Witness

London, December 2021 ©JStadnicki, 2021
At the supermarket's meat counter, 
they sell ropes. Yellow and blue. Things
we need when weather turns bad. 
One could never be sure when the boat
needs tying off to a cleat. 
At checkout, we talk of hurricane Ursula.
It was in the news, it is now by the docks.
My bottled green sea is resting on shelves. 


Across the isle, a woman looks out.
Trains deliver milk and morning newspapers;
at the end of his shift, a night watchman 
lights a cigarette watching umbrellas running
to shelter. He has nowhere else. His children 
sent him a blank telegram. Monochrome winds,
he thinks. Time to repair, to build. 
The house he was born in no longer exists. 



© Maria Stadnicka 2021
From Somnia (2020) published by the Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, edited by Alec Newman. Cover image - artwork © Mark Mawer
The book is available here and here.
Oxford Street, London, December 2021 ©JStadnicki 2021

Urban Afterlife

After a funeral, paperwork sits
at the end of desk rows. 

Undertakers pause to change 
suits before shift handover,

diesel engines flatten down 
places of rest. Glass, iron, gravel.

Machines know: cities grow 
in negative spaces, oil traces gift

buildings with signs of the cross. 
Gliding hawks operate traffic 

for clear passage. Night drops
its guard. Machines argue.

Power cuts add imagination 
to people's lives. So much for

ending day's work seeking dawn. 


© Maria Stadnicka, 2021. Published in Shearsman 129 & 130, October 2021. 

Tree Chopping

Photography: © MStadnicka, MMXIV ‘Late O’

(after Rainer Maria Rilke)


River bank meadows have
all the time in the world.


Their pulse slows to a teardrop 
before any changes in weather. 


It turns to cement, turns to
salt mixed with root clumps,


for winter seeps through layers
of sunset under glass ceiling.


Our tree chopping season grows 
heavy with chalk, a burial site for


the things we once loved that
have fallen and broken in to pieces. 



© Maria Stadnicka, June 2021, Stroud.

Exodus. Chapter Ten. Paragraph Four.

© JStadnicki, Factory MMXXI, Gloucestershire

I am seven, I have committed a crime and I am going to prison where my brother won’t visit for fear of being locked up as well. My mates say if I stare at the classroom walls Mister Williams can’t read my thoughts; a plaster-god weaved a shield around my body that made me invisible.

Open your Bible at ‘Exodus’ chapter ten, paragraph four, he says.

[…and Moses answered: Oh, God, I am slow of speech…]

I spent so long in the company of my laptop that I am becoming a keyboard. I jump over squares in conversation when real things are the wrong way around. They are so loud it is impossible to miss them even if I can barely see at all. Each shortcut leads to a mistake I had made, to a crime I will commit. 

Press “space bar” to be born.

Press “escape” to swear in emojis.

I bear the weight of a full stop God’s tongue drops on my back. I trusted God to wake me up for school with a packed lunch. At breaktime I hear rumbling and my heartbeat. Mister Williams warned me: when you get upset your heart grows a claw which pokes at the ribcage until you pass out. 

To avoid passing out, I have stolen a girl’s lunchbox. I am a thief who will go to prison and die hungry.

How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?

It gets lighter. I eat my past in small bites and praise the Lord. 

© Maria Stadnicka, April 2021

Vertical Takeoff

On 1st October 1972, having just left the Soviet Union, Joseph Brodsky wrote in the New York Times a five-thousand words article in which he condemned the political climate in Europe, and worldwide, evaluating its dangerous principles and hunger for domination and destruction. Brodsky expressed his scepticism in reference to all ‘political movements’ which he described as ‘structured methods used to avoid personal responsibility.’

Brodsky defended his belief in a different, and superior, system built on ‘personal movements – movements of the soul when a man who looks at himself is so ashamed that he tries to make some sort of change.’ The article, translated from Russian by Carl Proffer, appeared tangled, verbose and aimless; it sounded like so many other disoriented voices coming from dissidents and defectors of the era but those who managed to read it in full recognised its unswerving accuracy in describing a failing world system.

Seamus Heaney called it a moment of literary ‘vertical takeoff’, crucial in establishing the capacity of language to go farther and faster than expected and thereby provide an escape from the limitations and preoccupations of the self.

It was, in itself, a warning signal that politics became a psychological danger for humanity, as it engaged people in external fights with the Evil, which automatically made them begin to identify themselves with the Good. And when mankind begins to consider itself bearer of Good, it slides into self-congratulation. This is a state of complacency which Brodsky, who was stateless in 1972, saw it as the source of everything that was radically bad about people.

Brodsky carefully re-considers the role of an united writing community which is vital in opposing official points of view and which should support ‘personal movements’ by engaging the society in real exercises of reflection and learning. This engagement, however, is built on access to books, not articles about books; direct contact with ideas, not ‘pre-packed’ blurbs.

The PN Review editorial (January 2020) comments on the closure of nearly 800 British libraries over the past ten years. The Trump era defines how we conduct literature not only politics. ‘The triumph of the tweet’ reduces our engagement with books to a suite of emoticons, in which the responsibility for personal engagement with ideas is a constant forward-re-tweet and a sum of likes. Bring me someone who sits down to read War and Peace or a five-thousand words article in the New York Times. I’ll be either their friend or their follower.

© Maria Stadnicka 2021

[‘Vertical Takeoff’ was published in International Times on 25/01/2020.]


Brodsky, J. (1972) ‘A writer is a lonely traveler’. New York Times, 1st October 1972. Available here.

Brodsky, J. (1997) On Grief and Reason. Essays, London: Penguin Books.

PNR, January-February 2020, vol. 46, no.3. Available here.

Leviticus

Painting © Manuell Manastireanu, 2020

to Anne-Marie

 

We’d have peace if we meet

at a cemetery, she says,

 

but once there graves open,

the dead ask for headlines.

 

The good news is that I am

in the same place as Moses

 

walking around life when

sands shift. I reach my desert

 

retouching roots that match

the colour of parents’ home.

 

I forgot where they live now;

as close as my skin, as far as

 

a memory from when I was five.

There must be a house nearby

 

where someone stays awake

to warm up bottles of milk.

 

Instead of looking for it, I hold

a telescope aimed at the sky

 

marching past stray pebbles.

 

 

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020

Fruit Season

Gloucestershire, Midlands, UK / May 2020

I figure out that if you live by water and feel hungry, it takes an afternoon of chewing yesterday’s leftovers to feel mud on your tongue. And if a passer-by gives you a bad apple, you ought to be thankful, appreciate what you’ve got, watching others dying of starvation. But when you hear that the well-wisher was God, which happened to be running late for a meeting in the nearby mansion, you wish you had spat the rotting fruit back at Him. God could have done better. By then it is too late. The meeting He was rushing to would be running on and on for years. For as long as your lifetime.

© Maria Stadnicka, May 2020

Rite of Lockdown / Week #7 / Midlands / United Kingdom

 

Rite

 

Sunday lingers on scent of paint,

tobacco and spring. Our kitchen-war

sprouts from a conversation on books

about people we both know. I say

 

I’d met doctor Zhivago queuing

at Nero’s, heard him asking a barista

about the fate of taiga-trees

at the height of a mining season.

 

You think they are cut short then stop

growing. I lock my paperbacks

in a cupboard; they remind us

of all the ink twisted in verse, seeded

 

in layers of gravel. Our verbs reach

the pit of a quarry, and seal over.

Snow forests shoot up in tears,

we trip over extension cables in our flat.

 

© Maria Stadnicka, May 2020


Photography: © John Stadnicki 2020

Midlands / Lockdown in Britain / Week #6

 

Photography © John Stadnicki, May 2020

A month in lockdown. Week #4 in Britain

 

Photography © John Stadnicki, April 2020