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.
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.
(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.
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
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.
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
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
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