Saturday, May 8, 2010


I went to Poland twice during the nineties, soon after the fall of Communism. Among the changes that astonished me was the relative quiescence of downtown Warsaw at night. What happened to the all the people in the streets, the excitement of city night? I noticed that the city had become much more car-dependent, on its way to becoming more American and lonely. The Warsaw I remember now exists only in my mind. And I continue to write about that country in my mind, about the city that I loved madly – though I didn’t know it until I lost it –

My fatherland, you are like health:
only he knows your worth, who has lost you

-- if you pardon this clumsy translation of Mickiewicz’s famous lines (this is my own version; I am yet to see a satisfying translation).

I lived near Grójecka Street and Plac Narutowicza. I loved to take the Express C bus down Jerusalem Avenue (Aleje Jerozolimskie), even though it passed in front of the House of the Party. I was fascinated by the energy of the great city, enchanted by its night glimmers. I never loved Warsaw more than the year before I left.

Below is an early poem of mine about those enchanted bus rides -- never mind being chilled from winter sleet. I didn't want to become a woman; I wanted to stay me, a young girl riding the bus through downtown Warsaw at night.

Nightcity: Sirens

Women shimmer fluorescent
in shop windows, signs
tremble like thin ice
over cafés and bars –

narrow skirts, tight blouses 
serving up their breasts,
women lean toward men
lighting their cigarettes;

dusky voices uncoil
from lipstick and smoke.
I still cross myself
when passing a church,

but I want the bell of darkness
above the unfinished
arc of streetlights,
the electric hues

hiving in wet asphalt.
Chilled in winter sleet,
I can’t wait to ride
on the express C bus

through downtown Warsaw
at night: thin moons
of my breath on the pane,
a slippery algebra of lights.

The accordion doors
swoosh open and shut with a sigh;
on the radio, a song of those years:
The Dancing Eurydices.

Eurydices dance in hell,
the lights flow like destinies;
soon I will be a woman,
a Siren or a Eurydice –

multiplied, spiraled with neon,
arriving in metal and mirrors –
though the shivering signs
keep no promises,

and the city shuffles its buildings
like a pack of cards.

~ Oriana


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