Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Anna Swir (Swirszczynska) 1909-1984


Through the streets of Warsaw

kitchens for the poor are hauled.

The poor stand in lines,

they warm themselves by bonfires

which are lit for them

in the streets of Warsaw.

It is the First World War.

Mother put on a kerchief,

covered her face, went out

into the street to stand in line

for the soup of the poor.

Mother was afraid

that the janitor's wife would see her.

Mother after all was

the wife of an artist.


Twenty-four hours

I was dying of fever.

Twenty-four hours

mother knelt

and prayed by my bed.

Twenty-four hours

father lay, face down

on the floor.

They saved me.


I am filled with love

as a great tree with the wind,

as a sponge with the ocean,

as a great life with suffering,

as time with death.


I sleep in blue pajamas,

at my right my child sleeps.

I have never cried,

I will never die.

I sleep in blue pajamas,

at my left my man sleeps.

I have never knocked my head against the wall,

I have never screamed out of fear.

How large this bed is

if it had room enough

for such happiness.


You lie asleep,

warm as a small heating plant.

Your lungs move, viscera digest,

glands diligently work,

biological processes of your sleep

make grow

the vegetation of dreams.

Do you belong to me?

I myself do not belong to you.

I touch my skin,

lungs move inside me,

viscera digest,

the body performs its work

with which I am not acquainted.

I know so little about the activity of the pineal gland.

Really, what do I have in common

with my body.

I touch your skin and my skin,

I am not in you

and you are not in me.

It's cold here.

Homeless, I tremble looking

at our two bodies

warm and quiet.


I envy you. Every moment

You can leave me.

I cannot

leave myself.


Walking to your place for a love feast

I saw on a street corner

an old beggar woman.

I took her hand,

kissed her delicate cheek,

we talked, she was

the same inside as I am,

from the same kind,

I sensed this instantly

as a dog knows my scent

another dog.

I gave her money,

I could not part from her.

After all, one needs

someone who is close.

And then I no longer knew

why I was walking to your place.


Look in the mirror. Let us both look.

Here is my naked body.

Apparently you like it,

I have no reason to.

Who bound us, me and my body?

Why must I die

together with it?

I have the right to know where the borderline

between us is drawn.

Where am I, I, I myself?

Belly, am I in the belly? In the intestines?

In the hollow of the sex? In a toe?

Apparently in the brain. I do not see it.

Take my brain out of my skull. I have the right

to see myself. Don't laugh.

That's macabre, you say.

It's not me who made

my body.

I wear the used rags of my family,

an alien brain, fruit of chance, hair

after my grandmother, the nose

glued together from a few dead noses.

What do I have in common with all that?

What do I have in common with you, who like

my knee, what is my knee to me?


I would have chosen a different model.

I will leave both of you here,

my knee and you.

Don't make a wry face, I will leave you all my body

to play with.

And I will go.

There is no place for me here,

in this blind darkness waiting for


I will run out, I will race

away from myself.

I will look for myself


like crazy

till my last breath.

One must hurry

before death comes. For by then

like a dog jerked by its chain

I will have to return

into this stridently suffering body.

To go through the last

most strident ceremony of the body.

Defeated by the body,

slowly annihilated because of the body

I will become kidney failure

or the gangrene of the large intestine.

And I will expire in shame.



is the hardest

work of all.

The old and sick

should be exempt from it.


I am digging potatoes for dinner,

an ant climbs my naked leg.

— Ant, what do you think

of eternity?

The ant has a superhuman face

like chemical processes

in the sun.

The ant can educate me

in questions of eternity.

Digging potatoes

improves the mind.


Like an eye and an eyelid

United by a tear.


Because there is no me

and because I feel

how much there is no me.


Two rucksacks,

two grey heads.

And the roads of all the world

for wandering.

from, TALKING TO MY BODY (Copper Canyon)
translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

"Anna Swir (Swirszczyska) was born in Warsaw in 1909, the daughter of a painter. As she herself says, she literally grew up in her father's workshop, sleeping and preparing her lessons there. The poverty in which the family lived forced her to look for work early in life. In her own words: "I was then terribly shy, ugly, and crushed by a mountain of complexes." She put herself through the university, studying medieval and baroque Polish literature and discovering the Polish language of the fifteenth century, which according to her, is the most vigorous. Her first poems, published in the 1930s, bear the marks both of her upbringing in the artistic milieu (images taken from paintings and albums of reproductions) and of her fascination with the Middle Ages. These are mostly short poems in prose, sophisticated miniatures, from which any personal accents are carefully eliminated. The form of the miniature was to return later, while the reticence about her personal life was to disappear."

— Czeslaw Milosz