Valuska

Patient crosser of peripheries    Draper of families with tinfoiled foreign text    The decades switch and you’re returning on a shabby train line    Your compartment enveloped in the odor of bleach common to eastern routes    You sit like a furnace invisible to their rememories

A local train instead of your duży Polski Fiat kombi makes no difference    Your car now forever broken down and on blocks behind a barn    That you are available to more borders makes no difference either    Your silver tooth unquivering is as important as ever though    Years behind the wheel with perfume taped beneath your seat    You know the sweat culled by such dicey hauls    Chewing gum for your daughter in an empty milk bottle    Sardines and canned peaches stuffed under dirty tracksuits    Cosmetics sewn into your jacket    Cigarettes ‘forgotten’ in the glove box    Now you ride trains steadily    Their trucks like blocks of wax receiving imprints of your humid cargo    You barrel through the birch to a terminal halt

Tarnów station is overridden with tired human lava and their fresh maps    A wealth of patterns available but dogs still bay at your illegal cloth    Youth energy counts down in the tunnels and breathes upon the bench sleepaways    You guard your bags with your chin    Keep a sleep archive by making sure the prized fruit inside your coat remains unpeeled    The mud on the floor is telepathic comfort

Down the spiral stairs something inhuman rises    (It always does)    Demands you go see the whale    How many men have come from their drinking circles in the woods to stand by it    To guard it like the flame pulling pork fat onto our stale bread    The men tell you the carcass is stuffed with tiny plastic boxes    What?    Nothing inside but garbage from a different town    They tell you the whale promises but offers little for their shelves    It is nothing but a used mustard bottle    One burly plainsman yells into his leather hat    It is like your daughter’s collection of foreign candy wrappers

The whale cannot be grown tamed or eaten    Only stolen not smuggled    Enforced not chosen    Just another thick grey diversion from the national womb    A static point before the next wave of shock therapy    Latching us to debt and our pot of soup

The men condemn but later sing praise with a revived national tune    For the whale eclipses the town square    Pushes the cosmological drunks out of orbit    Its tail testifies to homelessness    And its eyes pick out regret in the men’s mouths    The whale knows your children waited eleven years to first try a banana    It measured on its own skin all the distances you traveled to return with sweets and blankets    All you said about southern neighbors who had more on their shelves    How that is over now

The whale calms symptoms leftover from the transition    Pacifies this new system of available fruit and familial vacancy    We sing on being offered a slice of this new monolith    Anyone can own the space the whale swims in    We can have our money packaged then invested in its mouth    Imagine the whale’s journey and where it will go    We daydream of picking our teeth with its bones    Its mouth devours our need for order    Our need to count on our books remembering    Finally we can’t look away

NOTE:
In Béla Tarr’s film ‘The Werckmeister Harmonies,’ the carcass of a whale is brought to a small Hungarian town as an attraction in a gigantic trailer. Valuska, the main character in the film, quietly and completely witnesses the social chaos the event of the whale visits on the town. This is the starting point and inspiration for this prose-poem.

Why is the whale so fascinating and upsetting? If the whale can be seen to represent the embedding of consumer culture after 1989 in this area of Europe, what are the ramifications of this event for the townspeople and their relationships to everyday objects?

Let us extend the character of Valuska and imagine he was engaged in some small-time contraband activity in the past. In the face of the whale, with the all and/or nothing it offers, what can he do with his inclination to smuggle? Can the whale dissolve the memory of all the contraband he and others have moved through the town? Can the whale displace the need for contraband items?

Or perhaps the whale itself is the ultimate object of contraband, brought covertly to the town to fulfill some unvoiced need? Finally, is this a whale to cross borders to see, or will it eventually bring its confusion everywhere?

This prose-poem explores an intersection of memory and change, contraband and availability, movement and stasis, a whale carcass and the sets of eyes observing it.

Text and photos by Adam Dupaski

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