For Anna & Johannes Bergmark
It all begins with this vague chorus, a happy pop song heard at a distance when falling asleep or waking up, a happy pop song with perhaps some weird discordant intervals and phrasings, a creepingly madly happy pop song. It appears to try to compel me to do things. Mostly I resist, not because of mental strength but simply because I’m busy anyway. It seems not to be in the lyrics. If I work hard to hear the words, they don’t make sense. It’s not english or swedish, and it doesn’t seem to be played backwards either, the sounds aren’t right. It sounds more slavic, it could be russian, or polish, but it doesn’t seem to have the right structure. It could be polish played backwards.
I have been looking into the geography of the places you seem to keep returning to in dreams, which very often produce an instant feeling of recognition and belonging together with a sense of déjà vu, so that you know you have kept returning there even if there is no earlier accounts of the fact. Quite the opposite then is the type of places which only vague external evidence link you to, they bring about no memories and only the vaguest most uncanny sensations of recognition, it seems like you have been there a lot and had very good reasons to deny it completely, all too completely.
There is a particular file of bibliographical raw data that I keep leafing through on a regular basis to look for some references or just to get some casual suggestions or advanced chance ideas. Occasionally, in that file, a sheet of paper turns up, in my own handwriting, in polish. I know no polish. So I don’t know what it says. I look up and hope the paper will not be there when I look down again, but it’s not that easy. The sheet remains. It has no heading, appears to be a paper snatched by chance from a long report, a long abstract, or a long set of excerpts. And it remains there. I don’t think it is the same sheet every time, probably not, but I can’t know that. It has occurred to me I should show it to someone who knows polish (a lot of people do that, at least if they are from Poland), but I can never find the sheet again. Something came inbetween. It only disappears when your mind isn’t set on it
Vague inner voices keep scolding me. Haha, you’re not supposed to remember that! It’s all from your time in Poland of course! It’s all from the history of the polish office, which doesn’t exist! No one is allowed to talk about the polish office. We thought that all had been finally arranged. Some erased years here, some erased years there.
I can’t really tell whether these voices came out of that vague chorus, or if they were just the instant rhetoric shape of the banal conspiration fantasies triggered.
Obviously there are forgotten identities, forgotten periods in life. That’s not very controversial, is it? It’s just difficult to prove. It’s kind of epistemologically paradoxical. I seem to remember, for example, my short life as a writer, my short life as a boyfriend, my short life as an american, but of course I can’t list the ones I can’t remember.
If I work really hard to imagine a polish office, it usually starts with something from a 60s or early 70s film, with the bright colors, sorrowless disorientation and compulsory clumsiness appropriate to it. But that’s just a cliché. There is some kind of popular image of a perpetual 70s going on in large parts of eastern Europe. Doubting this image, it turns out that this office is just the secret pathway to the real office, behind the coats in the cloakroom. The real office is in black and white, very strict. Young men in strict suits, smoking pipes; serious women who never look up. Rather silent, but the sound of running water can be discerned. Perhaps it is the potted plants singing. It doesn’t seem to be a purely bureaucratic business going on, there are numerous references to production and there seems to be scientific and technological expertise around. Chemical-technical? Again the banal conspiration fantasies take over, and I am violently thrown out into the street.
Under assault by scolding voices again. No, it’s not a pun about “polish orifices”. What would polish orifices be? According to some absurd racist jokes which were popular in the 60s, it’s probably the armpits. I must ask some ethnologist if those polish jokes were translations of american polish jokes, or just superficially tidied jew jokes, or both. But the armpits are not orifices! And if another saying comes to mind, the classic swedish homophobic “Bättre en rövare i Polen än en polare i röven” (Better a robber in Poland than a pal in the ass), this actually associates Poland to the anus only by contrast and not by identification. Yes it would seem that the notion of Poland would rest on polarity. Something about the polarity switch in the major branch of organisms we belong to, the deuterostomes, where the primeval mouth switched to anus and vice versa? So, have I managed to escape any difficult insights yet?
The polish branch was set up by emissaries from several nearby countries, including Sweden, repeatedly over the last decades but always only working for three years in succession before getting closed down and all traces wiped away. But after a while this business was getting rationalised, and all of the furniture and equipment was just stowed away inbetween. Papers were starting to vanish. Something had to be done. No, I’m just making this up, but perhaps this is one method of reconstructing the truth in the absence of others?
In fact, I always wanted to be the polish nation banner. The lower half of the body covered in blood, the upper half entirely blank.
And I did learn a few words in polish in secondary school, when I was in love with a polish girl, who knew almost no swedish. I wrote her long love letters in swedish anyway, I thought throwing in one or two polish words on each page might help keeping her interest up enough to glance through the whole letters. In school, I always offered her Donald Duck fruit drops. For her sake, I did hang out a lot with the polish gang in the school. But the others were all much more talkative. But no one ever tried to talk me out of this absurd courtship. At least not that I remember.
The polish words I sometimes got from someone else in the polish gang, but even more often from my little german-polish dictionary, small, cubic, bright red. One of my favorite books. Remarkably similar, in fact, to the world’s most comprehensive anthology of surrealist poetry, the german surrealist anthology Das surrealistische Gedicht. I tried and tried, but mysteriously failed for twenty years to order this book from the publishers. Probably I already had the width of surrealist poetry in the german-polish dictionary. But now that I recently succeeded in ordering the book, perhaps I killed that myth? So then I have to write this story to tie up the sack?
No, I got specific instructions that I had to write this story, and that it had to be in english, I think it was the only instruction from that vague chorus that I couldn’t resist obeying.
Waking up entirely, the chorus is twisted into something recognisable. It is an Olivia Tremor Control song, suggesting “Where we are – in the blink of an eye, you get several meanings” (“A peculiar noise called ‘train director’”). What? Hey! No! I didn’t get any meaning out of this!