scarred eyes open

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FRIENDS
Adam Zagajewski

My friends wait for me,
ironic, smiling sadly.

Where are the transparent palaces
we meant to build —

their lips say,
their aging lips.

Don’t worry, friends,
those splendid kites

still soar in the autumn air,
still take us

to the place where harvests begin,
to bright days —

the place where scarred eyes
open.

without passion

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Old Marx
Adam Zagajewski

He can’t think.
London is damp,
in every room someone coughs.
He never did like winter.
He rewrites past manuscripts
time and again, without passion.
The yellow paper
is fragile as consumption.

Why does life race
stubbornly toward destruction?
But spring returns in dreams,
with snow that doesn’t speak
in any known tongue.
And where does love fit
within his system?
Where you find blue flowers.

He despises anarchists,
idealists bore him.
He receives reports from Russia,
far too detailed.
The French grow rich.
Poland is common and quiet.
America never stops growing.
Blood is everywhere,

perhaps the wallpaper needs changing.
He begins to suspect
that poor humankind
will always trudge
across the old earth
like the local lunatic
shaking her fists
at an unseen God.

Photo (c) 2013 Ruben Gustav used under Creative Commons license.

en route

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EN ROUTE
Adam Zagajewski

1. WITHOUT BAGGAGE

To travel without baggage, sleep in the train
on a hard wooden bench,
forget your native land,
emerge from small stations
when a gray sky rises
and fishing boats head to sea.

2. IN BELGIUM

It was drizzling in Belgium
and the river wound between hills.
I thought, I’m so imperfect.
The trees sat in the meadows
like priests in green cassocks.
October was hiding in the weeds.
No, ma’am, I said,
this is the nontalking compartment.

3. A HAWK CIRCLES ABOVE THE HIGHWAY

It will be disappointed if it swoops down
on sheet iron, on gas,
on a tape of tawdry music,
on our narrow hearts.

4. MONT BLANC

It shines from afar, white and cautious,
like a lantern for shadows.

5. SEGESTA

On the meadow a vast temple —
a wild animal
open to the sky.

6. SUMMER

Summer was gigantic, triumphant —
and our little car looked lost
on the road going to Verdun.

7. THE STATION IN BYTOM

In the underground tunnel
cigarette butts grow,
not daisies.
It stinks of loneliness.

8. RETIRED PEOPLE ON A FIELD TRIP

They’re learning to walk
on land.

9. GULLS

Eternity doesn’t travel,
eternity waits.
In a fishing port
only the gulls are chatty.

10. THE THEATER IN TAORMINA

From the theater in Taormina you spot
the snow on Etna’s peak
and the gleaming sea.
Which is the better actor?

11. A BLACK CAT

A black cat comes out to greet us
as if to say, look at me
and not some old Romanesque church.
I’m alive.

12. A ROMANESQUE CHURCH

At the bottom of the valley
a Romanesque church at rest:
there’s wine in this cask.

13. LIGHT

Light on the walls of old houses,
June.
Passerby, open your eyes.

14. AT DAWN

The world’s materiality at dawn —
and the soul’s frailty.

arctic landscape

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Balance
Adam Zagajewski
I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from a surfeit of happiness.

As we drew closer to our landing,
the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds,
comic gardens forgotten by their owners,
pale grass plagued by winter and the wind.

I put my book down and for an instant felt
a perfect balance between waking and dreams.
But when the plane touched concrete, then
assiduously circled the airport’s labyrinth,

I once again knew nothing. The darkness
of daily wanderings resumed, the day’s sweet darkness,
the darkness of the voice that counts and measures,
remembers and forgets.

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

The sovereign of clocks and shadows

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STAR
Adam Zagajewski

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 of 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.

Photo by Tommy Tang on Unsplash

cold walls

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BLIZZARD
Adam Zagajewski

We were listening to music —
a little Bach, a little mournful Schubert.
For a moment we listened to the silence.
A blizzard roared outside,
the wind pressed its blue face
to the wall.
The dead raced past on sleds,
tossing snowballs
at our windows.