The Storm

by Mira Rosenthal, translating from the Polish by Tomasz Rózycki

copyright ©English Translation and Introduction Copyright © 2013 by Mira Rosenthal

At night three elements enjoy our bodies.
Fire, water, air. One moment you’re water
then air the next, but flame encircles all.
At night we are reduced, small bits of tar,

soot on our skins, in cups. A storm enters
the room and clouds the mirror. There are others
from far away who look on us as food,
they eat and drink. They find each orifice

and enter us. Our bodies then become
the final element of earth and turn
to ash, dust, coal, compost where insects live
and snails leave tracks you ask about at dawn.

Once, at the world’s end, I threw a stone into
the open mouth of hell; I can’t complain.

Notes on the Poem

Upheaval of various forms is captured memorably and forcefully in the poem "The Storm," translated by Mira Rosenthal from the Polish poem "Burza" by Tomasz Rózycki, from the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Colonies. "At night" ... Rózycki asserts we are not getting much rest. The three elements that swirl throughout this brief poem are, simultaneously, the fundamentals of which we are composed, but also seem to be the essence of demons that torment us. In an essay examining several of Rózycki's works, including Colonies and The Forgotten Keys (also translated by Mira Rosenthal), Nicole Zdeb observed:
"His poetic terrain is infused by place and by lack of place, place and displacement. He speaks from a place of permanent exile."
That displacement refers to the post World War II displacement of "whole towns, communities, and families of Germans and Poles forcibly moved due to geopolitical schemes that revised the map." As Rózycki speaks for successive generations still feeling and processing that disruption, could that in part explain the literally elemental disruption the haunted and distressed sleepers suffer in this poem? That rueful last line ... Zdeb also praises Rózycki's "rollicking, smart, and bitter humor", which Rosenthal has maintained so poignantly in translation. Even amidst the poem's sturm und drang, he "can't complain" and clearly will cope. Zdeb's essay, incidentally, refers to Colonies as a series of sonnets. Considering this is work in translation provokes an interesting conundrum. If, as some insist, sonnets must rhyme, can a poem in translation that might or might not have rhymed in the original language be considered a sonnet?

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