Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two Books by Maria Jastrzębska

In these two books -- Everyday Angels and I'll Be Back Before You Know it -- there are poems for anyone who has ever lived in two countries, two languages, two hearts at once.

Maria Jastrzębska was born in Warsaw in 1953 and came to England as a young child when her parents escaped from Poland. She writes poems that are at the same time here in the new world (England or America, call it what you will) and there in the old world (Poland). Her poems explore the borderland between lives and countries that all exiles, refugees, and immigrants live in, the shadow land of objects, places, and people that sometimes as sure as stone and other times elusive as dreams.

What her poems do in these two books is to make this shadow land, this border between here and there, real to the reader in the way that only poetry can be. She slows down the swirling calls of time and memory and allows us to rest for a moment in that changeless place she has created, regarding the ashes in our hands, the ones that refuse to be ashes.

These are deeply personal poems that speak directly and clearly to the reader. I saw this immediately in "Europa," the first poem in the wonderfully titled I'll Be Back Before You Know It.


There was a smell before I was born.
It came across fields
dotted with sows, above yards

where thin chickens scratched
in the dust, past cordons
of pines, scaring out quails.

It was stronger than the smog
of Nowa Huta, which eats away
stone faces and newborn lungs.

How could you miss it
when it rose from chimney stacks
along that flat skyline

or blew over rivers and broken
telegraph wires to spread
above schools and church spires?

Ladies dabbed Chanel Number 5
on their fox furs to ward it off -
gents lit the fattest cigars.

Gents with made-up eyes, ladies
with shingled hair and monocles
danced rumbas and milongas

but overnight they vanished.
Not even alcohol or opium
could dispel it - the smell

stayed in the air.
Soon everyone coughed.
Some politely, some not.

In Ms. Jastrzębska's more recent book Everyday Angels, she continues to explore this borderland and her exploration, I think, becomes a search for what lasts in this life and the one we left behind. I see this in many of the poems, but perhaps most clearly in the poem that ends this volume.


No one
expected them

to live this long.
Their bodies sharp

sticks. Whitened
by mildew. Skin

mottled by every
disease known.

Buds form

in spite of them,
rotting before.

they've had a chance
to open, like words

misshaped by
the lips,

coated in cuckoo
spit, petals

darkening too soon.
One or two

survive, nodding
high, lucidly

sweet, impossible
to reach.


Everyday Angels is available from the publisher at, I'll Be Back Before You Know It from Pighog Press.

Contact information for Ms. Jastrzębska can be found at her webpage.

Poems by Ms. Jastrzębska appeared in the issue of KRITYA devoted to Polish Diaspora writers, edited by Christina Pacosz and me.

To read more about Maria Jastrzębska, please go to the Poetry International website.

1 comment:

Danusha Goska said...

Beautifully written review and good poetry whet the reader's appetite for more!