Warsaw

I’m on record as being, um, ‘not a fan’ of erotic poetry. There are exceptions, of course, and if you hand me a collection of e e cummings‘ finest (or anything by Ashley Lister), I’ll be as happy as the next man, but in general it does absolutely nothing for me. And by ‘absolutely nothing’, I mean ‘makes me want to put my own eyes out with a hot poker just to escape the horror that is your painful, clunky and pretentious verse.’

…which is not to say that I’m not also capable of painful, clunky and pretentious verse. I haven’t written erotic poetry for a long, long time, but a little over nine months ago, as I prepared to leave my life in Warsaw, I attempted to capture my feelings about what had become my city in the poem below. I’m posting it here tonight because I feel a sudden, inexplicable longing for my apartment there, and for the wide, open streets around it; for the flashes of sky that slice down between the buildings, instead of hundreds of feet above them.

London is great. It’s where I lay my head at night – and even if it remains that way till I’m 100 years old, I will never exhaust its myriad wonders. No man could. My soul though? That lies in Oxford and its sleepy surrounding towns, but also right at the heart of the city I briefly called home. Perhaps I’ll do so again one day.

Warsaw

My final impression of Warsaw?

Walking back to my apartment after one last lunch,

I glanced up and saw

The shit-stained statue of Tadeusz Kosciuszko.

Every day I walked past old Tadeusz

Wreathed in snow in winter,

Gleaming proudly when the sun shone,

But, for the most part, a dull, dutiful, quietly-heroic bronze

Guarding the fallen peasant at his feet,

Under flat grey Masovian skies.

This was the first time I noticed the shit.

~

It was the birds, of course.

You hear them everywhere,

The pigeons, the magpies and the hopping, cawing corvids,

Removed en masse from whichever windswept Scottish castle they used to haunt

And scattered around this beautiful, schizophrenic mess of a city,

A very different kind of ruin.

 ~

Because they remember, the Poles.

It’s a quiet memory:

Written simply

With a plainness and dignity

On the sides of buildings

On the streets themselves.

Held in families that were ripped apart

And patched back together again

The people of Warsaw walk through their scarred city

And remember 1794 and 1830

1920 and 1939

Russians and Prussians

And Austro-Hungarians.

Germans and Soviets

Rolling across Poland:

Sometimes staying,

Sometimes just passing through

On their way to somewhere more important.

 ~

The city is changing though.

Not the ‘Paris of the East’ –

Never that again –

But something has taken seed

And is beginning to flower

In the rough, arid soil that history left behind.

A smattering of skyscrapers form a cautious, erratic skyline

Like slender fingers of rock emerging from the sea

Jagging away from the shadow of the brooding granite cliff.

There is money here now,

Money enough that you see it in the faces of the young people

As they buzz in and out of malls

With bags on both arms,

And fill the trendy cafes, the hipster bars

With their thick-framed glasses, rolled-up jeans, and hair

That doesn’t quite know

What it wants to be,

But is out to have a good time

Either way.

 ~

“Oh, Warsaw”, they say,

The people I talk to back home.

“What’s that like?”

Then they come and they see:

Warsaw is like nothing it has ever been before.

You can’t miss it.

The past, yes, but more than that:

The future.

“Why would you ever leave?”, they say.

The locals are more sanguine.

“Warsaw…we know what it’s like –

Why would you want to stay?”

One day they’ll see it too.

 ~

The summer rains came as I packed the last of my things

And wandered through my perfect apartment,

In my perfect city,

For the final time.

They fell harder than any I’ve seen before,

Running in torrents down the awning

Of my balcony and off the gutter

Above my windows.

Washing away everything,

These last ten months included.

Cleaning the world of all the shit –

Cleaning old Tadeusz too, no doubt.

I wish I could say I saw him again –

That would be a fitting end,

After all.

But we came to the fork

And the driver went right, not left

I thought about him, further and further behind me

Head gleaming once again,

As the clouds cleared just enough

For a rainbow to streak across the sky.

 

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