Wednesday, March 6, 2013



I returned to you years later,

gray and lovely city,

unchanging 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.


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

was genuine

and if there is anyone to thank,

I thank him now,

before it grows too late

and too quiet.


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
(Farrar 2008)