In an earlier post I was prompted to wonder about the connections between the act of translation in writing and the use of appropriation of existing material by artists like Jack Goldstein and Anne Collier. In the two poems that follow, the lyrics of a song in Czech (as performed by Marta Kubisova) and one in Polish (performed by Urszula Sipinska) are adapted in several ways: first from their original languages (neither of which I speak or read, so these adaptations are dependent on glosses, translation software and feedback from others), then from lyrics designed for performance with music into pieces that hopefully work on the page, and finally from their original cultural and political contexts (both were issued near the end of periods of relative ‘thaw’ in Communist Bloc countries) into our own time and place. While for all these reasons they aren’t designed to be true translations – they are versions ‘after’ rather than ‘of’ their originals, perhaps.

The titles below contain links to YouTube clips, where both original songs can be heard in full.

from Songs and Ballads: Twelve Poems for Marta Kubisova

(x) Rezavý svět/Rusted World

Storks leave the roof. Rain falls among the bees.
All the roses wilt at one word of frost.
My voice is iron, it begins to rust.

I seek a cure in the scrap-yards, seek to replace
all that ‍rust consumes. Love dies.
My voice is an animal in an iron trap.

What can we buy here, ladies and gentlemen?
Long red nails for self-crucifixion?
Barriers and bars for windows and doors,
a couple of padlocks to keep my house secure?

Leaves fall from green trees; summer is done.
I gave my heart away: God knows who to!
Now I search in the ironmonger’s frozen store.

I’m beaten up by the world – thumb rust
as I rummage from every lamp and key.
My voice is brittle, creaks like iron in the wind.

What can we buy here? A small red grate?
A horseshoe, a cog, a cast-iron weight?
Chains from dark corners of factory floors?
Handcuffs, axe-heads, a wreath of barbed wire?

Now all the boughs are bare. No storks are here.
Snow has fallen on every window-sill.
I’d sing sad songs if someone might hear.

But all is silent except the creak of snow.
I scratch red from a kettle, feel its rust in my voice.
This world is corrosion, its legends dust.


Holding Hands By Myself

(after Urszula Sipińska)

Trzymając się za ręce: S. Krajewski/K. Dzikowski (1970)

We stroll in the absolute light of noon
among the trembling wings and rays of the sun
as their warmth wraps our bodies
and we move as one through flickering woods.

There are green banks and birches
when we arrive, together, at the shore of a marsh;
my thoughts return to last winter’s snow –
that icy whiteness seems so long gone, now.

The horizon, these ferns at the water’s edge,
are all the signposts I need to your distant house.
My body is a tide, withdrawn and low –
shall we be together again, one day soon?

I am holding hands with myself as I walk;
my feet try to make the rhythm of two.
My hand nests like a bird in a pocket at my side,
imagining fingers warm to its touch.

And the day will start fading in an hour or two
but while the light remains I’ll stay with you,
remember, in the river’s flickering shine,
the frost that bleached breeze-tousled grass,

your voice and step, your palm in mine,
the snow through which we walked together last.
Like this, I sit, where marsh and river merge, ask
where this stroll in the summer sun might lead?

And I imagine, somewhere, by another stream,
you, imagining this hand in your hand;
you, remembering the sound of my voice,
listening for my footsteps keeping pace with yours.

Perhaps the sun’s warmth is only standing in
for our bodies, our words and hands back then,
the way we seemed to inhabit a single skin.
I remember, but sit at the river’s edge, alone.

Do you imagine us, now, together again,
warm in the snow of last winter’s noon?
I think of you, somewhere remembering me,
holding hands by myself on a summer’s day.


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