Sunday, April 30, 2006

Anna Świrszczyńska : poem

I’ve Been Waiting These Thirty Years

That young beanpole was maybe six feet tall,
that light-hearted worker from Powiśle
who fought
in the hell of Zielna Street, in the telephone building.
When I changed the bandage on
his leg that was torn open
he winced, he laughed.

‘When the war’s over
we’ll go dancing, miss.
It’s on me’.

I’ve been waiting for him
these thirty years.

Translated from the Polish by Magnus Jan Keynski and Robert A. Maguire

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Jane Hirshfield : poem


This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.

It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.

Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.

Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the fair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.

IT spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.

The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.

Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.
When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them—one, then another—
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.

From Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 2001 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Stanislaw Baranczak (poem)


To Leo Dymarski

A grim modern version of the visit of the Magi [during Communist rule in Poland]. –Helen Vendler

They will probably come just after the New Year.
As usual, early in the morning.
The forceps of the doorbell will pull you out by the head
from under the bedclothes; dazed as a newborn baby,
you’ll open the door. The star of an ID
will flash before your eyes.
Three men. In one of them you’ll recognize
with sheepish amazement (isn’t this a small
world) your schoolmate of years ago.
Since that time he’ll hardly have changed,
only grown a moustache,
perhaps gained a little weight.
They’ll enter. The gold of their watches will glitter (isn’t
this a gray dawn), the smoke from their cigarettes
will fill the room with a fragrance like incense.
All that’s missing is myrrh, you’ll think half-unconsciously–
while with your heel you’re shoving under the couch the book they
mustn’t find–
what is this myrrh, anyway,
you’d have to finally look it up
someday. You’ll come
with us, sir. You’ll go
with them. Isn’t this a white snow.
Isn’t this a black Fiat.
Wasn’t this a vast world.

From Spoiling Cannibals' Fun, Polish Poetry of the Last Two Decades of Communist Rule; Northwestern University Press; 1991

Friday, April 28, 2006


Uncovering the bones of a grandmother’s past.

On the windowsill of my childhood stood a dust-colored round tin with black letters printed on it: “Dorset. Stewed Pork.” The tin served as a communal grave for all single buttons. Every now and then, a button would fall off a cuff, roll under the bed—and that was it. Grope as you might or run the broom under the bed, it was gone forever. Then the contents of “Dorset” would be shaken out on the table and picked over with one finger, like grains of buckwheat, in search of a pair, but of course nothing matching could ever be found. After a bit of hesitation, the other button would be snipped off—what can you do?—the orphan would be thrown into the pile, and a half-dozen new buttons wrapped in muddy, tea-colored waxed paper would be purchased at the variety store.

The tram ran outside the window, the glass rattled, the windowsill shook, and the minute population of “Dorset” jangled faintly, as though living its own cantankerous life. In addition to buttons, there were some old-timers in the tin: for instance, a set of needles from the foot-pedal Singer sewing machine that no one had used in so long that it gradually began to dissolve into the air of the room, thinning down into its own shadow before it finally vanished, though it had been a real beauty—black, with a ravishingly slender waist, a clear-cut gold sphinx printed on its shoulder, a gold wheel, a black rawhide drive belt, and a dangerous steel-toothed crevasse that plunged down into mysterious depths, where, shuddering, the shuttle went back and forth and did who knows what. Or there might be a crumbling scrap of paper in the tin, on which hooks and loops sat like black insects; as the paper died, the hooks fell to the bottom of the grave with a gentle clink. Or some metallic thingamabob resembling a dentist’s instrument; no one knew what it was, because there were no dentists in our family. We’d fish out this cold, sharp object with two fingers: “Papa, what is this?” Papa would put on the spectacles that sat on his forehead, take it carefully, and inspect it. “Hard to say . . . It’s . . . something.”

The corpses of tiny objects, shells of sunken islands. One that constantly surfaced, fell to the bottom, and then surfaced again was a dull-white, bony blade, good for nothing. Of course, like everything else, no one ever threw it away. Then one time someone said, “That’s whalebone, a whale whisker.”

Whalebone! Whale whiskers! Instantly, monster whale-fishes came to mind, smooth black mountains in the gray, silvery-slow ocean sea. In the middle of the whale—a fountain like the ones at Petrodvorets, foamy water spouting on both sides. On the monster’s face—small, attentive eyes and a long, fluffy mustache, totally Maupassant. But the encyclopedic dictionary writes, “Teeth are found only in so-called ‘toothed-W.’ (dolphins, narwhals, sperm W., and bottle-nosed W.), which feed mostly on fish; the whiskered, or baleen W. (gray W., right W., rorquals), has horny formations on the roof of the mouth, plates mistakenly called ‘bones’ or ‘whiskers,’ which serve to filter plankton.” Not true, that is, they’re not only for filtering. As late as 1914, a seamstress sewing a stylish dress for Grandmother reproached my absent-minded, happy-go-lucky ancestor, “Nowadays, Natalya Vasilevna, one can’t circulate in society without a busk”; Grandmother was shamed and agreed to a straight busk. The seamstress grabbed a handful of “bones” that came from the mouth of a gray W., or perhaps it was a right W., or maybe even a rorqual, and sewed them into Grandmother’s corset, and Grandmother circulated with great success, wearing under her bust, or at her waist, slivers of the seas, small pieces of those tender, pinkish-gray palates, and she passed through suites of rooms, slim and petite, a decadent Aphrodite with a heavy knot of dark-gold hair, rustling her silks, fragrant with French perfumes and fashionable Norwegian mists; heads turned to watch her, hearts pounded. She loved, rashly and dangerously, and married; then the war began, then the revolution, and she gave birth to Papa—on a day when a machine gun strafed through the fog—and she was anxious and barricaded the frosted window of the bathroom; she fled south, and ate grapes, and then the machine gun began blazing again, and again she fled, on the last steamship out of grapevined, bohemian Odessa, making her way to Marseilles, then to Paris. And she was hungry, poor, and humbled; now she herself sewed for the rich, crawled on her knees around their skirts, her mouth pursed to hold pins; she pinned hems and linings and despaired, and again she fled south (this time the South of France), imagining that she could not only eat grapes but make wine herself—you only have to stomp on them with your feet, it’s called vendange—and then everyone would get rich again and everything would be like it used to be, absent-minded, lighthearted, carefree. But again she came to ruin most shamefully, ridiculously, and in August, 1923, she returned to Petrograd, her hair bobbed, wearing a new, stylishly short skirt and a mushroom-shaped cap, holding a much grown, frightened Papa by the hand. By that time, you could circulate in society without a busk, under different conditions. A lot of things circulated then.

To retell a life you need an entire life. We’ll skip it. Later, perhaps, sometime or another.

I’m really thinking about the whale: how he dove into the cold Norwegian waters suspecting nothing, not a thought for the red-bearded northern fishermen; how he wasn’t on his guard when he rose up to the gray surface of the sea, to the unextinguished yellow sunsets in the overflow of the northern waters, fair-haired girls, pines, stones, Grieg sonatas, to that sea sung by fashionable writers in the modern’s minor key. He didn’t need those baleens, those horny formations on his palate, those so-called whiskers or bones intended as an instrument for filtering plankton; the northern girls found a better use for them. A slender waist; luxuriant hair; a difficult love; a long life; children dragged by the hand across seas and continents. And then the end of war, then the victor’s roar, and the Allies sent us tins of good stewed pork; we ate it and spat the bones, teeth, and whiskers into the empty containers. But it’s the bottle-nosed whales that have the teeth, while ours, our very own, personal, gray, right, rorqual, our poor Yorick, didn’t even eat fish, he didn’t wrong any fishermen, he lived a radiant, short life—no, no, a long, long life, it continues even now and will continue as long as someone’s uncertain, pensive fingers keep fishing out and tossing back, fishing out and tossing back into the tin on the shaking windowsill these hushed, stunning skull shards of time. Clench a fragment of Yorick in your fist—milky and chill—and the heart grows younger, pounds faster, and strains; the suitor wants to snatch the young lady, and water spouts like a fountain to all ends of the sea, and the world circulates, whirling, spinning, wanting to fall; it stands on three whales, and splits away from them into the head-spinning abyss of time.

(Translated, from the Russian, by Jamey Gambrell; New Yorker; Issue of 2005-12-26 and 2006-01-02)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Muriel Rukeyser


Sunday shuts down on the twentieth-century evening.
The El passes. Twilight and bulb define
the brown room, the overstuffed plum sofa,
the boy, and the girl’s thin hands above his head.
A neighbor radio sings stocks, news, serenade.

He sits at the table, head down, the young clear neck
watching the drugstore sign from the tail of his eye;
tattoo, neon, until the eye blears, while his
solicitous tall sister, simple in blue, bending
behind him, cuts his hair with her cheap shears.

The arrow’s electric red always reaches its mark,
successful neon! He coughs, impressed by that precision.
His child’s forehead, forever protected by his cap,
is bleached against the lamplight as he turns head
and steadies to let the snippets drop.

Erasing the failure of weeks with level fingers,
she sleeks the fine hair, combing: “You’ll look fine
You’ll surely find something, they can’t keep turning you
the finest gentleman’s not so trim as you!” Smiling, he
the adolescent forehead wrinkling ironic now.

Sharon Olds (3 poems)


The hair I pull, out of my comb,
drifts off, from the rail of the porch.
It is curled on itself, it folds, kneels,
bows and buckles over onto our earth.
This is the soil I came from, sour
tang of resin and baked dust.
I saw my father's ashes down
into the dirt, except for the portion I
put on my tongue like the Host and swallowed and ate.
I have always wanted to cross over
into the other person, draw the
other person over into me. Fast are the naked palms to the breasts
from behind, at the porch rail, fast
is a look. Slow is the knowing where I come from,
who I might be, like a dream of matter
looking for spirit. Now the hair
rises on an updraft, wobbling, reddish,
in a half-circle, it wavers higher--
the jelly head of the follicle has the tail of the hair in its mouth, it rolls back
up, toward me, through the morning, as if
someone, somewhere, were saying, to me, we are one now.


For seventeen years, her breath in the house
at night, puff, puff, like summer
cumulus above her bed,
and her scalp smelling of apricots
--this being who had formed within me,
squatted like a bright tree-frog in the dark,
like an eohippus she had come out of history
slowly, through me, into the daylight,
I had the daily sight of her,
like food or air she was there, like a mother.
I say "college," but I feel as if I cannot tell
the difference between her leaving for college
and our parting forever--I try to see
this house without her, without her pure
depth of feeling, without her creek-brown
hair, her daedal hands with their tapered
fingers, her pupils dark as the mourning cloak's
wing, but I can't. Seventeen years
ago, in this room, she moved inside me,
I looked at the river, I could not imagine
my life with her. I gazed across the street,
and saw, in the icy winter sun,
a column of steam rush up away from the earth.
There are creatures whose children float away
at birth, and those who throat-feed their young
for weeks and never see them again. My daughter
is free and she is in me--no, my love
of her is in me, moving in my heart,
changing chambers, like something poured
from hand to hand, to be weighed and then reweighed.


Then dirt scared me, because of the dirt
he had put on her face. And her training bra
scared me—the newspapers, morning and evening,
kept saying it, training bra,
as if the cups of it had been calling
the breasts up—he buried her in it,
perhaps he had never bothered to take it
off. They found her underpants
in a garbage can. And I feared the word
eczema, like my acne and like
the X in the paper which marked her body,
as if he had killed her for not being flawless.
I feared his name, Burton Abbott,
the first name that was a last name,
as if he were not someone specific.
It was nothing one could learn from his face.
His face was dull and ordinary,
it took away what I’d thought I could count on
about evil. He looked thin and lonely,
it was horrifying, he looked almost humble.
I felt awe that dirt was so impersonal,
and pity for the training bra,
pity and terror of eczema.
And I could not sit on my mother’s electric
blanket anymore, I began to have a
fear of electricity—
the good people, the parents, were going to
fry him to death. This was what
his parents had been telling us:
Burton Abbott, Burton Abbott,
death to the person, death to the home planet.
The worst thing was to think of her,
of what it had been to be her, alive,
to be walked, alive, into that cabin,
to look into those eyes, and see the human

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ana Paula Inácio


o que tens para dizer
senão a tua presença imperfeita,
o teu rosto de areia,
atravessaste Séneca a pé?

o que dizes está gravado
sobre a mesa tens copo, tens vinho.

o que poderás dizer
que não se dissolva em pó?

Atira antes pedras
margas, basalto, xisto.

what do you have to say
besides your imperfect presence,
your face of sand,
did you cross through Seneca on foot?

what you say is recorded
on the table you have a glass, you have wine.

what can you say
that won’t turn to dust?

Throw stones instead,
marl, basalt, schist.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Julia Hartwig


I remember an old, meticulously executed print.
Swallowed by a whale, a small man with a frock coat sits inside its belly at a small table, lit by an oil lamp.
But from time to time the whale gets hungry. And here is the second print.
A powerful wave of seawater rushes through the throat to the belly, with a shoal of swallowed small fish.
The table with the lamp is knocked down; the small man, diving, nestles against the slick wall of the whale's massive bulk.
After the wave's retreat he sets up his table, hangs the lamp, and begins to work.
Perhaps he is studying the Old Testament? Perhaps he is studying maps?
What else could be of interest to a traveler miraculously saved from a shipwreck?
I often think of this print as I lay books down on my table for work, after tightly closing windows and doors.

(Translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Parade Ends

Paseos por las calles que revientan,
pues las cañerías ya no dan más
por entre edificios que hay que esquivar,
pues se nos vienen encima,
por entre hoscos rostros que nos escrutan y sentencian,
por entre establecimientos cerrados,
mercados cerrados,
cines cerrados,
parques cerrados,
cafeterías cerradas.
Exhibiendo a veces carteles (justificaciones) ya polvorientos,
Cerrado por reformas,
cerrado por reparación.
¿Qué tipo de reparación?
¿Cuándo termina dicha reparación, dicha reforma?
¿Cuándo, por lo menos,
todo cerrado...
Llego, abro los innumerables candados, subo corriendo la improvisada escalera.
Ahí está, ella, aguardándome.
La descubro, retiro la lona y contemplo sus polvorientas y frías dimensiones.
Le quito el polvo y vuelvo a pasarle la mano.
Con pequeñas palmadas limpio su lomo, su base, sus costados.
Me siento, desesperado, feliz, a su lado, frente a ella,
paso las manos por su teclado, y, rápidamente, todo se pone en marcha.
El ta ta, el tintineo, la música comienza, poco a poco, ya más rápido
ahora, a toda velocidad.
Paredes, árboles, calles,
catedrales, rostros y playas,
celdas, mini celdas,
grandes celdas,
noche estrellada, pies
desnudos, pinares, nubes,
centenares, miles,
un millón de cotorras
taburetes y una enredadera.
Todo acude, todo llega, todos vienen.
Los muros se ensanchan, el techo desaparece y, naturalmente, flotas,
flotas, flotas arrancado, arrastrado,
llevado, transportado, eternizado,
salvado, en aras, y,
por esa minúscula y constante cadencia,
por esa música,
por ese ta ta incesante.

Reinaldo Arenas

Reinaldo Arenas [excerpt]

"Esa tarde me fui para mi casa caminando, llegué al cuarto, y seguí escribiendo un poema. Era un poema largo que se titulaba "Morir en junio y con la lengua fuera". A los pocos días tuve que interrumpir mi poema, pues alguien me había entrado por la ventana del cuarto y me había robado la máquina de escribir. Fue un robo serio, porque para mí aquella máquina de escribir era no sólo la única pertenencia de valor que tenía en aquel cuarto, sino el objeto más preciado con el que yo podía contar. Sentarme a escribir era, y aún lo sigue siendo, algo extraordinario; yo me inspiraba (como un pianista) en el ritmo de aquellas teclas y ellas mismas me llevaban. Los párrafos se sucedían unos a otros como el oleaje del mar; una veces más intensos y otras menos; otras veces como ondas gigantescas que cubrían páginas y páginas sin llegar a un punto y aparte. Mi máquina era una Underwood vieja y de hierro, pero constituía para mí un instrumento mágico"


You do not recognize me, but it’s me all the same,
The one who used to make my bows by cutting your brown
So straight and so swift in their reaching for the sun.
You grew large, your shade is huge, you send up new shoots.
It’s a pity I’m not a boy anymore.
Now I could cut for myself only a stick, for, as you see, I walk with a

I loved your brown bark with its whitish tinge, its true hazel color.
I’m glad that some oaks and ashes have survived,
But I rejoice at seeing you, magical as always, with the pearls of your
With the generations of squirrels that have danced in you.

This is something of a Heraclitean meditation: I stand here
Remembering my bygone self and life as it was but also as it could
have been.
Nothing lasts, but everything lasts: a great stability,
And I try to locate my destiny in it.
Which, in truth, I did not want to accept.
I was happy with my bow stalking at the edge of a fairy tale.
What happened to me later deserves no more than a shrug;
It is only biography, i.e., fiction.

Biography or fiction or a long dream.

Layers of white clouds on a fragment of sky between the brightness of
the birches.

A vineyard, yellow and rusty in the approaching dusk.
For a short time I was a servant and a wanderer.
Released, I come back by a never-taken road.

Czeslaw Milosz; This, 2000

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tomas Venclova : poem


At the foot of the slope, the marsh stinks of metal.
A horse nibbles the echinodermal blades.
Eight women toil at tables at the center
Of autumn and the plain. Dew saturates
The Ohio weekend. Down in the ravine,
A maple tree is rusting (or a can,
No way to tell). Lights thickening their beams,
Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Oregon,

Orion too. The landslide of the Lord
Onto the lost space. While the monotone
Of heartbeats smashes the severe ground,
Let thanks be given for the new land.
I can’t see through it, but it is alive.
It can’t see through me, yet I would assume
That the aged dog would sooner recognize
Odysseus here than in his native home.

I offer my thanksgiving for the answers,
Which the sleepless mind is weary of pursuing.
For the new water. For grasses belonging
To the future. For the patient wind
Over them. For the grave in the foreign land,
For the weight of the foreign stone, not killing,
For non-existence. And for Thee, Who can
Draw something from it. If Thou dost will it.

For the black music of the spheres. And for
The containment of it in this day’s rotation.
Accustomed to the twilight, the objects are
Repeated on this side of the ocean.
The corners fill, as three clocks arise.
The retina, not fearful of mistakes,
Discovers a lock, a tablecloth, the stars
Just as in childhood, in the same old place.

Frank O'Hara [ 2 extracts]


My quietness has a man in it, he is transparent

and he carries me quietly, like a gondola, through the streets.
He has several likenesses, like stars and years, like numerals.

My quietness has a number of naked selves,
so many pistols I have borrowed to protect myselves
from creatures who too readily recognize my weapons
and have murder in their heart!

though in winter
they are warm as roses, in the desert
taste of chilled anisette.

to be born and live as variously as possible. The conception
of the masque barely suggests the sordid identifications.
I am a Hittie in love with a horse. I don’t know what blood’s
in me I feel like an African prince I am a girl walking downstairs
in a red pleated dress with heels I am a champion taking a fall
I am a jockey with a sprained ass-hole I am the light mist
in which a face appears
and it is another face of blonde I am a baboon eating a banana
I am a dictator looking at his wife I am a doctor eating a child
And the child’s mother smiling I am a Chinaman climbing a mountain
I am a child smelling his father’s underwear I am an Indian
sleeping on a scalp
and my pony is stamping in the birches,
and I’ve just caught sight of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.
What land is this, so free?

And now it is the serpent’s turn.
I am not quite you, but almost, the opposite of visionary. . .

And yet
I have forgotten my loves, and chiefly that one, the cancerous
statue which my body could no longer contain,
against my will
against my love
become art,
I could not change it into history
and so remember it,
and I have lost what is always and everywhere
present, the scene of my selves, the occasion of these ruses,
which I myself and singly must now kill
and save the serpent in their midst.

(Poems 252-257)

* * *


Everything is in the poems, but at the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man’s Allen Ginsberg I will write to you because I just heard that one of my fellow poets thinks that a poem of mine that can’t be got at one reading is because I was confused too. Now, come on. I don’t believe in god, so I don’t have to make elaborately sounded structures. I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have, I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, "Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep."

That’s for the writing poems part. As for their reception, suppose you’re in love and someone’s mistreating (mal aimé) you, you don’t say, "Hey, you can’t hurt me this way, I care!" you just let all the different bodies fall where they may, and they always do ‘flay after a few months. But that’s not why you fell in love in the first place, just to hang onto life, so you have to take your chances and try to avoid being logical. Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you.

I’m not saying that I don’t have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today, but what difference does that make? they’re just ideas. The only good thing about it is that when I get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives.

But how can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them. Improves them for what? for death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don’t give a damn whether you eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them, I like the movies too. And all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American are better than the movies. As for measure and other technical apparatus, that’s just common sense: if you’re going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. There’s nothing metaphysical about it. Unless of course, you flatter yourself into thinking that what You’re experiencing is "yearning."

Abstraction in poetry, which Allen recently commented on in It is, is intriguing. I think it appears mostly in the minute particu1ars where decision is necessary. Abstraction (in poetry, not in painting) involves personal removal by the poet. For instance, the decision involved in the choice between "the nostalgia of the infinite" and "the nostalgia for the infinite" defines an attitude toward degree of abstraction. The nostalgia of the infinite representing the greater degree of abstraction, removal, and negative capability (as in Keats and Mallarmé). Personism, a movement which I recently founded and which nobody yet knows about, interests me a great deal, being so totally opposed to this kind of abstract removal that it is verging on a true abstraction for the first time, really, in the history of poetry. Personism is to Wallace Stevens what la poésie pure was to Béranger. Personism has nothing to do with philosophy, it’s all art. It does not have to do with personality or intimacy, far from it! But to give you a vague idea, one of its minimal aspects is to address itself to one person (other than the poet himself), thus evoking overtones of love without destroying love’s life-giving vulgarity, and sustaining the poet’s feelings towards the poem while preventing love from distracting him into feeling about the person. That’s part of personism. It was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It’s a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Virginia H. Adair


Lying entwined with you
on the long sofa

the hi-fi helping
Isolde to her climax

I was clipping
the coarse hairs

from your ears
and ruby nostrils

when you said, "Music
for cutting nose wires"

and we shook so
the nailscissors nicked

your gentle neck
blood your blood

I cleansed the place
with my tongue

and we clung tight
pelted with Teutonic cries

till the player
lifted its little prick

from the groove
all arias over

leaving us
in post-Wagnerian sadness

later that year
you were dead

by your own hand
blood your blood

I have never understood
I will never understand.

Note: This poem was written to Virginia's husband, who after some thirty-five years of apparent happiness, without warning and for no obvious reason, Douglass Adair, went upstairs one afternoon and shot himself. [A. Alvarez; New York Review of Books]

Czeslaw Milosz : THIS


Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of the seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget–I kept saying–that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago–
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef–they will dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfilment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.


Approaching ninety, and still with a hope
That I could tell it, say it, blurt it out.

If not before people, at least before You,
Who nourished me with honey and wormwood.

I am ashamed, for I must believe you protected me,
As if I had for You some particular merit.

I was like those in the gulags who fashioned a cross from twigs
And prayed to it at night in the barracks.

I made a plea and You deigned to answer it,
So that I could see how unreasonable it was.

But when out of pity for other I begged a miracle,
The sky and earth were silent, as always.

Morally suspect because of my belief in You,
I admired unbelievers for their simple persistence.

What sort of adorer of Majesty am I,
If I consider religion good only for the weak like myself?

The least-normal person in Father Chomski’s class,
I had already fixed my sights on the swirling vortex of destiny.

Now you are closing down my five senses, slowly,
And I am an old man lying in darkness.

Delivered to that thing which has oppressed me
So that I always ran forward, composing poems.

Liberate me from guilt, real and imagined.
Give me certainty that I toiled for Your glory.

In the hour of the agony of death, help me with Your suffering
Which cannot save the world from pain.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Seamus Heaney : 2 poems


In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives--
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.


In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

The cool that came off the sheets just off the line
Made me think the damp must still be in them
But when I took my corners of the linen
And pulled against her, first straight down the hem
And then diagonally, then flapped and shook
The fabric like a sail in a cross-wind,
They made a dried-out undulating thwack.
So we'd stretch and fold and end up hand to hand
For a split second as if nothing had happened
For nothing had that had not always happened
Beforehand, day by day, just touch and go,
Coming close again by holding back
In moves where I was x and she was o
Inscribed in sheets she'd sewn from ripped-out flour sacks.

Jorie Graham : poem


Today, because I couldn't find the shortcut through,
I had to walk this town's entire inner
perimeter to find
where the medieval walls break open
in an eighteenth century
arch. The yellow valley flickered on and off
through cracks and the gaps
for guns. Bruna is teaching me
to cut a pattern.
Saturdays we buy the cloth.
She takes it in her hands
like a good idea, feeling
for texture, grain, the built-in
limits. It's only as an afterthought she asks
and do you think it's beautiful?
Her measuring tapes hang down, corn-blond and endless,
from her neck.
When I look at her
I think Rapunzel,
how one could climb that measuring,
that love. But I was saying,
I wandered all along the street that hugs the walls,
a needle floating
on its cloth. Once
I shut my eyes and felt my way
along the stone. Outside
is the cashcrop, sunflowers, as far as one can see. Listen,
the wind rattles in them,
a loose worship
seeking an object,
an interruption. Sara,
the walls are beautiful. They block the view.
And it feels rich to be
inside their grasp.
When Bruna finishes her dress
it is the shape of what has come
to rescue her. She puts it on.

Tadeusz Ròzewicz : poem


When all the women in the transport
had their heads shaved
four workmen with brooms made of birch twigs
swept up
and gathered up the hair

Behind clean glass
the stiff hair lies
of those suffocated in gas chambers
there are pins and side combs
in this hair

The hair is not shot through with light
is not parted by the breeze
is not touched by any hand
or rain or lips

In huge chests
clouds of dry hair
of those suffocated
and a faded plait
a pigtail with a ribbon
pulled at school
by naughty boys.

Translated by Adam Czerniawski

Denise Levertov : poem


"The World is not something to
look at, it is something to be in."

-Mark Rudman

I look and look.
Looking's a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamor.
World and the past of it,
not only
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
a way of breathing.

breathing to sustain
walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Anna Swirszczynska: 9 poems


I renounce this fingernail
already worn
by my grandfather.
This head occupied
for two thousand years
by the bloody body of Julius Caesar.

The dead sit on me
like a mountain. The carrion
of barbaric epochs,
of bodies and thoughts decays in me.
Cruel corpses of centuries
that I be as cruel as they.

But I am not going to repeat
their dead words.
I have to give myself
a new birth. I have to
give birth to a new time.


I’m curled into a ball
like a dog
that is cold.

Who will tell me
why I was born,
why this monstrosity
called life.

The telephone rings. I have to give
a poetry reading.

I enter.
A hundred people, a hundred pairs of eyes.
They look, they wait.
I know for what.

I am supposed to tell them
why they were born,
why there is
this monstrosity called life.


There are moments
when I feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.
This comforts and reassures me,
this heartens me,
just as my tri-dimensional body
is heartened by my own authentic shadow.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Until now this has not happened
but it does not settle the question.


She is sixty. She lives
the greatest love of her life.

She walks arm-in-arm with her dear one,
her hair streams in the wind.
Her dear one says:
"You have hair like pearls."

Her children say:
"Old fool."


At night
mother opened a chest and took out
her white wedding slippers
of silk. Then slowly
daubed them with ink.

Early in the morning
she went in those slippers
into the street
to line up for bread.
It was minus ten degrees,
she stood
for three hours in the street.

They were handing out
one-quarter of a loaf per person.


I gave birth to life.
It went out of my entrails
and asks for the sacrifice of my life
as does an Aztec deity.
I lean over a little puppet,
we look at each other
with four eyes.

"You are not going to defeat me," I say
"I won't be an egg which you would crack
in a hurry for the world,
a footbridge that you would take on the way to your life.
I will defend myself."

I lean over a little puppet,
I notice
a tiny movement of a tiny finger
which a little while ago was still in me,
in which, under a thin skin,
my own blood flows.
And suddenly I am flooded
by a high, luminous wave
of humility.
Powerless, I drown.


sang all his life.
When he was young, in Warsaw,
all winter, in the unheated workshop
he sang, his brush
gripped with fingers blue with cold.

When he came back and told mother
that he had not gotten a commission
for a portrait from a photograph,
and there was no bread for tomorrow,
he would take up his palette and start
to sing.

In Krakow when he had reached
and, in a corner of his workshop,
high-ceilinged as a church

death was waiting behind a picture --
he would sing all morning
and evening.
He sang loudly and beautifully,
people would stop on the stairs,

When he died and his paintings
were removed from the workshop, I
started to sing.
-- What are you doing -- said my daughter.
Grandfather died and you sing
so loud you can hear it
on the stairs.

And I sang one after the other
all the songs he sang when he was young
and when he was ninety,
with death
waiting in a corner behind a picture
in a workshop as wretched
as any when he was young.

I sang for the last time
between walls
black from soot,
where he had suffered for thirty years
and where he was taken
without pain
in his sleep by death.
Who one night came silently out
from behind a painting in the corner.


Our embrace lasted too long.
We loved right down to the bone.
I hear the bones grind, I see
our two skeletons.

Now I am waiting
till you leave, till
the clatter of your shoes
is heard no more. Now, silence.

Tonight I am going to sleep alone
on the bedclothes of purity.
is the first hygienic measure.
will enlarge the walls of the room,
I will open the window
and the large, frosty air will enter,
healthy as tragedy.
Human thoughts will enter
and human concerns,
misfortune of others, saintliness of others.
They will converse softly and sternly.

Do not come anymore.
I am an animal
very rarely.


My body, you are an animal
whose appropriate behovior
is concentration and discipline.
An effort
of an athlete, of a saint, and of a yogi.

Well trained,
you may become for me
a gate
through which I will leave myself
and a gate
through which I will enter myself.
A plumb line to the center of the earth
and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.

My body, you are an animal
from whom ambition
is right.
Splendid possibilities
are open to us.


"The goal of words in poetry is to grow up to the contents, yet that goal cannot ever be attained, for only a small part of the psychic energy which dwells in a poet incarnates itself in words. In fact, every poem has the right to ask for a new poetics. This is created only once to express the contents, also given only once, of a poem. Style is the enemy of the poet. and its greatest merit would be non-existence. We could say in paradoxical abbreviation that a writer has two tasks. The first--to create one's own style. The second--to destroy one's own style. The second is more difficult and takes more time."

Selected poems from "Talking to my Body" and other unknown titles.

Ludwika Amber


we were returning through the continents
of tongues rituals altars colours
and the music of gestures
slowly we were opening doors
of new scents of the bush
we were learning
the fingers of our own hands
the Esperanto of lips
distances between bodies
faith in the feathers of parrots
hues of the earth the air
the trace of a stream

we were coming by water and landstretch
we outsped clouds
we crossed the river of childhood helplessness

Terra Australis – we shouted at the border
and set first foot
our imprint on the shore



the glass doors of childhood
I leave ajar
through the narrow chink
autumns and winters are turning
when I’m falling asleep
a dream is passing to the north
and before dawn returns
here where it scatters my paths
written in goose quill
on the map
of south pole memory



is deft
does not trust anyone
draws his sword in an instant
before him
and with ease dissects a butterfly
which flew so childishly
out of the chrysalis of his heart

Translated by Ryszard Reisner

Ludwika Amber was born in Kowary, Poland, in 1948, and arrived in Australia in 1982.

Czeslaw Milosz: Provinces


Wailing of a flute, a little drum.
A small wedding cortege accompanies a couple
Going past clay houses on the street of a village.
In the dress of the bride much white satin.
How many pennies put away to sew it, once in a lifetime.
The dress of the groom black, festively stiff.
The flute tells something to the hills, parched, the colour of deer.
Hens scratch in dry mounds of manure.

I have not seen it, I summoned it listening to music.
The instruments play for themselves, in their own eternity.
Lips glow, agile fingers work, so short a time.
Soon afterwards the pageant sinks into the earth.
But the sound endures, autonomous, triumphant,
For ever visited by, each time returning,
The warm touch of cheeks, interiors of houses,
And particular human lives
Of which the chronicles make no mention.


The grass between the tombs is intensely green.
From steep slopes a view onto the bay,
Onto islands and cities below. The sunset
Grows garish, slowly fades. At dusk
Light prancing creatures. A doe and a fawn
Are here, as every evening, to eat flowers
Which people brought for their beloved dead.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Wislawa Szymborska : poem


Cuántos de los que he conocido
(si de verdad los he conocido)
hombres, mujeres
(si esta división sigue vigente)
han atravesado este umbral
(si esto es un umbral)
han cruzado este puente
(si se puede llamar puente).

Cuántos después de una vida más corta o más larga
(si para ellos en eso sigue habiendo alguna diferencia)
buena porque ha acabado
mala porque ha acabado
(si no prefirieran decirlo al revés)
se han encontrado en la otra orilla
(si se han encontrado)
y si la otra orilla existe.

No me es dado saber
cuál fue su destino
(ni siquiera si se trata de un solo destino,
y si hay todavía destino).
(si con esta palabra no lo delimito)
ha terminado para ellos
(si no lo tienen por delante).
Cuántos han saltado del tiempo en marcha
y se pierden a lo lejos con una nostalgia cada vez
(si merece la pena creer en perspectivas).

(si la pregunta tiene algún sentido,
si se puede llegar a la suma final
antes de que el que cuenta se cuente a sí mismo)
han caído en el más profundo de los sueños
(si no hay otro más profundo).

Hasta la vista.
Hasta mañana.
Hasta la próxima.
Ya no quieren
(si es que no quieren) repetirlo.
Condenados a un interminable
(si no es otro) silencio.
Ocupados sólo con aquello
(si es sólo con aquello)
a lo que los obliga la ausencia.


Ilu z tych, których znałam

(jeśli naprawdę ich znałam)

mężczyzn, kobiet

(jeśli ten podział pozostaje w mocy)

przestąpiło ten próg

(jeżeli to próg)

przebiegło przez ten most

(jeśli nazwać to mostem) -

Ilu po życiu krótszym albo dłuższym

(jeśli to dla nich wciąż jakaś różnica)

dobrym, bo się zaczęło,

złym, bo się skończyło

(jeśliby nie woleli powiedzieć na odwrót)

znalazło się na drugim brzegu

(jeśli znalazło się

a drugi brzeg istnieje)-

Nie dana mi jest pewność

ich dalszego losu

(jeśli to nawet jeden wspólny los

i jeszcze los)-


(jeżeli słowem tym nie ograniczam)

mają za sobą

(jeśli nie przed sobą) -

Ilu ich wyskoczyło z pędzącego czasu

i w oddaleniu coraz rzewniej znika

(jeżeli warto wierzyć perspektywie) -


(jeżeli pytanie to ma sens,

jeżeli można dojść do sumy ostatecznej,

zanim liczący nie doliczy siebie)

zapadło w ten najgłębszy sen

(jeśli nie ma głębszego) -

Do widzenia.

Do jutra.

Do następnego spotkania.

Już tego nie chcą

(jeżeli nie chcą) powtórzyć.

Zdani na nieskończone

(jeśli nie inne) milczenie.

Zajęci tylko tym

(jeżeli tylko tym)

do czego przymusza ich nieobecność.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Wislawa Szymborska : Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

The Poet and the World [excerpt]

This is why I value that little phrase "I don't know" so highly. It's small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself "I don't know," the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones and at best he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself "I don't know", she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families, and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job. But she kept on saying "I don't know," and these words led her, not just once but twice, to Stockholm, where restless, questing spirits are occasionally rewarded with the Nobel Prize.

Poets, if they're genuine, must also keep repeating "I don't know." Each poem marks an effort to answer this statement, but as soon as the final period hits the page, the poet begins to hesitate, starts to realize that this particular answer was pure makeshift that's absolutely inadequate to boot. So the poets keep on trying, and sooner or later the consecutive results of their self-dissatisfaction are clipped together with a giant paperclip by literary historians and called their "oeuvre" ...

I sometimes dream of situations that can't possibly come true. I audaciously imagine, for example, that I get a chance to chat with the Ecclesiastes, the author of that moving lament on the vanity of all human endeavors. I would bow very deeply before him, because he is, after all, one of the greatest poets, for me at least. That done, I would grab his hand. "'There's nothing new under the sun': that's what you wrote, Ecclesiastes. But you yourself were born new under the sun. And the poem you created is also new under the sun, since no one wrote it down before you. And all your readers are also new under the sun, since those who lived before you couldn't read your poem. And that cypress that you're sitting under hasn't been growing since the dawn of time. It came into being by way of another cypress similar to yours, but not exactly the same. And Ecclesiastes, I'd also like to ask you what new thing under the sun you're planning to work on now? A further supplement to the thoughts you've already expressed? Or maybe you're tempted to contradict some of them now? In your earlier work you mentioned joy - so what if it's fleeting? So maybe your new-under-the-sun poem will be about joy? Have you taken notes yet, do you have drafts? I doubt you'll say, 'I've written everything down, I've got nothing left to add.' There's no poet in the world who can say this, least of all a great poet like yourself."

The world - whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we've just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world - it is astonishing.

But "astonishing" is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We're astonished, after all, by things that deviate from some well-known and universally acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we've grown accustomed to. Now the point is, there is no such obvious world. Our astonishment exists per se and isn't based on comparison with something else.

Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the ordinary course of events" ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence in this world.

It looks like poets will always have their work cut out for them.

Delivered 10 December 1996 at the Stockholm Concert Hall, Stockholm, Sweden

Zbigniew Herbert: 4 poems


I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

but apparently this is not possible

and just to say -- I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face

and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
what white-haired gentleman
separated once and for all
and said
this in the subject
this is the object

we fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully


Of course
those who are standing at the top of the stairs
they know everything

with us it's different
sweepers of squares
hostages of a better future
those at the top of the stairs
appear to us rarely
with a hushing finger always at the mouth

we are patient
our wives darn the sunday shirts
we talk of food rations
soccer prices of shoes
while on saturday we tilt the head backward
and drink

we aren't those
who clench their fists
brandish chains
talk and ask questions
in a fever of excitement
urging to rebel
incessantly talking and asking questions

here is their fairy tale -
we will dash at the stairs
and capture them by storm
the heads of those who were standing at the top
will roll down the stairs
and at last we will gaze
at what can be seen from those heights
what future
what emptiness

we don't desire the view
of rolling heads
we know how easily heads grow back
and at the top there will always remain
one or three
while at the bottom it is black from brooms and shovels

sometimes we dream
those at the top of the stairs
come down
that is to us
and as we are chewing bread over the newspaper
they say

- now let's talk
man to man
what the posters shout out isn't true
we carry the truth in tightly locked lips
it is cruel and much too heavy
so we bear the burden by ourselves
we aren't happy
we would gladly stay

these are dreams of course
they can come true
or not come true
so we will
continue to cultivate
our square of dirt
square of stone

with a light head
a cigarette behind the ear
and not a drop of hope in the heart


The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning

with a scent that does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardour and coldness
are just and full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

--Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye


Too old to carry arms and fight like the others -

they graciously gave me the inferior role of chronicler
I record - I don't know for whom - the history of the siege

I am supposed to be exact but I don't know when the invasion began
two hundred years ago in December in September perhaps yesterday at dawn
everyone here suffers from a loss of the sense of time

all we have left is the place the attachment to the place
we still rule over the ruins of temples spectres of gardens and houses
if we lose the ruins nothing will be left

I write as I can in the rhythm of interminable weeks
monday: empty storehouses a rat became the unit of currency
tuesday: the mayor murdered by unknown assailants
wednesday: negotiations for a cease-fire the enemy has imprisoned our messengers
we don't know where they are held that is the place of torture
thursday: after a stormy meeting a majority of voices rejected
the motion of the spice merchants for unconditional surrender
friday: the beginning of the plague saturday: our invincible defender
N.N. committed suicide sunday: no more water we drove back
an attack at the eastern gate called the Gate of the Alliance

all of this is monotonous I know it can't move anyone

I avoid any commentary I keep a tight hold on my emotions I write about the facts
only they it seems are appreciated in foreign markets
yet with a certain pride I would like to inform the world
that thanks to the war we have raised a new species of children
our children don’t like fairy tales they play at killing
awake and asleep they dream of soup of bread and bones
just like dogs and cats

in the evening I like to wander near the outposts of the city
along the frontier of our uncertain freedom.
I look at the swarms of soldiers below their lights
I listen to the noise of drums barbarian shrieks
truly it is inconceivable the City is still defending itself
the siege has lasted a long time the enemies must take turns
nothing unites them except the desire for our extermination
Goths the Tartars Swedes troops of the Emperor regiments of the Transfiguration
who can count them
the colours of their banners change like the forest on the horizon
from delicate bird's yellow in spring through green through red to winter's black

and so in the evening released from facts I can think
about distant ancient matters for example our
friends beyond the sea I know they sincerely sympathize
they send us flour lard sacks of comfort and good advice
they don’t even know their fathers betrayed us
our former allies at the time of the second Apocalypse
their sons are blameless they deserve our gratitude therefore we are grateful
they have not experienced a siege as long as eternity
those struck by misfortune are always alone
the defenders of the Dalai Lama the Kurds the Afghan mountaineers

now as I write these words the advocates of conciliation
have won the upper hand over the party of inflexibles
a normal hesitation of moods fate still hangs in the balance

cemeteries grow larger the number of defenders is smaller
yet the defence continues it will continue to the end
and if the City falls but a single man escapes
he will carry the City within himself on the roads of exile
he will be the City

we look in the face of hunger the face of fire face of death
worst of all - the face of betrayal
and only our dreams have not been humiliated

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Anna Swirszczynska : poem


We were afraid as we built the bar-ricade
under fire.
The tavern-keeper, the jeweler’s mistress, the barber, all of us
The servant girl fell to the ground
as she lugged a paving stone, we were terribly afraid
all of us cowards–
the janitor, the market woman, the pensioner.

The pharmacist fell to the ground
as he dragged the door of a toilet,
we were even more afraid, the smuggler-woman,
the dress-maker the streetcar driver,
all of us cowards.

A kid from reform school fell
as he dragged a sandbag,
you see, we were really

Though no one forced us
we did build a barricade
under fire.

Written thirty years after a sixty-three day uprising in Warsaw in August 1944.

Anna Akhmatova : poem


And entering towns the guns had missed.
towns out of storybooks,
we saw the constellation of the Snake
but we were afraid to look at each other.

The earth smelled like an orphanage—potatoes,
disinfectant, shoes—I thought
Time walked next to us, years, centuries.
And someone shook a tambourine, someone we couldn't see.

There were noises and tiny bluish-yellow lights.
What did they mean, those fireflies
signaling to us in the dark?
I even thought those noises were the lights.

And we walked on together. I was with you, you were with me.
It was like that dream I had: the corpse of an old man
shone in the dark, a baby clung to his chest, both wrapped in a cocoon.
I could see the awful, delicate, wax-like hands of the baby

dabbling at the man's chin. The moon slid out,
suddenly. We met, we said goodbye.
If you remember that night, as I do,
wherever you are now, whatever fate

steers your life, know what I know: the time
we had was sacred like a great king's dream
turned by his people into a myth they use
to keep themselves from believing life's a dream.

Whatever I looked at was alive, everything had a voice,
but I never found out were you a friend, an enemy,
was it winter, summer? Smoke, singing, midnight heat.
I wrote thousands of lines. Not one told me.

Version by Stephen Berg

Czeslaw Milosz : poem


In Rome on the Campo di Fiori
baskets of olives and lemons,
cobbles spattered with wine
and the wreckage of flowers.
Vendors cover the trestles
with rose-pink fish;
armfuls of dark grapes
heaped on peach-down.

On this same square
they burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died
the taverns were full again,
baskets of olives and lemons
again on the vendors' shoulders.

I thought of the Campo di Fiori
in Warsaw by a carousel
one clear spring evening
to the strains of a carnival tune.
The bright melody drowned
the salvos from the ghetto wall,
and couples were flying
high in the cloudless sky.

At times wind from the burning
would drift dark kites along
and riders on the carousel
caught petals in mid-air.
That same hot wind
blew open the skirts of the girls
and the crowds were laughing
on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.

Someone will read as moral
that the people of Rome or Warsaw
haggle, laugh, make love
as they pass by martyrs' pyres.
Someone else will read
of the passing of things human,
of the oblivion
born before the flames have died.

But that day I thought only
of the loneliness of the dying,
of how, when Giordano
climbed to his burning
he could not find
in any human tongue
words for mankind,
mankind who live on.

Already they were back at their wine
or peddled their white starfish,
baskets of olives and lemons
they had shouldered to the fair,
and he already distanced
as if centuries had passed
while they paused just a moment
for his flying in the fire.

Those dying here, the lonely
forgotten by the world,
their tongue becomes for us
the language of an ancient planet.
Until, when all is legend
and many years have passed
on a new Campo di Fiori
rage will kindle at a poet's fire.
(Warsaw, 1943)

The meaning of this poem depends on the time and place of its writing—Easter 1943, Warsaw—but also on something which not even the best translation can convey. For the original forms part of a large body of poems in Polish on the subject of the Holocaust, many of them written by non-Jews. Taken out of that context, of which the American reader can hardly be aware, it may appear as something exceptional. John Hersey in his novel The Wall, while mentioning my poem, suggests the Warsaw Ghetto as the place of its origin. In fact, the poem appeared in an underground anthology of poetry, Out of the Abyss (Z Otchlani), which was intended as a voice of human solidarity with the victims on the other side of the "wall." Events soon added a peculiar postscript both to the anthology and to my poem: for two months the city of Warsaw was turned into ash and rubble during the summer uprising of 1944 against the Nazis, at a cost of two hundred thousand lives, mostly civilian. In October, the entire surviving population was deported. And it is impossible not to think with sadness of the mob in my poem, whose turn was to come so soon.

Translated by David Brooks, Louis Iribarne

Monday, April 03, 2006

Adam Zagajewski


The city comes to a standstill
and life turns into still life,
it is as brittle as plants in a herbarium.
You ride a bicycle which doesn’t
move, only the houses wheel by,
slowly, showing their noses, brows,
and pouting lips. The evening becomes
a still life, it doesn’t feel like existing,
therefore it glistens like a Chinese lantern
in a peaceful garden. Nightfall, motionless,
the last one. The last word. Happiness
hovers in the crowns of the trees.
Inside the leaves, kings are asleep.
No word, the yellow sail of the sun
Towers over the roofs like a tent abandoned
by Caesar. Pain becomes still life and despair
is only a still life, framed
by the mouth of one passerby. The square
keeps silent in a dark foliage of birds’
wings. Silence as on the fields of Jena
after the battle when loving women
look at the faces of the slain.

From the book, Tremor, FSG; 1985


It is small and no more visible than a cricket
in August. It likes to dress up, to masquerade,
as all dwarfs do. It lodges between
granite blocks, between serviceable
truths. It even fits under
a bandage, under adhesive. Neither customs officers
nor their beautiful dogs will find it. Between
hymns, between alliances, it hides itself.
It camps in the Rocky Mountains of the skull.
An eternal refugee. It is I and I,
with the fearful hope that I have found at last
a friend, am it. But the self
is so lonely, so distrustful, it does not
accept anyone, even me.
It clings to historical events
no less tightly than water to a glass.
It could fill a Neolithic jar.
It is insatiable, it wants to flow
in aqueducts, it thirsts for newer and newer vessels.
It wants to taste space without walls,
diffuse itself, diffuse itself. Then it fades away
like desire, and in the silence of an August
night you hear only crickets patiently
conversing with the stars.

Mark Strand : poem


I empty myself of the names of others.
I empty my pockets. I empty my shoes and I leave them beside
the road. At night I turn back the clocks; I open the family
album and look at myself as a boy.

What good does it do? The hours have done their job.
I say my own name. I say goodbye.
The words follow each other downwind.
I love my wife but send her away.

My parents rise out of the thrones
into the milky rooms of clouds. How can I sing?
Time tells me what I am. I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Carte Postale : unknown letter

Czeslaw Milosz : two poems


I speak to you, my son,
after years of silence. Verona is no more.
I crumbled its brickdust in my fingers. That is what remains
Of the great love of native cities.

I hear your laughter in the garden. And the mad spring's
scent comes toward me across the wet leaves.
Toward me, who, not believing in any saving power,
outlived the others and myself as well.

Do you know how it is when one wakes
at night suddenly and asks,
listening to the pounding heart: what more do you want,
insatiable? Spring, a nightingale is singing.

Children's laughter in the garden. A first clear star
above a foam of buds on the hills
and a light song returns to my lips
and I am young again, as before, in Verona.

To reject. To reject everything. That is not it.
It will neither resurrect the past nor return me to it.
Sleep, Romeo, Juliet, on your headrest of stone feathers.
I won't raise your bound hands from the ashes.
Let the cat visit the deserted cathedrals,
its pupil flashing on the altars. Let an owl
nest on the dead ogive.
In the white noon among the rubble, let the snake
warm itself on leaves of coltsfoot and in the silence
let him coil in lustrous circles around useless gold.
I won't return. I want to know what's left
after rejecting youth and spring,
after rejecting those red lips
from which heat seemed to flow
on sultry nights.

After songs and the scent of wine,
oaths and laments, diamond nights,
and the cry of gulls with the black sun
glaring behind them.

From life, from the apple cut by the flaming knife,
what grain will be saved.

My son, believe me, nothing remains.
Only adult toil,
the furrow of fate in the palm.
Only toil,
Nothing more.

Translators' note: "Farewell" was written in 1945 in Kraków, to which the author fled after the almost total destruction of Warsaw by the German army.


The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
Like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
Would have tended nevertheless toward the candle's flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
The little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
The time when I was among their adherents
Who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
If only my own—but no, not at all; alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it's late. And the truth is laborious.


(audio only)

Wislawa Szymborska


Die—you can't do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here
but nothing is the same.
Nothing's been moved
but there's more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they're new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn't start
at its usual time.
Something doesn't happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet's been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken:
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle toward him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.

Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh, Stanislaw Baranczak


After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

Again we'll need bridges
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
Someone listens
and nods with unsevered head.
Yet others milling about
already find it dull.

From behind the bush
sometimes someone still unearths
rust-eaten arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must give way to
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass which has overgrown
reasons and causes,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Transl. by Joanna Trezeciak


We used matches to draw lots; who would visit him.
And I lost. I got up from our table.
Visiting hours were just about to start.

When I said hello he didn't say a word.
I tried to take his hand--he pulled it back
like a hungry dog that won't give up his bone.

He seemed embarrassed about dying.
What do you say to someone like that?
Our eyes never met, like in a faked photograph.

He didn't care if I stayed or left.
He didn't ask about anyone from our table.
Not you, Barry. Or you, Larry. Or you, Harry.

My head started aching. Who's dying on whom?
I went on about modern medicine and the three violets in a jar.
I talked about the sun and faded out.

It's a good thing they have stairs to run down.
It's a good thing they have gets to let you out.
It's a good thing you're all waiting at our table.

The hospital smell makes me sick.


Write it down. Write it. With ordinary ink
on ordinary paper; they weren't given food,
they all died of hunger. All. How many?
It's a large meadow. How much grass
per head? Write down: I don't know.
History rounds off skeletons to zero.
A thousand and one is still only a thousand.
That one seems never to have existed:
a fictitious fetus, an empty cradle,
a primer opened for no one,
air that laughs, cries, and grows,
stairs for a void bounding out to the garden,
no one's spot in the ranks.

It became flesh right here, on this meadow.
But the meadow's silent, like a witness who's been bought.
Sunny. Green. A forest close at hand,
with wood to chew on, drops beneath the bark to drink--
a view served round the clock,
until you go blind. Above, a bird
whose shadow flicked its nourishing wings
across their lips. Jaws dropped,
teeth clattered.

At night a sickle glistened in the sky
and reaped the dark for dreamed-of loaves.
Hands came flying from blackened icons,
each holding an empty chalice.
A man swayed
on a grill of barbed wire.
Some sang, with dirt in their mouths. That lovely song
about war hitting you straight in the heart.
Write how quiet it is.

Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh, Stanislaw Baranczak

Two Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva


I was born with a song in my tongue—but would
not waste it for a phony chasuble or hood.

I dream—not in bed—but in full day, awake,
and can't live like you with chitchat of a snake.

I come from you, lyre, my lyre, and my voice
and chitchat are your swanlike curve and hiss.

I'm an ally of the laurel, the wind and dawn,
and would rather be happy: I am no nun,

and have a friend who is blond—maybe a rat,
but I stick with him when everything is bad.

I come from you, lyre, my lyre, and my voice
and chitchat are your swanlike curve and hiss.

They say to be a woman is a heavy fate.
I wouldn't know. I never take my weight.

I freely give—but never sell my goods to you,
and now that my fingernails are turning blue

my death rattle and eagle scream and wheeze,
lyre, my lyre, are your swanlike curve and hiss.


In my immense city it is night.
I walk from the house muffled tight
in sleep where they say daughter? wife?
but I remember one thing—the night.

Before me a sweeping July wind
and in some window a hint of song.
Tonight the wind will blow till dawn,
blow through my breasts. They are very thin.

A black poplar, and in the window
a lightbulb; chiming on the tower and
a flower in my hand. Shadow
and steps follow no one. There is no

me. Lights! like strings of gold beads.
The taste of a small nocturnal leaf.
Free me from the mouth of day. Friends, please,
try to understand: I am your dream.

Ted Hughes: The Thought-Fox


I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near

Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,

A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox

It enters the dark hole of the head.

The window is starless still; the clock ticks,

The page is printed.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade: poem


Halfway there there was a stone
there was a stone halfway
there was a stone
halfway there there was a stone.

I’ll never forget that event
in the life of my worn-out retinas.
I’ll never forget how halfway there
there was a stone
there was a stone halfway there
halfway there there was a stone.

Louise Glück: poem


When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness

Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—

That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone's Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.