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Two Stories
—Translated from Polish by Katarzyna Szuster-Tardi



Here, they combine the knowledge of choosing words with the art of touch. Before somebody utters soft fur, they keep their hands on a dog’s head for years.

From granaries, they dispense hunger, a spice that stimulates the sense of lack. The king trusts that absence is the saltpeter of things susceptible to nonexistence: what doesn’t keep in salt will be preserved in hunger. No myth can be cut like the fabric for a coat, the halves of which will be dragged through life. Thanks to the spice, the subjects of the kingdom don’t know stale love, only unfulfilled. The professed religion is apnea. All maturing is mutiny. Red fruit get a visit from hangmen.

The menstruating queen is transported to snow-covered fields. She is stripped naked, her legs and wrists tied. They abandon her. Returning—exhausted at that point—she must crawl. Then she leaves a trail of blood on the snow. From the castle tower, the king admires this female trail.

He decreed that her belly would never be bloated by a child. He said: Wear all precious stones except this one. If you ever bring this stone to me, I will tie another to your neck and send the two of you to the river. Sometimes the queen tries a child on in front of the mirror. She puffs up the draped dress. It takes only a moment. Too short to put on a basting stitch.

—Extinguish me or unleash me—says the queen.
     —I only grow concerns—replies the king.

He waits for the procession to pass: he throws his head, hip, hand. Head, hip, hand. When he walks, his tic has the same rhythm. That’s how his insanity introduces itself—without having to tilt its hat. The local madmen receive sweet communion. The king is generous—he skillfully targets the sugar cubes at overgrown tongues.

Dinner is served at the mouth. She gets bony syllables; he, sentences stuffed with sense. The king eats with his hands. Later, he demands water. Then he gets up. Other kings stroke their queens’ necks, crushing their lips with the mortar of their tongues. When this king gets up, he just leaves. Now the queen can wring her face. Dogs’ tongues are working on the puddle on the floor. Nothing is wasted in the bloodstream of the kingdom.

When the king got bored with the senselessness of the rituals, he instituted bestiaries: the court, herded to the city slaughterhouse, ridicule each other. People deride, point their fingers at someone else’s ugliness, fear, and defects. The king also appears. He parodies animals that are led to death: sneering by the slaughterhouse.

The decaying books read: a woman should have her hands busy, otherwise her thoughts are busy. The court honors old sentences. Every evening, they send a lacemaker to the queen. Bent over spools, they work on the royal mistress. Intricate work—to crochet a good body. When the last loop is pulled, the lacemaker leaves. If the queen manages to create a golem out of chenille, the king wakes up happy. They serve him tea—it cools down more slowly than the woman lying next to him. Before she stretches, she’s back to being a bundle of thread.

The sentence has been passed: such a dream could not arise in this man, it was stolen. Pulling a dream out of a thief with horses or oxen is the most severe torture inflicted in the kingdom. Animals yoked to the consciousness tear it apart and drag its scraps around the market. Children play with them despite their mothers’ warnings: they poke them with a stick, rub them in with their soles.

—Put on another one—says the king.—This one looks as if dogs had chewed it up, have it ironed.

The queen takes her face off and sits bald until breakfast is over.

The king checks the results of battles and lotteries. Courtiers spit into the moat.

At lunchtime, the queen’s face is ironed.

The king recognizes illegitimate children—it takes several hours. After dinner, he goes to the queen’s bedroom.

—Can you lend me the love I once gave you?

—Yes—replies the queen.—Let me remember where I put it.

She searches until she pulls out something small wrapped in parchment from under the bed.
—Don’t forget to give it back—she pleads.

The king can’t hear her. He rushes through the chambers and upstairs to the attic. He hands over the bundle to a washerwoman who’s hanging out the queen’s face between the sheets.


The resources of tabularia—maps of stone and clay, woven mappae mundi—document the existence of areas inhabited by nimrods who tried to explore the essence of time in order to control it. Rotuli texts and engravings testify to hunting practices, some of which were to inflict wounds or death on time, others to capture it. It was believed that only something that possessed a body could be comprehended, and, in the case of invisible things, the body supposedly manifested itself after being wounded, trapped, or postmortem.

What later researchers thought to be the anticipation of clocks was, in fact, time snares whose sprockets, dials, cords, weights, and pendulums were designed to cut, bond, stun, and squash the captive. They wanted time to bleed, expire, struggle, thrash against the walls of crates stuffed with iron. Similarly, rods and arrowheads stuck in the ground, wrongly taken for the first gnomons, were the primitive tools of hunters going after the animal running ubiquitously. What was intended to drown and crush the victim was mistakenly considered by those who came afterward as sand and water hourglasses. In fact, all the time traps along with their mechanisms were organ donors for the first clocks, not their prophecy.

Manuscript artifacts mention Ichneumons, who, having reflected on the figure of time, came to the conclusion that it was either time or the observer that moved and based their ritual on this thought. They believed that it would be possible to see time if one stopped striding it and gave up all activities related to movement. So they abandoned their crops, neglected their animals, extinguished the fire, bolted the door, and affixed themselves at the windows. Hired solely for looking, they toiled with their eyes day and night, expecting remuneration in the form of a picture of time made present. But all they saw was landscapes. In the end, they quit practicing stillness and reached for ceremonies intended to force the invisible to appear. They wanted to offend time, deny its effects, merge the spheres it separated. Remembering and planning were banned. Verbs describing past, present, and future activities were made indistinguishable. They removed the boundaries between the living and the dead. They dug up the deceased, perched them on platforms erected in the market square, and forced them to pretend aliveness in public—bodies waved their hands around, raised by balloons tied to their wrists with string. Thanks to these rites, the Ichneumons provided their posterity with a stage, a puppet, and a prop, but no knowledge about the nature of time.

Oneirists, the first transplantologists of an idea from dream to reality, who built their cities, systems, and mythologies sleepwalking, knew: time, like sleep, would never be matter, but they sensed that it could inscribe itself into a manufactured object, cocreating a souvenir of its own presence.

Oneirists dreamed of fishlike membranes containing reflections of the real world. Plates with miniature figures. Caskets that could trap matter, light, and time. In somnambulistic studios, they put together boxes similar to birdhouses. They called these constructions cameras and put them outside at dawn. They hoped that at dusk, they would reach into the boxes, with the same gesture they used to pick eggs from nests, to find a picture of the past, but all they took out was empty hands.

Tireless in their search, they lay in groups on loosened soil. Once they posed in the horizontal atelier, the gardeners sowed this strip of ground with grass. If the sun was good, after a week, the Oneirists got up and, from the scaffoldings brought into the field, they looked at the black doubles of their own shapes lying amidst the green. This is how the first photographs were created, still impermanent and lacking in detail.

Another oneiric invention for studying the relationships between time and object were anatomical theaters. They were used for autopsying old things. Stripped of their shells, their inner layers, organs, and cavities were studied to find a way to revisit the past. Musical
instruments, laid on the autopsy table, gave up the hair of their former users while pieces of walls and rocks hiding paintings or writing were examined.

Explorers, propelled by the content of their own dreams, used them to drag the prototype of a museum into reality. That was because they dreamed of edifices erected in honor of time, full of objects gathered for it, so it could play with them—destroying some, saving others.
With the advent of museums—places where people came to worship time—many visions of its embodiments froze up, fossilized into sentiment.

BRONKA NOWICKA is an interdisciplinary artist and lecturer at the National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Winner of the Nike Literary Award for her book To Feed the Stone (Biuro Literackie), she was made a laureate of the New Voices from Europe project, realized as part of the Literary Europe Live platform to offer support to outstanding European writers after their debuts.