One day in Po(et)land by Mira Horvich and AJ Kaufman
MH 09.00 am (office poet)
‘Welcome to Floo Net Travel. Please, choose the extension or wait for the next available consultant’
I wait for the beep and then dial 1-4-5-2, targeting the glowing keypads with an index finger. There is a certain Miss Anna working in Floo Net Travel, and each time I call her to book some flight for my boss, my thoughts line up in the same way. First, I wonder whether the name of the company is related somehow to our scar-marked, bespectacled hero of the recent years. Judging by the year the company was established it very probably is. Then I wonder whether Miss Anna knows that she has an extension that is the date of the great geographic discoveries. These two thoughts together usually take up the space of one long beep. The receiver still pressed to my ear, my musings turn to the world of great discoverers and ships with scarlet sails and wizards in black robes and pointed hats – do they have discoverers in the wizarding world? – and all that. The last image I reach before Miss Anna picks up the phone is usually that of a towering old wizard, standing erect on the deck of a ghost ship, long streaks of his gray hair and beard dancing madly on the breeze.
‘Good Morning, Floo Net Travel, Anna Lys, how can I help you?’
I shake the image and introduce myself, shifting to the brisk business matter which is supposed to show how confident and competent I feel in my little office environment. From the ghost ship of my imagination, the tall wizard shoots me a disdainful look. Well, fuck off, sugar. Business is business.
I write down the connections Miss Anna has found for me, thank her and put the receiver down. My fingers lingering on the smooth curvaceous shape, as if it were a fucking portkey, my only link with the outside world. Now it’s only office and me. How long can you NOT look at something you should be doing when it’s right before your eyes? I last three minutes. Right then. The mail. The mail would go first, then the coffee for the boss, then the current matters, then the report from yesterday’s meeting. The barren plane of my desk fills up with papers, the ship and the sails and tall pointed hat sinking inexorably beneath the white mess.
On the little shelf to my right, a small destapler sits quietly, its metallic jaws parted slightly in a grin. To be a good office worker, you have to really hate your work. Only sheer fury can take one through the day. Or is the source of my anger really in the fact that I am constantly hurled from one world to another? Taking turns between an evening rambling poet and a morning office girl, I have lost my soul somewhere in between. I take the destapler from the shelf and press it to my mouth. When the metal jaws close on the lower lip, it hurts, and I love the feeling.
AJ.K 11.00 am (fuck no)
How I fuckin’ hate this hour. I always seem to get it when I happen to wake up too early. It’s no happy hour. No free whisky. No warm beer. No nothing. Sweet nothing. Less than nothing. I still got my pajamas on. Nice ones – with flowers and pictures of puppies in x-ray. They remind me of my rascal hippy days… when everything was beautiful… when the mornings were so far out they were almost too far in… everything was acid and acid and Maria Juana Manilla de Hay and acid and more acid and acid and then some acid for a change… and maybe some acid in the evening, too… or a Velvet Underground song… or another goddamn Marlboro, or another Motorcycle Irene kind of fuck… Or best – the sound of a whiplash – the pigeons crashing into my window – the cars crashing yards below, cars crashing bikes, cars smashing heads in WWII helmets thinkin’ of Charlie Manson and pigs all across the wall. Ragged leather jacket. Soda pop explosion. Blood tentacles creeping up the asphalt like a most confined lover of night. Poor motor-boy… poor motor-boy’s song…
I don’t want a pickle
Just want to ride on my motorsickle
And I don’t want a tickle
‘Cause I’d rather ride on my motorsickle
And I don’t want to die…
…the sun as pale as my beer-sunk belly. I wish I could leave this goddamn country. It stinks of vaseline, dead bikers and old toothless folks. It stinks like a goddamn abattoir. It contains rats you could never imagine. Rats the size of a cat. Things you never thought existed… creatures even the devil wouldn’t wanna invent on his biggest drinkin’ day ever… It burns you out when you’re very young. And then it asks for more. It becomes the most sophisticated and notorious parasite ever… It’s fuckin’ kabanos lobotomy country. Kabanos is some kind of sausage. Fuckin’ dry. Exhausting. Like some kind of stranger. Like your not-so-pretty katzenjammer lover without any make-up on. That’s kabanos lobotomy. That’s Poland. The fuckin’ land of ice, as one of my friends entitled his first full CD… the land of passin’ trains goin’ nowhere and you can’t really get on any of these fuckers… plus they all move into one wrong direction – oblivion. Fast. Woohoo! The land of (l)ice! Glorious whateverness… Floosie Wet Travel… How can one work in such a place… I can’t work anywhere… I always get drunk and they kick me out at the speed of light. Guess you’ve got to be slightly masochistic to become a secretary or a fuckin’ “office worker.” “Office worker” sounds perverse enough already… Guess I’ll have a listen to something slightly less depressive. Like “Songs of Love and Hate”. Perfect… or get mehself a pretty “office worker” to plug her through and through, while diggin’ through a goddamn avalanche of her wisdom… towering old wizards standing erect… how very unlike my cock… the little tin soldier of glitter and doom… flat… useless… when she comes home from work I’ll have nothing to offer ‘cept my ugly jobless ass in love with the son of Guthrie. Lizards, wizards and beards of stars… and the day went much too far… thanks god I’m a shapeshifter. Shapeshifters always survive. And god, that’s the Curtis fucker again…
No life at all in the house of dolls
No love lost, no love lost
MH 02.00 pm (lunch poet)
The Polish people just love to eat.
I file into the line at the cafeteria, stretching my neck and returning the occasional greetings from the occupied tables. The fluorescent light above the food trays is too sharp and all the food looks bright and fresh and plastic. I inspect the cheese sandwiches, flaunting its Gouda plumes next to the bowls of salads.
I look at the paprika slices, arranged smartly as a topping on one of the salads. I decide I’m not hungry.
‘What can I get you?’ the girl behind the counter is visibly tired, and the too-bright light is not particularly merciful to her. There are deep shadows under her eyes and her skin looks sallow, emphasizing pale freckles which dot her cheeks and nose.
‘Coffee please. Milk, sugar. And an apple.. or maybe a salad.. no, just coffee, please.’
She is irritated at my indecisiveness but brings me coffee and rings it up on the register without showing it. I’m sorry to add to her tiredness and try to smile as she gives me the change, but she is already busy with another client. I take the steaming cup with both hands and at this precise moment, as I turn away from the counter, a poem comes to me, perfect, finished. I hurry to the nearest unoccupied table and fumble for something to write. The girl behind the counter has a boyfriend. I know, I saw him once picking her up after work, them smooching in the driveway, and then, suddenly, her pushing him away and beginning to holler. What did she say? She was tired. I’m tired, tired, tired was what she said..
I’m so tiiiiiiiiired.
/tie/ me up
in the nuances of your
Could I be:
more attentive, less exacting, more affectionate?
Well, right now I think
I could be less tired.
Thank you very much.
How much did you say it was?
I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you the first time.
I think I will take just the cigs.
I have only six-fifty on me.
to see the shade of my tiredness
settle under your eyes
in dark circles.
Oh, thank you very much.
The evening slips its fingers under my jacket.
And I suppose it was to be exciting?
I’m only cold.
It’s because I’m tired.
All the symptoms are here
you could write a mathematical formula:
/Tie/ + /Errrr/….. + /dd-d/ = /’taıərd/
Oh, how original
Is that a good answer?
Can I go now?
Yes, and thank you very much.
AJ.K 06.00 pm (fuck the worst songwriter alive)
“have a great day, fucker!” – you can read it from every goddamn face on the street. Extend the middle finger. Yeah… let’s show’em… lick the finger then clean… feel the wind… I love it when you hate me… it gives me fuel… it fuckin’ immortalizes the writer in me… it makes me invincible… your hate is the fire of my myth-birdie rebirth sort of thing… so hate me some more… give me some pain… smash my face if you think you can… I’ll smash yours so bad that it bleeds out all holy books of the world all at once… c’mon… faggot… bring on your best shot… payback’s a bitch when it comes down to you and the crucifix on your weary t-shirt…
no-man’s land, this is no-man’s land
and we’ll walk hand in hand if we may…
no man’s land, this is no-man’s land
and we’d fuck all death all away…
and goddamn, I’m writing songs again… my momma told me “don’t!”. She was right. But I just love to be wrong. And I’m all lit up on Elvis. That bastard had style. And his momma told him… who knows what she told him… all I know is that I’ve put my leather jacket on today to pay tribute to the King. And who cares if it’s 40°C outside… sweat works good for your muses, and it’s King’s goddam birthday… I’m a king too, a king of these streets… the muses… if you give them bitches some sweat they’d slash some blood on your paper… they’ll give you lines of amazing quality… they’ll give you lines that make love to death and feel so great all about it that it makes you laugh and slit your wrists at once… they’ll give you lines that cum back again… they’ll give you the last lines of a suicidal fisherman… they’ll give you dead fish on salsa… they’ll give you anything for a few drops of sweat… and today I’ve got a goddamn river of sweat… I’m about to smash my goddamn typewriter. Whore deserves it. She’s been givin’ me lines of death. I need to go beyond all that… I need the most abyssal abyss of all most abyssal abysses… the lunatic playground… the winter’s jolly undertaker clown… death’s not enough when you’re in love with her…
scannin’ the land for a bucket of sand
and the sick city lenses are so tired of men
no-man’s land, this is no-man’s land
and I’m scannin’ the wasteland for a bucket of sand…
…more nursery rhymes of pitiful quality… More rivers of sweat. More mindless faces met along the way. More wax heads. More meatheads. More wanna-be-artists. Less balls. More sweat… “I want the abyss, you fuckers!!!” – I howl into the neon-lit sky but I get no response… perhaps I’m already in. Who knows how the bastard looks like… “have a great day, you fuckers!” – yeah, right – that’s one for the city, two for the show, three for the ladies, c’mon let’s go…
siftin’ through the memories of a broken man
sailing on dead sails again and again
pickin’ dead flowers again and again
as I’m scannin’ the wasteland for a bucket of sand…
and they haven’t paid me for a single verse yet… I’ll pay’em back in hate. It always works both ways… and I still have Elliot up my ass at Chopin’s birdshit park.
MH 08.00 pm (evening poet)
It’s 8 pm and I’m going to get myself some love. Properly bleened up, I look at my watch. I’m a bit early but I decide to go down anyway; staying in the apartment after all these preparations feels a little like waiting for the first star or for Santa Clause. The apartment house where I live is an old post-war building, and although the upper flats have been renovated recently, the staircase is still the very picture of creaking splintering wooden disaster. Pausing at a landing half-way down, I look out at the window at what the inhabitants here call the backyard, and which in fact is just a stretch of a no-man’s land, where everybody takes out their garbage and where on hot summer nights city cats hold their sabbaticals.
In one corner of the yard, however, there is a young slim sapling birch, which in itself is the most magical thing I have ever seen. Every time I go out I check on it, half-expecting each time to see it cut down, or torn, or dried up – but somehow it is still there. This evening I notice with delight that it’s magic has spread; in front of the small tree somebody has put an old wicker chair. The chair looks comfortable and solid, at least as long as one’s eyes don’t reach its seat, punctured in the middle as if it tried in vain to catch something very heavy which jumped onto its lap. Happy old chair, even in its exile holding between its worn armrests the memory of some dear presence.
I’m about to turn away when a window from one of the ground floor flats opens with a bang and a young man jumps out of it in a hurry, followed by a cascade of curses.
‘…you fucker!! You jinxed it! And I told you to shut up, didn’t I?! You piece of shit!! Saying the ———-wins!!’ the young man lands on his stubby be-jeansed legs with the grace of a big old tom and looks up with obvious glee. He wears a black T-shirt and a long red scarf hanging loosely from his neck. A football fan. In the window out of which he has jumped, a face of a screaming woman of an indeterminate age gleams frantically from behind the curtains. The football fan blows her a roguish kiss and turning on his heel, disappears in the direction of the City Square, doubtless to celebrate the prophesized victory with his friends.
Can’t help smiling. The woman in the window finally manages to untangle from the curtains and seeing the young man gone, she closes the window violently, muttering things I can no longer make out. Still smiling, I turn away and resume my way down the stairs. In this moment, I’m just loving the fact that I’m alive; seeing, smelling, eavesdropping and spying on everything that surrounds me. There is so much to life. I sometimes feel I’m really just a stalker, following people around, picking up pieces of their life, bits and scraps they leave behind, and cramming them into my mouth like food, chewing on them until my jaws hurt only to spit them out in a form of a poem or a story. I gobble things up, flashes of street life and fragments of dialogs, going after people, going after life, never full, never satisfied.
In Polish, the word “after” is spelled “po”.
A Polish poet, I’m producing words after worlds. Following closely and yet staying always this one step behind.
Living in Poland.
Living in After-land.
AJ.K 04.00 am (dead poet)
and a bitter voice in the mirror cries – hey, prince, you need a shave…
there’s a funeral in the mirror and it’s stopping at your face…
you wake up to the sound of this very song. That’s still your apartment at Bukowska St. (hell, why not “Bukowski St.”? – who the hell is Bukowska? I don’t know this bitch and I know all the bitches in town…)… the bills were never paid. the rent has been paid such a long, long time ago… there, in the Tower of Song… you remember us standin’ at the side of the river… making plans… SOOOOO in love… so young and so beautiful like out of a fashion magazine… some kind of rope is joyfully swinging from the goddamn ceiling… you realize it’s 4A.M… you realize how drunk you are… you realize you’re out of booze. You realize you’re hangin’ on the very last cigarette. A very cheap one. Red&White. There’s this urban myth in Poznan that everyone who smokes them dies. Fuck. Show me someone who doesn’t die and I’ll light a green candle for him… so yeah, you smoke Red&White – you die. You don’t – you live eternally in the Kingdom of Heaven and inhale god’s almighty presence instead of the slightly blueish smoke… ravagin’ the angels and singin’ revolutionary French songs… meanwhile the rope’s swinging majestically, joyfully, ironically… like it’s erotic. Neurotic. Sick. Meta-travel striptease… like a fine ass… like a tight pussy… like a good pair of legs… like something to get lost in. Restless, relentless… like a poem… like a very BAD poem… like an ancient fortress… like sweet death’s kiss for the shaving prince of Poznan. Like a row of twin barstools… like this one twin idiot who’s still our president… fuckin’ brainless midget he is… guess his brother’s got the other half of his peanut brain… fuck all politicians… fuck all those right-winged idiots, those catholic sponges of mindblock.. we have no decent left-wing here… imagine… while lookin’ at the rope you begin to realize you’re quite a good comedian… and that you’ve been one ever since you were born… should perhaps become an actor… or perhaps write a script for Woody… or join some cabaret… Woody would be so proud of you… ah… just look at yourself! And the glasses… mhhhmmmm… you conceal yourself so well… soul behind the dark glass… eyes behind the margin of all existance… yeah, you’d write a script for Woody and then you’d play it all over again… I should take some piano lessons again… I’ve been quite good at this shit… when I was about nine… or best join a communist party… become another Lenin… but now the rope’s still swingin’ and you’ve put it where it is to scare the shit out of anyone who comes to visit…
perhaps a woman… perhaps even SHE… or Lenin.
I am a margin
just as my eyes are
just like a secret life
leaving no traces
just like the furniture
that never quite fits
just like the poems
I wrote on barstools
or heard of
…the goddamn Harmonium’s Margin… Welcome, fucker, to the Great Abandoned East-West Divide. Welcome to the every war’s buffer… to the cheap amphetamine wasteland… to the bald realm of the Almighty Kabanos… You’ve seen it all? Warsaw? Poznan? Cracov? Yeah? So goodbye. There’s nothing more to see. And I hope you never come back. Choose life… choose a career… yeah… like fuck… choose methedrine, cheap cigs and a fine, fine death at 4.A.M. in a filthy whore’s smelly bedroom. With Cohen still on and the dawn a-blazin’… death’s so nice if you kindly ask her… and her cunt is perfectly tight… her legs are so inviting…
Dyin’ in Poland.
Dyin’ in Nevermore-land.