Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

Krystyna Dabrowska (Poland, 1979)




Krystyna Dabrowska (born in 1979) is a poet, translator, and essayist. She graduated from the Graphics Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She is the author of poetry books: Biuro podróży (Travel Agency, 2006), Białe krzesła (White Chairs, 2012), Czas i przesłona (Time and Aperture, 2014). For her second book, Białe krzesła, she won Kościelski Award (2013) and the Wisława Szymborska Award (2013). Her poems were translated into English, German, Russian, Swedish, Italian, Greek, French and Portuguese. They were published in various literary magazines in Poland as well as abroad (Akzente, Sinn und Form, Harper’s Magazine).

Her translations include poems of W. C. Williams, W. B. Yeats, Thomas Hardy, Thom Gunn and Charles Simic. She translated also two early satires of Jonathan Swift (The Battel of the Books; A Tale of a Tub, published in 2013) and The Thirteen Petalled Rose. A Discourse on the Essence of Jewish Existence and

She lives and works in Warsaw.

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Travel Agency


I am a travel agency for the dead,
I book them flights to the dreams of the living.
Famous celebrities apply to me, like Heraclitus,
to be able to visit a writer who’s in love with him,
but so do the lesser-known dead – like a farmer from Wasiły village,
wishing to advise his wife on matters of rabbit breeding.
Sometimes several generations of a family charter an airplane
and land on the brow of their final descendant.
I also have dealings with the murdered,
who on regular trips to the dreams of the survivors,
collect up points in a frequent flyer program.
I never deny my services to anyone.
I find them the very best connections
and I reproach myself when a young lover,
to get into his girlfriend’s dream,
must make a transfer in the dream of a snoring crone.
Or when weather conditions force an emergency landing
and the dead man calls me: do something,
I’m stuck in the dream of a terrified child!
Incidents like these mean stress and a challenge
for me, a minor business with major ambitions –
for though I have no access either to the dead men’s world
or into other peoples’ dreams,
thanks to me they come in contact.

 

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As a child I would stand in an open doorway, while one of my parents
set a ruler to my head,
and marked a line in pencil on the doorframe.

Later there were other doorways, in which ambition made me stand.
Drawing a sharp and solid line, it would test how much I had grown.

Now you’re measuring me, and I’m measuring you.
Two horizontal trembling lines –
our bodies

nestle into each other, penetrate
and there’s no higher or lower, there are no measures.

 

Siblings

 

An aged woman dances flamenco.
In her effort a former lightness smolders.
She is tall and slender like a humpbacked heron,
her skirt has frills and ruffles, her cheeks are sunken in.
The aged woman dances like a young one,
a girl who perished during wartime.
After the show she wipes off the make-up, takes off the wig
and dress, then puts on pants and a jacket
and becomes the person she is off stage:
a male one – the dead girl’s brother.
The aged man goes back to his home.
He wove it himself from scraps of the past,
photographs, posters and newspaper cuttings.
In between hang the dresses, which he sews by hand:
multi-colored birds of paradise.
And his sister’s portrait, fresh flowers beside it.
At one time they travelled the countries of Europe,
a celebrated teenage dancing couple.
Then came the ghetto, escaping, separation.
He told himself straight that if he had survived
it was only to be her embodiment in dance.
The aged dancer brews a pot of tea.
Silence. It’s time the lights went out.
Quite soon now he’ll go to bed, but first, just as he is,
with no costume or powder, he dances tap in the kitchen doorway
to the beat of the bone-hard rattle of castanets.

 

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I cannot say we, not unless we
is a hyphen between me and you,
that carries across a spark, though sometimes
it’s like a tug of war.
I cannot write we, not unless we
is a bracket for the two of us, the room in which we sleep,
from which we are trying to drive out a hornet.
Not unless we is all four of our eyes:
they watch as the hornet scratches in the lampshade,
it’s brown with stripes of gold, see that – what a beauty.
I cannot write myself into a we greater
than buzzing, wing-inscribed circles
orbiting you and me, that intersect each other
and grow away from us, moving ever further.

 

 

The Face Of My Neighbor

 

1
The face of my neighbour, the professor,
whose wife had died,
had suddenly become naked, deprived of a cover.
Whenever I ran into him in the yard
and he started to talk unexpectedly frankly
of all the things that reminded him of her,
I felt as if I were seeing his face for the very first time.

Like the house across the way –
till recently a large chestnut shielded it,
but a storm damaged the tree and it had to be cut down.
And before the gap is grown over by habituation,
I can see the windows, life happening within them.

 

2
A shirt light in color. The head of a Roman patrician.
An inviolate parking space
by a low wall, where after the rain
snails do their parking too.
I spent a long time thinking: the perfect gentleman,
he goes through his well-ordered life
just as he goes through the yard each morning.
I’d have given him seventy at most.
He’s eighty-two years old, he told me recently,
as a boy he was in the Warsaw ghetto.
His father and brother perished. His mother and he survived.

Alina Szapocznikow wrote about the baptism of despair.
How many people are silent about what they have been through.

 

 

At The Crossroads

 

At the crossroads of narrow, busy streets
– one of them, steep as a waterfall,
forces its way into the current of the other –
weary and hungry, we’re making a stop.

In a bar’s brightly lit window the server
shakes a salt cellar like a censer
over a paper bag of eggplant slices
and zucchini flowers in hot batter.

The crispy horn of plenty! We’re sitting at the bar
on stilt-like stools amid the trash
and we’re watching the people. Women on scooters,
in a crowd of pedestrians, hung about with kids like baby monkeys,

 

a gaggle of teenage girls on their evening hunt,
their navels exposed, their sights cocked.                                              
Immigrants: African men slender as trees
(beside them the locals are stocky little bushes)

and Pakistani women, with languor in their eyes,
bearing silence in the jangle. At the crossroads
there’s joy as our lines of vision cross,
fork apart, and unite, both interlaced and separate.

You see strata, tribes and nations,
I fish out the individual faces,
as if we were jointly painting a picture.
And we’ve a common home in these pictures.

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Published on April 30th, 2016

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