Papusza

Officially recorded dates: May 30, 1910 – February 8, 1987. (Possibly born January 17, 1908 or 1909), Poet.

Comes from a group called Polish Romani Lowlands. For several centuries were travellers in Poland (thus: "Polish"), settled in 1950.

Bronislawa Wajs (1908 – 1987), also known as Papusza, the Romani word for "doll", was an unusual child. She learned how to read and write by stealing chickens from Polish villages! She would bring the birds to literate locals in exchange for lessons and books, which she kept well-hidden. (Literacy was forbidden among the Gypsies during the 1920s when Papusza was growing up.) In the summer of 1949, Jerzy Ficowski happened to hear Papusza performing her songs, and, recognizing her talent, urged her to write them down so that he could publish them. The song "Tears of Blood," along with several others, was published by Ficowski in the early 1950s in a book called Papusza's Songs.

Tears of Blood

(How we suffered under the Germans
in 1943-1944)

In the woods. No water, no fire — great hunger.
Where could the children sleep? No tent.
We could not light the fire at night.
By day, the smoke would alert the Germans.
How to live with children in the cold of winter?
All are barefoot…
When they wanted to murder us,
first they forced us to hard labor.
A German came to see us.
— I have bad news for you.
They want to kill you tonight.
Don’t tell anybody.
I too am a dark Gypsy,
of your blood — a true one.
God help you
in the black forest…
Having said these words,
he embraced us all…

For two three days no food.
All go to sleep hungry.
Unable to sleep,
they stare at the stars…
God, how beautiful it is to live!
The Germans will not let us…

Ah, you, my little star!
At dawn you are large!
Blind the Germans!
Confuse them,
lead them astray,
so the Jewish and Gypsy child can live!

When big winter comes,
what will the Gypsy woman with a small child do?
Where will she find clothing?
Everything is turning to rags.
One wants to die.
No one knows, only the sky,
only the river hears our lament.
Whose eyes saw us as enemies?
Whose mouth cursed us?
Do not hear them, God.
Hear us!
A cold night came,
The old Gypsy women sang
A Gypsy fairy tale:
Golden winter will come,
snow, like little stars,
will cover the earth, the hands.
The black eyes will freeze,
the hearts will die.

So much snow fell,
it covered the road.
One could only see the Milky Way in the sky.

On such night of frost
a little daughter dies,
and in four days
mothers bury in the snow
four little sons.
Sun, without you,
see how a little Gypsy is dying from cold
in the big forest.

Once, at home, the moon stood in the window,
didn’t let me sleep. Someone looked inside.
I asked — who is there?
— Open the door, my dark Gypsy.
I saw a beautiful young Jewish girl,
shivering from cold,
asking for food.
You poor thing, my little one.
I gave her bread, whatever I had, a shirt.
We both forgot that not far away
were the police.
But they didn’t come that night.

All the birds
are praying for our children,
so the evil people, vipers, will not kill them.
Ah, fate!
My unlucky luck!

Snow fell as thick as leaves,
barred our way,
such heavy snow, it buried the cartwheels.
One had to trample a track,
push the carts behind the horses.

How many miseries and hungers!
How many sorrows and roads!
How many sharp stones pierced our feet!
How many bullets flew by our ears!

Translated from the Polish by Yala Korwin.

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