ETERNAL ENEMIES ~
I returned to you years later,
gray and lovely city,
buried in the waters of the past.
I'm no longer the student
of philosophy, poetry, and curiosity,
I'm not the young poet who wrote
too many lines
and wandered in the maze
of narrow streets and illusions.
The sovereign clocks and shadows
has touched my brow with his hand,
but still I'm guided by
a star by brightness
and only brightness
can undo or save me.
In the drop of rain that stopped
outside my window, dawdling,
an oval, shining shape appears
and I see Mrs. Czolga again,
stuffing a statuesque goose in her kitchen.
Carts, dark and chthonic, carried coal,
rolling over wooden cobbles,
asking — do you want to live?
But after the great war of death
we wanted life so much.
A red-hot iron pressed the past,
at dawn German blackbirds
sang the poems of Georg Trakl,
and we wanted life and dreams.
NEW YEAR'S EVE, 2004
You're at home listening
to recordings of Billie Holiday,
who sings on, melancholy, drowsy.
You count the hours still
keeping you from midnight.
Why do the dead sing peacefully
while the living can't free themselves from fear?
And what was your childhood like? a weary
reporter asks near the end.
There was no childhood, only black crows
and tramcars starved for electricity,
fat priests in heavy chasubles,
teachers with faces of bronze.
There was no childhood, just anticipation.
At night the maple leaves shone like phosphorus,
rain moistened the lips of dark singers.
Music heard with you
was more than music
and the blood that flowed through our arteries
was more than blood
and the joy we felt
and if there is anyone to thank,
I thank him now,
before it grows too late
and too quiet.
POETRY SEARCHES FOR RADIANCE
Poetry searches for radiance,
poetry is the kingly road
that leads us farthest.
We seek radiance in a gray hour,
at noon or in th chimneys of the dawn,
even on a bus, in November,
while an old priest nods beside us.
The waiter in a Chinese restaurant bursts into tears
and no one can think why.
Who knows, this may also be a quest,
like that moment at the seashore,
when a predatory ship appeared on the horizon
and stopped short, held still for a long while.
And also moments of deep joy
and countless moments of anxiety.
Let me see, I ask.
Let me persist, I say.
A cold rain falls at night.
In the streets and avenues of my city
quiet darkness is hard at work.
Poetry searches for radiance.
The fifteen-year-old boy carried a kitten
inside his dark blue windbreaker.
Its tiny head turned,
its large eyes watching
everything more cautiously
than human eyes.
Safe in the warm train,
I compare the boy's lazy stare
to the kitten's pupils,
alert and narrow.
The two-headed boy sitting across from me
made richer by an animal's unrest.
from Eternal Enemies
translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh