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Mira Rosenthal

An Offering for You, for Air, for Fire: On Tomasz Różycki’s Colonies

These poems all come from contemporary Polish writer On Tomasz Różycki’s sixth book, Colonies, which was published in 2006. The book is comprised of a concatenated series of 77 sonnets that build through resonance of theme and repetition of phrasing. I have been working on a translation of the book for four years now, presenting various excerpts in different forums and endeavoring to introduce Różycki’s poetry to American readers. His voice is vital, a completely different mode of addressing some of the most pertinent concerns in postmodern American culture, with an external perspective that has the ability to cut to the quick.

          The more specific one’s subject matter, it seems, the more universal. Różycki was born and still lives in the town of Opole, and the town’s history informs the core investigation at the heart of these poems. Known before 1945 as Oppeln and located in Germany, Opole was settled with Polish citizens when Poland’s borders were shifted west after World War II. Różycki’s family was forced to leave Lwów in the east, now Lviv in Ukraine, and relocated to Opole in the west. This personal history haunts Różycki’s writing and reminds us that, in the present, many find themselves in a similar kind of continued exile, in one way or another, be it in North America or the Middle East, in mind or spirit.

          A longing to locate any remnants of one’s lineage and, thus, find an authentic self in the midst of exile sets the action of these poems in motion. Whether it be travel to, fleeing from, or excavation of the speaker’s “gray familial lands,” the action reveals ambivalence. The authentic or consistent self is allusive—rather, the speaker in these poems often finds that there are many selves, multiplying, cloning, and propagating in a false world. Meanwhile, the place of true citizenship remains buried in history, at the center of the earth, while the speaker keeps digging, digging through the soil for any remnants that remain. Finally, in the poem “The Fifth Republic” included here, he finds a place of true citizenship at the earth’s firey core that turns it all instantly to ash.

          On the eve of the publication of Colonies in English (the book is due out next month from Zephyr Press), I am affirmed once again in the power of Różycki’s poetry to speak to Anglophone readers. Even in this brief excerpt, the elements are all there, including his investigation of language’s power to create the world (“this discourse that opens the darkness”) and the conflation of the loss of one’s homeland with the loss of childhood (“Who stole it all? And where is childhood?”). This is dynamic poetry, filled with restlessness and informed by a scrupulous mind we have the pleasure to watch work.

Tomasz Różycki
Hemp and Roots
      - translated by Mira Rosenthal

These herbs I planted by the house keep spreading
at night across the sidewalks, on the streets,
on billboards, and they try to penetrate
the floor and walls, to sprout behind our backs

between the floorboards underneath the table.
They smell, they smell profusely. All night long
you hear their whispers, chitchat. Hold your breath,
they’ll still be singing in your head. These herbs

I cast into the wind are talking, calling
from books and paper boats, from bed sheets, drawers,
and mildewed notebook pages. On the floor
a fallen seed is growing facial features,

a sex. It will be able to repeat
all vital words by the time I lay down.

Tomasz Różycki
The Gulf Stream
      - translated by Mira Rosenthal

There’s something, after all, that’s driving us,
this stream of air that makes our bodies race
along the freeway—Whose lips released it?
Where does it lead? Who guides it in the dead

of night, this discourse that opens the darkness,
with one clear sound turning its lock, finding
the law of increase? When we skim along
the wrong surface of night, of language, someone

fixes our commas. Someone guards the pulse
of April, of these strokes that can cut through
the inky depths. Which law commands the sea
to rise, and which preserves the body as

in amber? Superstitiously I make these marks,
an offering for you, for air, for fire.

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