My Wife Fights To Protect Man's
My delicate wife fights to protect
man's natural environment.
Mornings her slim body vanishes in clouds
of soot and sulphur, on streets giving birth
to cars and hunger, to nooks in skyscrapers
ceaselessly breeding large families,
among mines and mills, in the spastic depths
of a city built from rust and concrete, crawling,
motionless, like a gray glacier. I look for her in vain
— then suddenly I find her, lost, in a train
(am I lost? fleeing myself?)
and through the thick raster I scarcely recognize
her uncertain smile in the group photograph
illustrating a labored feature on new methods
of protecting the environment in the local paper,
which once more promises iron and coal,
a car, a new steel mill, and a Poland of sorts
for every family. Ours too, alas.
Fear the God
in your heart.
Our poor dead
gaze at us with their
and see everything to come —
but even they can't help
or warn us,
since neither war nor peace
has taught us much.
His terrifying fits of rage
He worked hard in the forest, he knew how to do everything. He
wanted to teach me everything too, since he believed that only phys-
ical labor would save me when the next war came. Remember, they'll
know you by your hands, he used to say. If your hands are rough, you
go right, if they're delicate, educated, you go left, to the camps or up
against a wall.
He taught me to plow, to use a scythe, to reap. To tell edible from
inedible plants. Most are edible, you won't starve to death — he said.
He tried teaching me to fish, but quickly gave up; I proved to be a
remarkably stubborn pupil. He showed me how to build a hut, to
dig a shelter. Even how to make a fire, though he'd never managed
He taught me to use an ax. I was a little boy, but I could chop wood
as well as my virtual comrade in misery from The Seven Samurai. And
also from The Magnificent Seven? I don't remember.
More than anything, though, for reasons I still don't understand
he wanted me to learn to swim and o stay under water as long as I
could. It may save your life when you have to escape — he'd repeat.
During my next-to-last summer vacation, we worked together in
the woods. He gave me the easiest job, wood barking. We'd leave in
the morning, get back at night. On the way home he liked to take dips
in a woodland lake. One evening he dived in as usual and didn't come
back up. I thought he'd swum across and was waiting for me on the
other side. I circled the lake, not a trace. His stuff had vanished too.
I went around a second time, a third, no luck. I didn't know what to
do. Scared, I couldn't find the road in the dark. I wandered a long
time before I got home.
He was there, as if nothing had happened. Alone. Mother had
gone out looking for me in the night. He was silent. So was I. I was
afraid to say anything.
And that's how it stayed.
I didn't learn much. I would have died in the wilderness. I would
have died trying to escape.
When the telegram came, I went straight to the hospital from the
station. He lay in an oxygen tank. He wasn't expecting me, he gazed
at me absently. At last he recognized me. He cried. His right lung,
removed a few days earlier, already journeyed through its uncertain,
translated by Clare Cavanagh
New Directions 2017