Why must Jacek Podsiadło always be on the road? It’s not that the roads have been already mapped out; it’s more that they’re just waiting to be gone down. The author of Life, and Specifically the Death of Angelica de Sancé sets off not for a meeting with Truth or the Road, although he capitalizes these, but with language. Which is there—and how. And thanks to which an adventure can arise even on the short journey from home to kiosk.
This superb poet and columnist, making his debut here as a writer of fiction, says of his encounter with the Road, language, adventure (and sometimes even Truth), “It ought to be stated up front that our outing has no real goal. It won’t even do the writing of a Road Novel any good. The only actual goal it has is a contractual one, which is to pay homage to Egon Bondy. Because when you are supposed to go somewhere, you normally don’t know where or why. It’s something else entirely when several people set out on a trip together, when those people make up a perfect little pack, and then it turns out that you can go a thousand places, and all of those places are very interesting and alluring.”
These are not empty words, because Podsiadło can make everything he sees and hears and tastes enchanting. He not only casts a spell on real things but, against a backdrop of reality, as Jelitko the Spider he spins the web of the unreal, starting with the Spider, who first gets given a name, and who later participates in several of the novel’s episodes, alongside Angelica de Sancé, the Rescator, Dracula, the Shaman, and others. The chapters that play with other people’s texts (such as the works of Richard Brautigan, often quoted in the book) are proof that Podsiadło is a literary shaman establishing his identity with a superlative degree of expertise. These work perfectly with the illusionistic “exercises” based on reshaping real situations, in the name of poetry or of laughter.
Podsiadło is interested in all paths—the well-trodden, like the Road to Slovakia, to Egon Bondy, and the unfamiliar, explored for the first time. Of these routes, as noted in the book, there are hundreds, and the equally intriguing guide-narrator makes even getting lost on them into an adventure. The whole thing is a journey that has never taken place in Polish literature before.
- Marta Mizuro
When death comes, you have to be in the spot it comes to, otherwise it’s all for naught
To Dorota Różycka
With the New Year I resolved to start a new life. No more delays. No more iniquities. No more Martinis on the express train to Krakow, when the boredom of the journey is ameliorated by the fine reading of fine literature while one is slightly and elegantly inebriated. No more reading, that’s the most important thing. I sat down to write one last farewell poem called “Fantasy.”
I fantasized that one day again
I didn’t finish the rest of it, because I couldn’t figure out anything that rhymed with “again” besides “a fen,” to which I took an immediate disliking. I fantasized that one day again, we would roll into a fen, …? Fantasia and I had never really done much rolling in fens. I soaked the paper I had prepared for my one last farewell poem in water and used the resulting gloop to seal up the window. Which is how “Papier-mâché II” came about. I took the gum out of my mouth and used it to cover up the peephole in the door. I covered up all the ventilation egresses in the kitchen and the bathroom with the first pictures to hand. This reminded me of when Letycja, who was still really little at the time, on seeing her two grandmothers at once had said, “Horrible old egresses.” Outside you could hear the first champagne corks and fireworks. I turned off the lights. I turned on all the gas taps, lay down on the kitchen table, and put a dog chain round my hands, because I didn’t have any rosary beads. But I did have a dog, a blind dog named Fantasia. No more blind dogs. The hiss of the burners diminished, blending pleasantly with the echoes of shots and cheers coming in from everywhere. When the gunfire and screams reached their apogee, something strange happened. The hiss stopped altogether.
I cleared my throat. Pensively, I rubbed my chin. I got up, turned on the light, and reached for the Christmas edition of the paper. In the box with emergency phone numbers I found the number for the gas company. Despite the dog chain on my hands, I managed to dial it.
“Is this the gas emergency service?”
“Gas it is.”
“Happy New Year.”
“Gas men always at the ready.”
“And thank God for that. And I actually just lost my gas, Mr… Gas Man.”
“Just now, right at midnight, I think.”
“Yeah, we were expecting that.”
“What do you mean?”
“The millennium problem.”
“The what problem?”
“The millennium. An omen of the end. Do you have a computer?”
“No, I write on a typewriter.”
“So go to your typewriter and try to write something. Sorry, the other phone is ringing. Happy New Year.”
I went to my typewriter and tried to write, Life, and Specifically the Death of Angelica de Sancé. My typewriter wasn’t writing—instead of staying on the paper, the letters flew off into the air like a swarm of liberated, feminist flies.
I put on a CD by Marcel Ponseele belting out sonatas on the oboe and bazooka, and instead of him I got Robert Wyatt singing “Yolanda” over and over. I couldn’t figure out any way to get the CD to stop. From then on things seemed to snowball, as they say, out of control.
There were snowdrops growing in the refrigerator. The shower kept cutting out on account of phone calls from friends asking how I was feeling this year. The vacuum cleaner threw up all its trash and decided to make babies with the hair dryer. When you flushed the toilet, the water went up and into some pipes going into the ceiling. History books on the third millennium will end with the words, “And they shat into the reservoir.”
My blind dog Fantasia, whom I fetched from the pound a few days later, had got her vision back. Now she could even see the future. She would sit there and read and read about our bizarre era in the history books. The skiers in the Four Jumps Tournament jumped backwards. A disconcerted neighbor complained to me on the steps that his wife, who always had been a good woman before, and opposed to degeneracy, now wanted to be taken from behind, and only from behind.
“That’s the world gone topsy-turvy,” I said, “I was reading about it in some book. My shower cut out.”
“Who cares about the shower, when your own wife only wants to be taken from behind?”
“Then take her from behind,” I shrugged.
“What if I can’t get a hard-on?”
“Say it as it is. I’m planning on dedicating a documentary story to these extraordinary days, for future generations, as a warning.”
“But how, ‘I can’t get an erection,’ like that?”
“Maybe you just drank too much, for New Year’s Eve and everything?”
“No. I just got back from the sex doctor in Warsaw. The problem I have is a millennium problem, that’s what he said. Are you doing okay with those kinds of things?”
All because of those zeros that suddenly started ending the dates. After every thought and every action there now stands a puffed-up, unavoidable zero. Shoes whose soles have snow melting on them leave a new zero on the floor at every step. A zero takes up the whole bed when I want to go to sleep, an elongated zero looks out at me in the mornings from the mirror while I shave. I have trouble getting to sleep, and I don’t feel like shaving, honestly I’m shaving in spite of myself. I’m trying to read the future in the new eyes of my old dog, round like two zeros.
Translated by Jennifer Croft