Friday, February 15, 2019


Mandelstam in Theodosia

Let me go; I wasn't made for jail.

     (arrested in Theodosia in 1920

Mandelstam was not mistaken, he wasn't made

for jail, but jails were made

for him, countless camps and prisons

waited for him patiently, freight trains

and filthy barracks, railroad switches and

gloomy waiting rooms kept waiting

till he came, secret police in leather

jackets waited for him and party

hacks with ruddy faces.

"I will not see the famous Phaedra,"

he wrote. The Black Sea didn't shed 

black tears, pebbles on the shore

tumbled submissively, as the wave desired,

clouds sailed swiftly across the inattentive earth.


July, the blackbirds have stopped singing.

I sit on a bench by the bank of a slow river,

I hear the hate-filled quarreling of lovers,

whom I don't know and never will.

Sweaty athletes run along the avenue.

The morning sun shines indifferently

on the calm dark water

that is apathy personified.

A little boy carries a plastic bag

bearing the garish logo Men's Health,

souls almost never meet,

bodies do battle cloaked in darkness.

A rain frail as haiku arrives in the night.

Light bells mumble at dawn.

While we're alive.


The sandals I bought many years ago

for twenty eros

in the Greek village of Theologos

on the island of Thassos

haven't work out at all,

they're just like new.

I must have gotten,

quite accidentally,

a hermit's, a saint's sandals.

How they must suffer

carrying an ordinary sinner.


translated from the Polish
by Clare Cavanagh
Farrar, Straus and Giroux2018