Psalms

by Julia Fiedorczuk
translated by Bill Johnston

I recently interviewed poet Julia Fiedorczuk after she and I gave a bilingual reading of her work. We had read, among other things, from her 2017 book Psalms. I asked her a simple question: where did her Psalms come from? I was expecting an answer that addressed her interest in the Hebrew Bible, her literary influences, her concerns as a mother raising a child in the confusing and disheartening global ecology of the twenty-first century. Instead, she pointed wordlessly to the two sides of her throat, then said: “They came from here.” She had recently begun singing lessons, after a lifetime of believing (mistakenly) that she could not sing; her teacher was a synagogue cantor, and the lessons made use of the Biblical Hebrew Fiedorczuk was learning. Loosely deriving from the biblical Book of Psalms and its lovely rendering into Polish by Czesław Miłosz, Psalms are above all songs—words to songs, if you prefer. They spring from the throat—the body—just as much as from the brain.

Fiedorczuk speaks impeccable English—she’s a professor of American literature, and is steeped in the American poetic tradition at least as much as the Polish—and during the translation process I always send her early drafts of my translations for her feedback. During our work on Psalms, her comments focused much more on the cadence of the lines than their literal meaning. “It seems to me that the rhythm isn’t quite right here,” she would say, and she was usually right. Fiedorczuk’s Psalms are an important reminder of the great truth about poems—that what matters is not only, or even mostly, what they are about, but what they are. In Psalms, Fiedorczuk does indeed write about modern life, about motherhood, and about humankind’s troubled relationship with, or place in, the natural world. Yet her poems inhere above all in the musicality of her language. They show us the poet’s discovery of, quite literally, a new voice. She sings to us, and, as always with the most beautiful and moving songs, word and melody are inextricable.

–Bill Johnston


See Original Language See Translation

Psalm XIX

humanly late we long for what is green.
“as a strong man to run a race,” so this
April daybreak laughs toward the city and the windows
of our building ringed by a fever of streetcars,
swollen with the buzz of helicopters and speakings
of birds – the absolute song of numbered
days:

with my fingertips I open your dream.
maps of fertile rivers on your temples, pathways
of your breathing – with my heart’s mind I follow
that, and the demons, monarchs of confusion, return
briefly to the gates of cold infernos,
since here has grown (the way leaves grow)
tenderness:

                            since our frailty
has its own flower-wreathed throne –

 

Psalm XXII

“poured out like water” over the river Narew
and bones out of joint pale blue chicory
cold ashes and wormwood
broken glass among the clouds

and let there be some other word for human
by human by human by
dog and bee a word like “ćma” which means “moth” but also
“multitude” or “swarm” or “darkness”

shadow of cloud across a skinny moon
over the river:
                                                     “Narew”
means river

                                                     human
means human means
human means
                                                     (land) –

 

Psalm XXV

1
this too:
when the house is gone, we shall look for a road.

2
when that mighty flame is extinguished, we shall look
for a road

3
one as plain as a ribbon around the horizon (look!)
where the sea meets the sky (that is mist).

4
when these shapes fall apart, we shall look for a road.

5
when the beloved ones fall apart, you shall imagine
a joy so

6
complete that neither you nor I will be needed
is that not

7
what we long for as the seconds spill from our bodies

8
(the dartings of a lizard inside this world)

9
as you store up the consequences of the raptures?

10
and when the beloved ones fall apart, it was you.

11
and when the beloved ones fall apart, it was me
on the way to the house of bread the house
of song,

12
and when they part (the clouds the oceans)
we pluck our feet out of the nets

13
and learn the pathways (where sea encounters sky)

14
when the house is gone, will something of ours not be gone?

15
when that mighty flame is extinguished what is there
on the far side of the burning and the being

16
of stars arranged into stories—whose time?
(on the other side of the map)

17
when the beloved ones fall apart what else is
simple?

18
when the beloved ones fall apart we shall chance upon ourselves
in the house of song

19
of cicadas of engines of hearts of wave
in the house of molecules of pixels
and fumblingly (eli)

20
and the sunken ship (where sea meets
with sky)

21
when they fall apart, everything lasts but a moment
and in just such a way
that moment lasts forever

22
six billion moments
as we offer loneliness, we offer fear—

Psalm XIX

ludzko spóźnieni tęsknimy do zieleni.
„jak olbrzym ruszający do biegu”, tak ten
w kwietniu brzask śmieje się na miasto i okna
naszego domu opasane gorączką tramwajów,
podbiegłe brzęczeniem śmigłowców i słowami
ptaków – absolutnym śpiewem policzonych
dni:

opuszkami palców otwieram twój sen.
mapy żyznych rzek na skroniach, przebiegi
oddechu – myślą mojego serca śledzę
to i demony, królowie chaosu, zawracają
na mgnienie do bram zimnych piekieł,
skoro tu urosła (tak jak rosną liście)
czułość:

                  skoro wątłość nasza
ma swój w kwiatach tron –

 

Psalm XXII

„jak woda wylana” nad tą rzeką Narew
i rozsypane kości podróżnik błękitny
ostudzone zgliszcza i bielica piołun
między chmurami pokruszone szkło

i niechby jakieś inne słowo dla człowieka
obok człowieka obok człowieka obok
psa i pszczoły, słowo jak „ćma” , to znaczy
„chmara” lub „mrowie” lub „ciemność”

cień chmury w poprzek chudego księżyca
nad rzeką:
                                      „Narew”
znaczy rzeka

                                      człowiek
znaczy człowiek znaczy
człowiek znaczy
                                      (ląd) –

 

Psalm XXV

1
jeszcze tak:
kiedy przepadnie dom, poszukamy drogi.

2
kiedy wygaśnie ten potężny płomień, poszukamy
drogi

3
zwykłej jak wstążka wokół horyzontu tam (patrz!)
gdzie morze spotyka się z niebem (to mgła).

4
kiedy rozpadną się te kształty, poszukamy drogi.

5
kiedy rozpadną się te ukochane, wyobrazisz sobie
radość tak

6
kompletną, że już nie będzie trzeba ciebie ani mnie,
czyż nie

7
za tym tęsknimy gdy osypują się sekundy z ciał

8
(szybkie ruchy jaszczurki wewnątrz tego świata)

9
gdy kumulujesz konsekwencje ekstaz?

10
a gdy rozsypią się te ukochane, ono było tobą.

11
a gdy rozsypią się te ukochane, ono było mną
w drodze do domu z chleba domu ze
śpiewania,

12
a kiedy się rozejdą (chmury, oceany)
wydobędziemy nasze nogi z sideł

13
i nauczymy się ścieżek (gdzie morze spotyka się z niebem)

14
kiedy przepadnie dom, czy coś nam nie przepadnie?

15
kiedy wygaśnie ten potężny płomień czym to jest
po drugiej stronie płonięcia i bycia

16
gwiazd ułożonych w historie – czyj czas?
(po drugiej stronie mapy)

17
kiedy rozsypią się te ukochane co jeszcze jest
proste?

18
kiedy rozsypią się te ukochane napotkamy siebie
w domu ze śpiewania

19
cykad silników serc fali
w domu molekuł pikseli
i po omacku

20
i zatopiona łódź (gdzie morze spotyka się
z niebem)

21
a kiedy się rozsypią, wszystko jest na chwilę
chwila na zawsze

22
sześć miliardów chwil
gdy zanosimy samotność, gdy się zanosimy –

Published on May 28, 2020

2020-05-27T19:28:03+00:00