j

jean baptiste poquelin upholsterer and a servant of his majesty
read the inscription on the original plate
which disappeared

like daylight
like the flag we wilfully lost
bleached
into the new banner of a new country
pink proletarian
blood in the sun

i trace the same theatre emblem
on ledgers fat with levies for tapestries
for the sun king and his street

for the universal pattern on seats and backrests
for a fabric spun by french polish craftsmen
for those who would buy favor

i find a second volume of the same series
in inventory
is a command performance of choice words
staggered into a new hand
by a heretic publisher newly recanted
our only country is the upholsterers that
held us up and let us in

by Malgorzata Skalbania

Author’s Note:
Just like the art of Marina Abramović, my work derives from my biography. After living in Paris for several years, I came to Lublin in Poland, my country. I was young, and full of enthusiasm for work. But for 20 years, I looked for work connected with culture and art. No school or cultural center in Lublin seemed to need my knowledge, talent, and education. For some time I was a member of the Association of Polish Artists, which required that artists finish from good schools or complete a number of exhibitions. Nevertheless my colleagues threw me out when I had no money for the symbolic membership fees. It was a very unpleasant time, and I felt very old, lonely and abandoned.

A theatre saved me. They were complete strangers to me, but they gave me a job. I thus became a theatrical upholsterer, although I do not know this profession like the great Jean Baptiste Poquelin. My children are very happy now. We have food, electricity and gas, my daughter Emma is studying art history in a good university, and my son Antoni studies at a high school of art. They were once afraid that art was only for hurting people. But they now understand that it is just for helping them survive. We passed this exam as a family. God has blessed us.

The studio where I work, in the upholstery laboratory of the city theatre is located on the Kapucynska Street where the great Polish poet Jozef Czechowicz once lived. The house he grew up in (in the basement) was destroyed by a bomb on September 1, 1939, when Germany bombed Polish cities. The same bombing raid killed Czechowicz a little further away, in the hairdresser’s studio. He had previously written a few prophetic poems predicting his death. His body was identifiable only by a Polish-English dictionary he carried in his pocket.

I can now calmly think and create. Materials for painters are not cheap. But with poetry, I can still afford to paint. I need only paper and something to write with. Previously, writing was not as important to me as painting. I hid notes in a drawer, but now I organize everything, and treasure each one.

I read the poems of Czechowicz like a map of my life, just like the art of Molière, the great upholsterer of Louis XIV. Like Czechowicz, and to honor him, I dropped the caps and punctuation marks in the poem above.

 

Image credit: Liam Heffernan

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