What, really, is life? Where does it lead?
I often walked along the path leading to the pine with the dried branch. I would gather slippery jack mushrooms in the pine copses and penny buns in the oak glades dappled with sunlight. Further on were some clearings where, in June, you could find wild strawberries. In the early autumn threads of gossamer would float about through the air above the road, some catching on the stumps, others sailing high above the field. Spotted nutcrackers would flit from hemlock to hemlock; I would sit upon the moss and rest.
Once, passing by that way, I heard a howl. It emerged from the oaken glades, from a distance, I reckoned, of about a hundred metres. I stood stock-still, listening. The howl was repeated every now and then: now loudly, now softly. Suddenly, it would grow silent, before resounding again. As I went on, slowly, I had the feeling that now it grew distant, now it approached nearer. Sometimes, it seemed like a whimper.
I decided to search for the trapped animal. And if necessary – to free it from its snare. Even if I’d have to return for snips or a hacksaw. I was certain that it was a dog, whose owner had left him in the woods, tied to a tree with wire. How many times have we heard of such a thing? Or maybe a fox, with iron claws gripping its paws? Would I be able to free a fox?
I entered the bright glade, pushing my way through the thick pines. I leapt over windthrows and waded through waist-deep grasses. Every now and then I halted and pricked my ears. The dog or fox was whimpering somewhere nearby. But here, among the thick pine growth, his voice was muffled, indistinct. I went back to the path.
A little while later I turned toward Lipów. Here too I heard the whimper. And again I entered the brush and circled around. It seemed as if the dog’s voice was coming from everywhere: left, right, echoing. I called out a few times: “Hey! Hey!” I was answered with silence.
Fifteen minutes later I returned to the path. I couldn’t find the dog. It occurred to me that it was all an illusion, all in my head, my ears, the way we sometimes hear that rushing sound in our ears. That animal doesn’t exist. That’s when I started to worry. As I was going away, I paused a few more times to listen. The howl came twice again, and then dead silence.
I came back the next day. I began a systematic search: I combed the woods – walking from the road by the lake to the path in the direction of Lipów. Through the scrub and the oak woods – back and forth. That dog (or fox) took voice less frequently now, but again – just like the day before – I heard the howl before me and behind me, from the left and the right. I scratched my arms on the pine branches. Jumping over a stump, I twisted my ankle. There was no dog to be found anywhere.
I kept up the search for a few days more. I always had hope – as long as I could hear him. I looked through the oak woods and the scrub. I peered into caves, depressions, and under fallen trees. Five days later he called out only once. As if from a distance and indistinctly. I called back: “Hey! Hey!” All I heard was my own echo. I waited a long time.
Threads of gossamer fly over the path. Rustling in the oak woods. Silence.
Excerpt translated by Charles S. Kraszewski
What, really, is life? Where does it lead?
The Return is the title of the newest collection of short stories by Kazimierz Orłoś, a writer with an immense amount of works to his credit, who debuted in 1958. It must be understood from several perspectives and also in several dimensions. It is a return to the composition of short stories (following his two large tomes of memoirs), but it is also a return to places, and finally – to times.
Like few others, this Warsaw artist is able to capture in writing the Masuria region – the lake district in northeastern Poland – which is a place very special to him, and to which he devotes a few dozen narratives collected in his newest book. The quotidian life in the region, with its most simple activities – picking berries and mushrooms, digging wells, searching for a lost dog, listening to the song of an oriole and the chirping of a cricket – makes us halt and meditate on these simple things, from which musings we arrive at questions about human existence: What, really, is life? Where does it lead?
History has always been present in Orłoś’s writing: most recent history, wartime history, but above all that of the Polish People’s Republic, because that is the era in which Kazimierz Orłoś’s art developed. The story entitled “The Little Silver Plate” is very moving. It is the history of the degradation and profanity of something that might seem unchanging, holy and immaculate. In “Jacek” we meet a woman who at first arouses irritation in the main protagonist – again and again she stops on the street to stare at him. And finally the question tossed at the young man hurrying to the university classroom: “Jacek?” “Did he die in the uprising? He didn’t return home after the war from the camp, from banishment, from the Western or the Eastern Front? She waited on him, fooling herself that he would return, that he’s alive somewhere, maybe even next door. Even I might be Jacek.” So the author transports us somewhere back to the end of the 1950s. This book contains short stories that arose back then, though they were never published, such as the title piece “The Return”, which was read in installments over the radio in 1990. In this splendid, many-themed volume, we also find a description of the reality of the most recent years, marked with brutal political divisions. Two of the stories treat of this: “Thou Blessest Us” as well as “The Night of the Sovereign”. In this book we have the true return of a writer to the creation of literature in short form, of which he has been a master for many decades now.
Translated by Charles S. Kraszewski
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First, Marysia, a student of an exclusive private school in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, dies under the wheels of a train. Her teacher, Elżbieta, tries to find out what really happened. She starts a private investigation only soon to perish herself. But her body disappears, and the only people who have seen anything are Gniewomir, a … Continue reading “Wound”
A young girl, Regina Wieczorek, was found dead on the beach. She was nineteen years old and had no enemies. Fortunately, the culprit was quickly found. At least, that’s what the militia think. Meanwhile, one day in November, Jan Kowalski appears at the police station. He claims to have killed not only Regina but also … Continue reading “Penance”
The year is 1922. A dangerous time of breakthrough. In the Eastern Borderlands of the Republic of Poland, Bolshevik gangs sow terror, leaving behind the corpses of men and disgraced women. A ruthless secret intelligence race takes place between the Lviv-Warsaw-Free City of Gdańsk line. Lviv investigator Edward Popielski, called Łysy (“Hairless”), receives an offer … Continue reading “A Girl with Four Fingers”
This question is closely related to the next one, namely: if any goal exists, does life lead us to that goal in an orderly manner? In other words, is everything that happens to us just a set of chaotic events that, combined together, do not form a whole? To understand how the concept of providence … Continue reading “Order and Love”
The work of Józef Łobodowski (1909-1988) – a remarkable poet, prose writer, and translator, who spent most of his life in exile – is slowly being revived in Poland. Łobodowski’s brilliant three- volume novel, composed on an epic scale, concerns the fate of families and orphans unmoored by the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war and … Continue reading “Ukrainian Trilogy: Thickets, The Settlement, The Way Back”