Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 21
15 November 1999

Marcin Swietlicki P O L A N D:
Marcin Swietlicki:
Poems from Schizma


These translations are from Marcin Swietlicki's latest collection of poetry, Schizma (Gladyszow, 1999). Swietlicki (b. Lublin, 1961) has published eleven collection since his debut Zimne kraje (1992), which was widely considered to be one of the most exciting poetic debuts of the decade. His penultimate collection, Piesni profane (1998) was a finalist in the Ex Libris Nike '99 literary competition.

Swietlicki is also vocalist and lyricist of the rock band Swietliki, who have released three albums and two singles to date, with many of the songs being based on Swietlicki's own poetry.



In the beginning is my head, in my hands.
Then, from there, circles spread out.
The square table, a circle. The room, a circle. The building,
a circle. The street, a circle. The town, a circle. The country,
a circle. And the continent, girded by a circle.
The hemisphere, a circle. A circle. Everything, a circle.
At the very end is a tiny drop.


At the table, with a cigarette.
Slept badly.
"Get undressed and come back," she says, woken up.
"Open the window."
Through the open window into the room comes
 a dawn-blue finger. I go back, we cuddle.
Sleep badly.


Ice from the clouds shines on the town.
Kerbs white
with the last whiteness.

From the pharmacies, the odour of TB. The flower without a name in the window
of light and germs.

I am not telling a story, I shudder. Soon
the mud will descend.

* * *

Waking up with my hand clasped peacefully
on my genitals, with no sinful purpose,
peacefully and innocently, listening in
to the imaginary rain and finding in it
one thin and loudly muttering voice
repeating myyour name,
drowned out by the jungle, again a moment later,
clear and obtrusive - I really believe
that I have already woken up, and if I am no longer sleeping,
then what I can hear will probably come true today.

Waking up and not knowing if somebody is lying beside me,
not looking for anyone, not checking, I wait
until from the tumult of the darkness there emerges
a hand and feels, even if you are often
unfeasibly far away, beyond the boundaries
of reason, ghastly on the outside,
that is how it will be, because that is how it was
always, and that is not memory, it is belief,
certainty, necessity, since I have gender and
I am sleepily warm - it will come true today.

And so you have no face. You must be reconciled
with that situation. After each time
it is equally powerful. After each time
it is equally dead. The imaginary rain
will paint the yard in a rather darker
shade of grey. Simultaneously there appears
an apparition-sun - then the colours, it seems,
stay the same. An entirely
anonymous story, no one is there,
crumpled bedclothes with a quickly-vanishing
stain in the shape of a body and an open window.


There is nothing to be ashamed of: the boy learned
in the attic - any other education
is unnecessary - he bounced in the small hours
from his bed - climbed the stairs
 - blocked the entrance to the wardrobe - with a sure step
he went through the very centre of the attic - the spiders however, disciplined,
stood upright at their
The boy undressed, stood, absorbed.

Through the hole in the roof, the sky was speaking,
through the sky, however, the birds were speaking,
with the birds, the hands of a deaf-mute God
were speaking. Great goodness
proceeds from deaf-mutes.


The bottom of the cellar is paved
in the same way as the sky,
but in the cellar are born only
white and blind animals.

If, unconcerned, you insert a hand
into the very centre of the rotting remains
- you can feel a tiny little heart,
an eternally moving beginning.

A great noise up above. Upstairs
today holiday. And here - in the halfdark -
there is no holiday. Through the cellar window
you can see only hobnailed boots.


From the illuminated garden to the cellar: night.
Everything agrees: here in the cellar the flowers
have already folded up, the leaves have turned black.
Something is under the night, under the cellar, something.
Final maturity.


Here inside swims a fish with red scales.
Plants grow in the direction of the deepest darkness.
Between my fingers, water. And I dream, not myself,
I am a drowned man. Dead - but dependent
still on Rome. My head sways
around in light underwater gusts.
And inside my head swims a dead little fish.
Rome taps with a finger on the surface of the water.
Rome rumbles. One of his daughters
replaced me with someone who is not at all like me,
but she speaks to him using
my name, few were convinced,
only one squirrel protested mutely.
I remained a mess, but
everything was settled. Rome himself
corrected my actions, adapted them
to the new situation, distributed my verses
among the poets of Rome, it was successfully carried out
without any problems.
Sometimes he just taps with a finger on the surface of the water
and asks: "Are you still there?"
The plants move, say: "He is, he is".


War is supposedly the highest form
of pedagogy. And the dead
are the most diligent

The glorious rearing - the transformation of boys
into soldiers - through soccer and the circus.
War lies in wait,
pretending to sleep.

The first days of summer. Heaps of raspberries.
Today I am a deserter, but what will it be tomorrow?
I wait and write letters to abstractions.
No more concessions.
Silence insists.


So check how it really was with the legless
lead soldier (did the ballerina fall
into the fire? and did she burn? and him? where did they come to the fire from?
was it a toy shop, or a child's room?)
Check it, find out I can see the back of a book from here,
but I don't get up (the rat asked: PASSPORT?
the soldier come to the sewer from? then to the fire? before that?
and what was she like? mute? indifferent?
didn't she love him?) Check,
not now. Wait for some
suitable, special
moment. I can't remember - was he standing?
did he look at her? and her? what about her? was she standing?
and was she looking at him? I don't know. I don't know the ending.
For the time being I must make do with the amorous accuracy
I am observing with.


Sweetheart is five years old and he knows everything.
His t-shirt is striped, his teeth grimace,
sinisterly. IT'S OVER - says sweetheart.

He wants to kill himself. Or her. But he ends up with currants.
His eyes are curranty and he hitches up his trousers
like a mature man. He has determined eyes.

IT WON'T HAPPEN AGAIN - says sweetheart.
In his hand he has those currants and furtively eats them,
just as if he were eating clotted blood and

his brain is going grey. Afternoon. July.
A sparrow has gone mad, it is imitating a humming bird,
it circles over the flower and nudges the flower with its beak.

It will always be. This season. It has ended.
He says: IT'S YOUR FAULT - and he knows that he is wrong.
His eyes are curranty and menacing and he will

cry in the attic on the stiff sheets,
it has already ended, it is beginning to stink,
this end of the world is a movable holiday.


So I phoned again - just to check.
The receiver lifted, the spoken: "She's not here".
No. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. No, nothing important.
Everything now clear. There, so-so only
I phoned. Just to check. You can replace
the made-up reason with another one. Or you could even
not have phoned at all. Everything is now clear.

Inside the room flies a bird - torn
from a book about a bird. And the covers of the books,
more and more worn. Lots of mouthless
sunflowers are lying in the house. It is
early autumn. Very early autumn.
It extends gently from the windows. The great hypocritical
sun in the sky. Please do not touch
- we are electric. Live snakes of electricity.

A new and dangerous element on the map:
maturity. Silence and the writing of a lot of
love poems, futile, too late.
The flag taken down and packed
in old newspapers - and hidden on a shelf.
I look through the window - I am looking for a place
to put my warm sperm.


"What do you prefer? Waking up next to someone or waking up alone?
Already dressed, do I go up to something, to the tape recorder?
do I change the cassette? I don't know, perhaps I turn it up,
perhaps I turn it down, I wait, I am looking for
something maybe, it's just that - for a while
I have to be turned away, I go up to, I don't know,
the coat rack? I am looking for something in the pocket of my coat, cigarettes?
let's say maybe cigarettes, I am still waiting
for a while and I sigh, and I give some
wrong answer. And I don't know any more:
go back to her? Now she is there. And will
still be there tomorrow. I will try not to think
about the fact that on Saturday I will wake up alone.
Undress and go back to her again? Thursday.
Slowly I split off from her into me and ____________.


The moment when, simultaneously, all the
street lamps in the town come on. The moment when you say
that inconceivable "no" and suddenly I don't know what to do with it
any more: die? leave? not react?
The moment in the sun when I observe you from the window of the bus,
you have a different face from in the past when you know that I am looking
- and now you don't see me, you're looking at nothing, at the shining
window, beyond which I supposedly am. No longer I, not with me,
not like that, not here. Everything
can happen, because everything happens. Everything is determined by
three basic positions: man to woman,
woman to man or this one now,
woman and man divided by the light.


Behind the photograph of the dark glasses
this terrifying world is even more so.
It's true. The right colours
crawl to the right places.
The snake slithers across everything it encounters.
It actually touched us.

There is nothing about us in the Constitution.

The snow will fall and cover everything.
For the moment however you can see the town
- black bone lit up now and then with the lights
of tiny cars, I have sat down high up
and I am looking. Evening. The whole funfair
already closed.

There is nothing about us in the Constitution.

Behind the photograph of the dark glasses
this terrifying world is even more so.
The dog went with us and stank. All the I.D.
gave in to decay. Everything I loved
gave in to decay. I am healthy and whole.

Under the volcano
was born


We don't know how
to give him a name.
Because it's not quite possible. The most simple thing
would be to call him Little Boy
or Little Hare
or Crapped-in Babygro. He is.
He appeared
in place of Reality.

Translated by Kirsty Hooper


Some of Swietlicki's drawings, as well as bibliographical information can be found at the Wydawnictwo Pomona site.

Two short poems have been translated into English here.

A site dedicated to the band Swietliki. [NB. This site promises song texts, fotographs and MP3 files, but is evidently still under construction and many links are broken]. 

An interview with the editor of Wydawnictvo Czarne.

Wojtech Kosc's article in CER 11 on Polish Underground Presses

Swietlicki was associated with the important Polish journal bruLion. A sample from 1996 can be found here.


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