Thursday, May 31, 2018

On Chopin's Mazurkas and Grateful Conversations (Vol. 9, No. 4)

Chopin's Piano at the Polish Library in Paris

I really identified with Chopin and Polish exiles, when I wrote my Ode of the Lost, and How to Make a Mazurka, two poems about nostalgia of emigres who lost something they did not think they could miss, something as basic as the color of the summer sky, or taste of a special kind of cake at Easter. 

Both poems have now been published in a brand-new anthology, Grateful Conversations, that I co-edited with Kathi Stafford. It includes workshop poems and self-portraits in poetry by my writing group, Westside Women Writers, that I started to attend in 2008.  Ten years of monthly workshops documented in 280 pages, including poems and photographs.  The preface and table of contents are reproduced on Moonrise Press Blog. I also cite three of my poems on my Poetry Laurels blog .

"Polish Sky" torn-paper collage by Barbara Gawronski in a California desert. 

An Ode of the Lost

~ to Adam Mickiewicz and all Polish exiles

Tired exiles in rainy Paris listen to Mickiewicz 
reciting praises of woodsy hills, green meadows—
distant Lithuania, their home painted in Polish verse, 
each word thickly spread with meaning, 
like a slice of rye bread with buckwheat honey.

“Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! ty jesteś jak zdrowie.
Ile cię trzeba cenić, ten tylko się dowie,
Kto cię stracił”—he says, and we, homeless Poles
without ground under our feet, concur, 
sharing the blame for our departure. 
There’s no return. 

Are not all journeys one way? Forward, 
forward, go on, “call that going, call that on.” 
The speed of light, merciless angel with a flaming sword,
moves the arrow forward. Seconds, minutes 
stretch into years. Onwards. Go. 
The time-space cone limits the realm of possibility. 
If you stay, you can go on. If you leave—

Can you find blessing in the blur of a moment? 
In a glimpse of soft, grassy slopes shining 
like burnished gold before the sun turns purple? 
Can you learn to love the sweet-fluted songs 
of the mockingbird, forget the nightingale? 

How far is too far for the lost country 
to become but a dream of ancient kings—
where children never cry, wildflowers bloom,
and autumn flutter of brown, drying leaves 
whispers of the comforts of winter? 

Sleep, sleep, eternal sleep, 
in the spring you will awaken…

NOTE: Quotation in Polish ( “My country! You are as good health: How much one should prize you, he only can tell who has lost you”) is from Adam Mickiewicz’s Invocation to Pan Tadeusz, or the Last Foray in Lithuania. The second quotation is from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable.

The second poem reprinted in the Grateful Conversations was inspired by Chopin's mazurkas and dedicated to my maternal grandparents, where I heard Chopin's mazurkas and ate those made by my grandmother.  The mazurkas above are California variations on her recipes, with addition of ripe strawberries, not available at Polish Easter tables, to the chocolate-almond-shortbread mazurka, and candied orange peels decorating the royal mazurka of dried fruits and nuts. 

How to Make a Mazurka

~ after Chopin’s Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4,
   for my Grandparents, Stanisław and Maria Wajszczuk,  
   who could play and bake their mazurkas like no one else

Take one cup of longing
for the distant home that never was,
one cup of happiness that danced
with your shadows on the walls

of Grandpa’s house, while he played
a rainbow of folk tunes
on his fiddle, still adorned
with last wedding’s ribbons

          mix it – round and round to dizziness

stir in some golden buzz of the bees
in old linden tree, add the ascent
of skylark above spring rye fields,
singing praises to the vastness of blue

           mix it – round and round to dizziness

add chopped walnuts, figs, dates
and raisins, pour in some juice
from bittersweet grapefruit
freshly picked in your garden

            mix it – round and round to dizziness

add dark grey of rainclouds in Paris
that took Chopin back to the glimmer
of candles in an old cemetery
on the evening of All Souls’ Day

         mix it – round and round to dizziness

bake it in the cloudless heat
of your exile, do not forget to sprinkle
with a dollop of sparkling crystals,
first winter’s snowflakes at midnight 

Other notable recordings: 

Swiatoslaw Richter in 1950 in Moscow:

Walter Gieseking in 1938:

Ignacy Jan Paderewski in 1912:

Imagine how this Mazurka could have sounded if you could hear Chopin playing it in Nohant or in his apartment in Paris!

Reproduction of Chopin's last salon at Place Vendome in Paris with his piano, 
Chopin Museum Warsaw, photo (C) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

The Royal Mazurka, California orange version