which stick or piece of bark to pluck out when the feeling took her.


She had already gathered three hundred forty such pieces, including five which were broken, two of imposing proportions and one which was a gift from me. We usually tried to ignore her weird tendencies, keeping to the belief that they were only temporary. One day, however, I found something which completely grabbed my attention, although there was nothing I wanted more than to just move on. It was a small fragment of branch which glared at me with our father’s frigid stare. There was something more to it than just the reflection of his face. It was him, his fear of the world and of his own daughters, his horrid habits and his grief – all that embodied in this tiny piece of wood. When I gave it to my sister, it seemed that any day now a change would come, that maybe we would start treating her seriously, protecting her from all the people she was afraid of, or maybe it was them who feared her and only because she was shy, unattractive and she only had eyes for her pathetic little collection.


Unfortunately, a little later, something yet more unexpected happened. It started with an outburst of father’s anger, something which was far from rare, as it happens, though this time his rage surpassed all limits, outgrew its usual form. Reasons do not matter. I never fathomed them anyway. What matters is the moment when, held back only by her intimidating silence, he burst into the room, took the cardboard box from the drawer and cast it into the fireplace, the flames crackling jauntily.


The cardboard started to smoulder and so did the wooden entrails. I looked at my sister. Her eyes were set on the flames, pain and silent screaming frozen across her face. It looked as if all her beloved wooden faces had risen from the flames to lend her impassive countenance all their power of expression. This lasted only for a moment. Immediately after that, my sister’s body fell limply to the floor. Father and I exchanged glances, the fire swathing us with its warmth, then we put the swooned body to bed and returned to our ordinary lives. She stayed there for a very long while, as fragile as a wounded nestling.


The next day, nobody mentioned the incident. There was nothing to revisit anyway. My sister got up and joined us for breakfast, something indefinable lurking in her eyes, something we did not even attempt to fathom. It was not resentment, rather a question mark, skittish fear worse than most serious accusation. That gaze was tormenting us, driving us to distraction, sticking in our gullets and stopping us from making even the faintest sound. It exhausted us.


Fortunately, father soon enough came up with an idea and everything was arranged in no time. Her suitcase was packed, leaving drawers and shelves empty. It turned out we had some distant relatives he could call on, hundreds of miles from our town. Fortunately, everything went quickly and without a hitch.


There was only one thing that kept nagging me. Her collection of wooden pieces, all resembling human faces, did not burn to the last, some charred remains still resting in the fireplace as dormant as our guilty consciences. I couldn’t stand the mood in the end and, driven by some strange external coercion, I reached down, picked up a few wooden remains and tossed them into my pocket. They felt very heavy.



translated by Aleksandra Najda






Joanna Kornelia Flisek Born in ’91. Has not been published yet, but has filled a few notebooks with her words. One was quite thick. She is fascinated by the theatre of animated form and Bruno Schulz’s prose. Writes a blog asiafy.wordpress.com.



Joanna Kornelia Flisek Rocznik ‘91. Jeszcze nigdzie nie publikowała, ale zapisała już dużo zeszytów. Jeden był naprawdę bardzo gruby. Fascynuje ją teatr animowanej formy i proza Brunona Schulza. Prowadzi bloga asiafy.wordpress.com.


Adam Wiedemann / The Moon and his critic

 

 


The Sun, basking in its own light, gazed down at the Moon with a self-satisfied grin.


The Moon couldn’t face it. Being stared at always made him feel queasy.     The Sun always appeared rather icy in attitude, or perhaps it only felt that way at the vast distance which separated them. Then again, it might have been a question of the difference in their potential. The Moon’s literary output was far less substantial, and far less warmly received by critics, who fawned over every new Sun publication while turning up their collective noses at the Moon’s dark musings.


The Sun did make some attempts at maintaining cordial relations with the Moon, but these went nowhere. The Moon fumed in isolation, becoming ever more bitter.


Ireneusz Kurbiel, a renowned literary critic, was perhaps the only friend the Moon had. Kurbiel had devoted his life to the promotion of his works, and though other critics grew to ignore the Moon Kurbiel remained true to his first love. He was thrilled with the complex narrative structures, individual tales seen from pessimistic perspectives suspended in a cosmic void, blending sparkling commentary with changing perspectives of consciousness.


It should be noted that the Moon’s works could never be considered easy to digest, but their intellectual dryness somehow suited Kurbiel’s palate. The Moon’s books tended to languish in unsold piles, while the Sun’s populist products flew off shop shelves in their millions. Kurbiel himself had to take some credit for this imbalance, his convoluted deconstructions only helping to cloud the already murky stories the Moon produced.


The Sun’s outpourings were by comparison based on simpler mechanisms. Readers found them full of the joys of life, brimming with illusory visions of existence without care. His narratives brimmed with wild adventure, the heroes, defined by generic character flaws and superficial beliefs, presented as models to young people. Everyone marvelled at their sensual, spontaneous style, always seeming to defy convention, yet always surrendering to it in the end.


For the inexperienced reader the works of the Sun appeared to be more inventive than those of the Moon, who reached real depths using very few, yet very carefully selected strokes. The literary asceticism the Moon displayed did not in any way mean that his output was any less artistic. He achieved greatness by default, without having to resort to Sun-like pyrotechnics.


The Sun spoilt by the critics. The Moon steeped in misery. This is how literature in those days was divided. The latter’s slim volumes started appearing at ever less frequent intervals. Cultural circles began whispering about the irreversible decline of teh Moon’s creativity, while Ireneusz Kurbiel was forced to confront the possibility of both professional and personal disaster.


Meanwhile, a small publishing house by the name of Cosmos, specialising in limited print run editions of the Moon’s titles, received an unexpected and rather hefty new manuscript. The editor couldn’t contain his joy. The Moon had written a proper novel, one whose narrative was unputdownable. Sensing a best-seller, the editor decided not to share it with Kurbiel until it was actually in the shops, so as not to jinx the new arrival.


A major advertising campaign for the book caught the distinguished critic unawares. Kurbiel, having worked closely with Cosmos for some years, at first felt offended. Being excluded from the editing and publishing processes felt like an insult aimed at him in full view of the literary establishment. Yet, at the same time, there was a ray of hope that this would signal the return of the Moon’s previous creative mastery.


Alas, the book sold in vast quantities. Literary publications and the populist press, usually on the Sun’s side, sang its praises. Kurbiel, however, remained silent.


The literary world poised itself for the publication of his monthly review column in the obscure journal Night. The piece finally appeared, consisting of just two sentences:


The latest work from the Moon, aptly titled “The Sun”, is, apart from all its superficial brilliance, the darkest piece of writing I have ever read. The Moon has come to believe he is the Sun.


Having written these words, the critic threw himself from his own balcony, his death instantaneous.


The Sun could smile once again. The Moon turned its dark side towards it and vanished.

 

 

 

© translated by Marek Kazmierski

 

 

 

Taken from the collection “Odpowiadania”, published by Rita Baum 2012

 



Adam Wiedemann, (born 1967 Krotoszyn), Polish poet, novelist, translator, literary and music critic; winner of the Kościelski Poetry Prize 1999, nominated three times for the NIKE, Poland’s top literary prize, also winner of the Gdynia Prize for Literature in 2008 for the volume “pensum”. His work has been published in Tygodnik Powszechny, Oder, Kresy, Nowy Wiek, Czas Kultury, Pro Arte, Kursywa, Ha! Art, Rita Baum and Dziennik Portowy. He has been a regular columnist in the Res Publica Nowa and Przekroj.


Adam Wiedemann, (ur. 24 grudnia 1967 w Krotoszynie), polski poeta, prozaik, tłumacz, krytyk literacki i muzyczny; laureat Nagrody Kościelskich 1999, trzykrotnie nominowany do nagrody Nike. Laureat Nagrody Literackiej Gdynia 2008 za tom Pensum. Publikował m.in. w Tygodniku Powszechnym, Odrze, Kresach, Nowym Wieku, Czasie Kultury, Pro Arte, Kursywie, Ha!arcie, Ricie Baum, Dzienniku Portowym. Był stałym felietonistą w Res Publice Nowej i Przekroju.


Przemek Gulda /// Between Stations



And so you look on as more and more dead villages and dull little towns go by, followed by warehouses, forests and the occasional control towers of moustachioed junction switchmen who stare out of the rooms where they work, eat, watch television, sleep, celebrate religious holidays and eventually pass away. They stare like the old women down narrow town streets nearby, resting, in royal fashion, on cushions perched on window sills, only the view before them different. Instead of young people, rushing to and from work, to and back from shopping, to kindergarten, from kindergarten, with a howling babe in arms to some obligatory family dinner, back from same obligatory family dinner with faces that tell of pain, instead of all that the switchmen have before them trains rushing along predestined courses, full of successful folk, laptops open wide, sitting side by side with unsuccessful folk, sandwiches peeled of tin foil, wristwatches ticking all their lives away. For the switchmen it is almost like being at the movies, rectangular compartment window after rectangular compartment window flying by, the frames of a never-ending film about real life, some within arguing, others cuddling, everyone, including the switchmen, existing but for that one moment, disappearing in the distance, replaced soon enough by so many others.


And so sometimes you wave back, without once trying to work out what they could be thinking about you, what sort of a life they might be inventing, be having you live. All you know is that nothing they can imagine could be worse than the reality of what you are experiencing right now.


Four hours of travelling to go. Four there and four back and between them all those control towers set right by the train tracks, the name of each junction coded in some unintelligible railway language, etched beneath their windows. Eight hours altogether. And even before you leave home you often wonder what else could be done with so much time. In eight hours, you could fly to the other end of the world, start a whole new life. In eight hours, you could visit endless nightclubs, meet enough friends, drink yourselves into proper stupor. In eight hours, you could make so much love, lose all sense of all those hours passing by, all sense of time and place, nothing mattering anyway. For those eight hours, you could be sat behind a desk in an immaculately pressed suit, pushing valuable papers about, in that one working day earning more than those railway switchmen earn in a year. Eight endless hours to hold out on these short, regional trains, in carriages where the heating never works, where toilets never have running water, from which the old restaurant carriages have forever been disconnected and no one bothers to walk past offering colourfully packaged refreshments like they do on  intercity express trains or jet planes soaring far from here. In eight hours you leave behind thousands of towns and hamlets and villages, none of which you would have ever seen, ever thought of, if not for these trips, thousands of places where some semblance of normal life still goes on, the sort you struggle to try and still remember, nose glued to the compartment window, even though actually you couldn’t care less about any of it any more. For eight hours, you try to read the books you always bother to pack for the journey, turning page after page, laboriously, never into the narrative, never in the action, never connecting with any protagonist. Else you try studying from the school textbooks and notes you sometimes drag along, though can never fix in memory any of the countless dates, figures, definitions and myriad of other data they want crammed into your teenage head. For eight hours you find yourself in some other, utterly different world, a chink between worlds, a place no news can reach, or where that which does is somehow diluted, twisted, hollow. And you no longer know how to kill time, how to stop those hours lasting as long as they do, how to numb yourself against this journey, a journey becoming ever more painful each time you choose to yet again take it.




Marta Górska – A few out of a thousand nights




Night and Day

A long, long time ago, there lived a little boy. Every time he left the house, the sun would vanish, the world outside turning dark. People called him Night. Once, Night overheard them saying that whenever he returned home something strange happened outside. It wasn’t dark, quite the opposite, it “brightened up” and all around a new world, unknown to him, came into being. He decided to find out if this were true for himself and so one evening left his window slightly ajar, to spy on the goings on outside. What happened next went beyond anything he could have imagined. A little girl came out of the house opposite. The moment her feet touched the doorstep, the sun began to rise slowly and the boy, for the first time ever, saw light. People called her Day. Day looked at him for a split second, which was enough for him to vanish. And yet, from that moment on, Night and Day always stand at the same time in the same place, a moment before the sun realises it has to either rise or set. This is their time beyond time, somewhere in between.


Agnieszka Kłos – NEW GERMANY




Germany greeted me with chewing gum. I found it, right under my feet, on the floor of the central station in Dresden, changing trains. Likely dropped by a teenage girl or some suited sort, who’d eaten something a little too greasy in the buffet. The shop was empty and the packet of gum was lying there, next to my shoe. I picked it up and stuffed it into my coat pocket with a thickly gloved hand. I didn’t want any nosey shopkeeper to think I was a thief. The gum was divine. It tasted of delicate mint and reminded me of all the gums I’d had when little. They too had been delicate and soft. No lost fillings. You could mould them with your tongue and toy with their shape in your mouth. I thought, since Germans are this welcoming this early on, that I would feel at home here.

Simon Guest – Złota Polska Jesień (Golden Polish Autumn)





September is a delightful month. Summer is slowly bowing out, with autumn yet to make an entrance. Jesianą dni są ciepłe I ładne – autumn days are warm and nice. In towns and cities, the change is marked by the slow ebb of pavement tables and chairs and the return of the leafleteer to every street corner, while in the country the transformation is more subtle. Gradually leaves lose their sheen and slowly, as the trees start to shut down for the winter, they turn yellow, then orange and russet and finally brown before giving up entirely and drifting slowly earthwards, to collect in drifts and piles wherever they may lie undisturbed, homes for insects and rodents, hiding dead dogs and patches of mud.

Marcin Bałczewski – Alexander von Kler




1. Alexander

Alexander von Kler, son of Austrian émigrés. Born in Belitor at the start of 1958. In all fairness, a man whose life sort of passed him by. Never good at anything in particular. Not even petty crime. Which is what he was – a small time crook. Always caught in the act, most often thieving, pickpocketing or pilfering from supermarket shelves. Then spending most of his life behind bars. First in a borstal, then a proper jail. This son of Austrian émigrés.

He did try his luck with an Elizabeth Moorey, but it didn’t pan out. Unsurprisingly. Again, the fault of his ill-starred nature. In 1994, while serving time in Penstyle, one of his usual retreats, Alexander was told of the tumour. He was not surprised, having been a habitual smoker since his earliest days, going through up to four packs a day. Which is probably why news of the illness didn’t make any particular sort of impression on him. Some two year later, doing time following the theft of a Volvo automobile, an unexpected visitor brought him a proposition from the Institute of Development for the Good of Humankind. Its representatives had selected him as a potential candidate for their research. Following his impending demise, Alexander’s body would be divided into three parts and then placed in three separate departments of the Institute, located in three distant parts of the globe. Without pausing to ponder for long, von Kler accepted the offer. What other disaster could fate throw his way? And so, a few days after his death, on the 17th of June 1998, Alexander’s body was carved threefold with laser beams and packed off to three separate ends of the earth. The flesh of this son of Austrian émigrés.


Three London Decades of Piotr Czerwinski – a mini-memoir




In the spring of ’89, I had long hair and a mere seventeen years under my belt. Poland was readying itself for the now infamous June elections, set to kill off communism, though my father suspected that instead of freedom they would bring a swarm of Soviet tanks into our streets, not unlike previous such attempts had done in other parts of Central Europe, where they had tried to win their democratic freedoms the peaceful way. My father was a freedom fighter by trade, this of course before he learnt other, less confrontational forms of employ. He’d spent the last great War firing his home-made machine gun and blowing up trains. Unfortunately, the freedom fighting movement he had signed his life up to was supported by the Polish Government in Exile, then based in London. When the War ended and Red Rule begun, it was replaced by a government which did not look kindly on the likes of my father and his fellow partisans, all because they liked their freedom so much they were willing to fight for it.

And so, that fateful spring of ’89, my father took my seventeen year old self aside and said: Son, we are sending you on a little trip to London. When the tanks get here, you will stay over there, in exile, just like those lads who recently escaped in a long-distance lorry, and all will be well. Don’t worry about us, we’ll manage somehow.

Paweł Paliwoda – WHY THURSDAY




Since time immemorial, philosophers have been asking about the meaning of life, but I know…


People are not afraid of Thursday the thirteenth, because Thursday the thirteenth has no ring of superstition about it. People are not afraid of superstitions on any other Thursdays either, be they the twelfth of the twenty eighth. There is little point in fearing superstitions, because they can’t do shit, no harm will come of them. On the other hand, things are not quite so simple, because on the other hand…

Ryszard Sawicki – CASTING FACES



I took the face out, carefully, trying not to damage the reflection, a little fragile and warm still. The plaster mask cooled slowly in my hands, as I looked at its interior. I could see the imprint of the eye brows and nose, forehead and lips. I could see myself from within.


I was overwhelmed by a strange feeling. Probably not because I had made the first ever plaster cast of my own face and could see something I had never looked upon before (no mirror could offer such a perspective), but also because I had read Paz’s poems about the process of permeation. His words speak of touch, and the aftermath of touch, the kind I was experiencing having removed the mask in the cool, empty room which served as my workspace that night.

Piotr Czerwinski – KURRVICULUM EIRE



Written in a Brit-Pol jargon, this is a novel about two very different Poles who have gone to seek their fortunes in the Emerald Eire. Working in a Dublin factory, their days are filled with mind-warping monotony. To counter its effects, they escape into a surreal world of cartoons, music and daydreams about the return of the Little Prince.

Involving, original and wildly relevant, this is the kind of fairytale no one expected…

Already published to serious acclaim in Poland, OFF_ gives you a teaster taste of its translation;


Piotr Siwecki – WE’LL WEEP FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE





– For God’s sake… let’s finish… enough for now?… – thought the man with short hair and glasses.

– We need many more flowers to be walking beautifully… – thought the woman in a black biker

jacket, skinny black jeans and black suede boots. This is not her favourite outfit… today, though,

this is the only thing she could wear… leather jacket, black underwear, black jeans, black boots…

only in this outfit – this is what she felt, feels and will feel… only in this outfit does she feel today

enough appropriate distance to that which has happened…. in thought, speech, deed and

dereliction…

Leaning across the passenger seat, she opened the door of her black Toyota for the man.

At first he sat with his back to her.

Tomasz Ososiński – Fragments from a journey



Frankfurt, Flughafen


I

The restaurant is rather empty. The blank tables, their very centres, set with salt and pepper. White Chinese women, with the air of porcelain dolls, help themselves to heaped plates of colourful food from the buffet.


II

White sausage-shaped planes are laid out in even rows, each one labelled with a brightly coloured rudder. Those waiting in the departure lounge from time to time cast hungry looks their way.


Poems

The writing of a poem is the shielding of uttered words (words with simple meanings) with additional dependencies: phonetic links, semantic relativities, visual connections – we protect them, make access more difficult, in the understanding that we are no longer in Eden, and therefore words should not go naked either. Not to write poetry means: to behave as if one were still in Eden.

Konrad Stachnio – DRYF

Evening time. Workers streaming out of factories and workshops, vanishing somewhere in empty space. The chill of rotting leaves slowly envelopes all. Before us once more the vast and rather inconsequential mystery of life playing itself out – slowly seeping through everything.

Icy silence, black abandoned trees, grey empty parks, hollow streets, the smell of chimney smoke, alleys abandoned and extinguished, littered with leaves. The light cool already, slowly departing, so unlike that which fully warms in July. Now is time to put on a thick sweater, a woollen scarf and hole up somewhere far from people. Reading books, firing up the stove, taking long walks in deserted parks, studying this slow and silent provincial life; shrunken women wandering through the dusk after work, shopkeepers noticing and with some ever so subtle gestures letting us know they too sense the same melancholy and the cool, ancient sadness, in spite of their inherent coarseness.