Bruno Schulz, the Polish writer, has become my new muse. I’ve been reading his first book, The Street of Crocodiles, and I’m fully captivated. His words and images have such energy that they practically levitate above the page: “A tidy thicket of grasses, weeds, and thistles crackled in the fire of the afternoon. The sleeping garden was resonant with flies. The golden field of stubble shouted in the sun like a tawny cloud of locusts; in the thick rain of fire the crickets screamed; seedpods exploded softly like grasshoppers.”
The poetic prose evokes every sense, transporting the reader not just to Schulz’s neighborhood but simultaneously to the reader’s childhood streets. His descriptions and original metaphors serve a multiple purpose. They not only delineate the people/places/things he’s describing, but they also capture the layers of meaning hidden within.
In a passage where Schulz is showing his father’s encroaching madness, he writes “While he sat there in the light of the lamp among the pillows of the large bed, and the room grew enormous as the shadows above the lampshade merged with the deep city night beyond the windows, he felt, without looking, how the pullulating jungle of wallpaper, filled with whispers, lisping and hissing, closed in around him. He heard, without looking, a conspiracy of knowingly winking hidden eyes, of alert ears opening up among the flowers on the wall, of dark, smiling mouths.” A Jew, Schulz suggests here the relationship between the father’s personal shadowy world and the collective horrors that await Polish Jews. He’s intuiting what history already has set in motion and we now know as the holocaust.