Poem – A RussianTale

The star our little father had grown old, very old. Now he could not even strangle a dove with his own hands. Sitting on his throne he was golden and frigid. Only his beard grew, down to the floor and farther.

Then someone else ruled, it was not known who. Curious folk peeped into the palace windows but Krivonosov screened the windows with gibbets. Thus only the hanged saw anything.

In the end the star our little father died for good. The bells rang and rang, yet they did not bring his body out. Our star had grown into the throne. The legs of the throne had become all mixed up with the legs of the star. His arm and the armrest were one. It was impossible to tear him loose. And to bury the star along with the golden throne – what a shame.

Poem – Objects

Inanimate objects are always correct and cannot, unfortunately, be reproached with anything. I have never observed a chair shift from one foot to another, or a bed rear on its hind legs. And tables, even when they are tired, will not dare to bend their knees. I suspect that objects do this from pedagogical considerations, to reprove us constantly for our instability.

Poem – Our Fear

Our fear
does not wear a night shirt
does not have owl’s eyes
does not lift a casket lid
does not extinguish a candle

does not have a dead man’s face either

our fear
is a scrap of paper
found in a pocket
‘warn Wójcik
the place on Dluga Street is hot’

our fear
does not rise on the wings of the tempest
does not sit on a church tower
it is down-to-earth

it has the shape
of a bundle made in haste
with warm clothing
and arms

our fear
does not have the face of a dead man
the dead are gentle to us
we carry them on our shoulders
sleep under the same blanket

close their eyes
adjust their lips
pick a dry spot
and bury them

not too deep
not too shallow

Poem – An Answer

This will be a night in deep snow
which has the power to muffle steps
in deep shadow transforming
bodies to two puddles of darkness
we lie holding our breath
and even the slightest whisper of thought

if we are not tracked down by wolves
and the man in a Russian sheepskin who swings
quick-firing death on his chest
we must spring and run
in the clapping of short dry salvos
to that other longed-for shore

the earth is the same everywhere
wisdom teaches everywhere the man
weeps with white tears
mothers rock their children
the moon rises
and builds a white house for us

this will be night after hard reality
a conspiracy of the imagination
it has a taste of bread and lightness of vodka
but the choice to remain here
is confirmed by every dream about palm trees

the dream is interrupted suddenly by the arrival of three
tall men of rubber and iron
they will check your name your fear
order you to go downstairs
they won’t allow you to take anything
but the compassionate face of the janitor

Hellenic Roman Medieval
East Indian Elizabethan Italian
perhaps above all French
a bit of Weimar and Versailles
we carry so many homelands
on the shoulders of a single earth

but the only one guarded
by the most singular number
is here where they will trample you into the ground
or with boldly ringing spade
make a large pit for your longing

Poem – In A City

In an eastern city where I won’t return
there is a winged stone light and huge
lightning strikes this winged stone
I close my eyes to remember
in my city where I won’t return
there is heavy and nourishing water
the one who gives you a cup of this water
gives you the faith you will still return
in my faraway city that has gone
from all maps of the world there is bread that can nourish
throughout life black as the faith you will see again
stone bread water and the presence of towers at dawn

Poem – Pebble

The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning

with a scent that does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardour and coldness
are just and full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

–Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

Poem – Home

A home above the year’s seasons
home of children animals and apples
a square of empty space
under an absent star

home was the telescope of childhood
the skin of emotion
a sister’s cheek
branch of a tree

the cheek was extinguished by flame
the branch crossed out by a shell
over the powdery ash of the nest
a song of homeless infantry

home is the die of emotion
home is the cube of childhood

the wing of a burned sister

leaf of a dead tree

Poem – Report from the Besieged City

Too old to carry arms and fight like the others –

they graciously gave me the inferior role of chronicler
I record – I don’t know for whom – the history of the siege

I am supposed to be exact but I don’t know when the invasion began
two hundred years ago in December in September perhaps yesterday at dawn
everyone here suffers from a loss of the sense of time

all we have left is the place the attachment to the place
we still rule over the ruins of temples spectres of gardens and houses
if we lose the ruins nothing will be left

I write as I can in the rhythm of interminable weeks
monday: empty storehouses a rat became the unit of currency
tuesday: the mayor murdered by unknown assailants
wednesday: negotiations for a cease-fire the enemy has imprisoned our messengers
we don’t know where they are held that is the place of torture
thursday: after a stormy meeting a majority of voices rejected
the motion of the spice merchants for unconditional surrender
friday: the beginning of the plague saturday: our invincible defender
N.N. committed suicide sunday: no more water we drove back
an attack at the eastern gate called the Gate of the Alliance

all of this is monotonous I know it can’t move anyone

I avoid any commentary I keep a tight hold on my emotions I write about the facts
only they it seems are appreciated in foreign markets
yet with a certain pride I would like to inform the world
that thanks to the war we have raised a new species of children
our children don’t like fairy tales they play at killing
awake and asleep they dream of soup of bread and bones
just like dogs and cats

in the evening I like to wander near the outposts of the city
along the frontier of our uncertain freedom.
I look at the swarms of soldiers below their lights
I listen to the noise of drums barbarian shrieks
truly it is inconceivable the City is still defending itself
the siege has lasted a long time the enemies must take turns
nothing unites them except the desire for our extermination
Goths the Tartars Swedes troops of the Emperor regiments of the Transfiguration
who can count them
the colours of their banners change like the forest on the horizon
from delicate bird’s yellow in spring through green through red to winter’s black

and so in the evening released from facts I can think
about distant ancient matters for example our
friends beyond the sea I know they sincerely sympathize
they send us flour lard sacks of comfort and good advice
they don’t even know their fathers betrayed us
our former allies at the time of the second Apocalypse
their sons are blameless they deserve our gratitude therefore we are grateful
they have not experienced a siege as long as eternity
those struck by misfortune are always alone
the defenders of the Dalai Lama the Kurds the Afghan mountaineers

now as I write these words the advocates of conciliation
have won the upper hand over the party of inflexibles
a normal hesitation of moods fate still hangs in the balance

cemeteries grow larger the number of defenders is smaller
yet the defence continues it will continue to the end
and if the City falls but a single man escapes
he will carry the City within himself on the roads of exile
he will be the City

we look in the face of hunger the face of fire face of death
worst of all – the face of betrayal
and only our dreams have not been humiliated

Poem – The  Trial 

During his great speech the prosecutor 

kept piercing me with his yellow index finger 

I’m afraid I didn’t appear self-assured 

unintentionally I put on a mask of fear and depravity 

like a rat caught in a trap an informer a fratricide 

the reporters were dancing a war dance 

slowly I burned at a stake of magnesia 
all of this took place in a small stifling room 

the floor creaked plaster fell from the ceiling 

I counted knots in the boards holes in the wall faces 

the faces were alike almost identical 

policemen the tribunal witnesses the audience 

they belonged to the party of those without any pity 

and even my defender smiling pleasantly 

was an honorary member of the firing squad 
in the first row sat an old fat woman 

dressed up as my mother with a theatrical gesture she raised 

a handkerchief to her dirty eyes but didn’t cry 

it must have lasted a long time I don’t know even how long 

the red blood of the sunset was rising in the gowns of the judges 
the real trial went on in my cells 

they certainly knew the verdict earlier 

after a short rebellion they capitulated and started to die one after the other 

I looked in amazement at my wax fingers 
I didn’t speak the last word and yet 

for so many years I was composing the final speech 

to God to the court of the world to the conscience 

to the dead rather than the living 

roused to my feet by the guards 

I managed only to blink and then 

the room burst out in healthy laughter 

my atoptive mother laughed also 

the gavel banged and this really was the end 
but what happened after that – death by a noose 

or perhaps a punishment generously chained to a dungeon 

I’m afraid there is a third dark solution 

beyond the limits of time the senses and reason 
therefore when I wake I don’t open my eyes 

I clench my fingers don’t lift my head 

breathe lightly because truly I don’t know 

how many minutes of air I still have left 

Poem – The Tongue

Inadvertently I passed the border of her teeth and swallowed

her agile tongue. It lives inside me now, like a Japanese fish. It

brushes against my heart and my diaphragm as if against the walls

of an aquarium. It stirs silt from the bottom.

She whom I deprived of a voice stares at me with big eyes

and waits for a word.

Yet I do not know which tongue to use when speaking to

her – the stolen one or the one which melts in my mouth from an

excess of heavy goodness. 

Poem – The Rain 

When my older brother 

came back from war 

he had on his forehead a little silver star 

and under the star 

an abyss 

a splinter of shrapnel 

hit him at Verdun 

or perhaps at Grünwald 

(he’d forgotten the details) 

he used to talk much 

in many languages 

but he liked most of all 

the language of history 

until losing breath 

he commanded his dead pals to run 

Roland Kowaski Hannibal 

he shouted 

that this was the last crusade 

that Carthage soon would fall 

and then sobbing confessed 

that Napoleon did not like him 

we looked at him 

getting paler and paler 

abandoned by his senses 

he turned slowly into a monument 

into musical shells of ears 

entered a stone forest 

and the skin of his face 

was secured 

with the blind dry 

buttons of eyes 

nothing was left him 

but touch 

what stories 

he told with his hands 

in the right he had romances 

in the left soldier’s memories 

they took my brother 

and carried him out of town 

he returns every fall 

slim and very quiet 

he does not want to come in 

he knocks at the window for me 

we walk together in the streets 

and he recites to me 

improbable tales 

touching my face 

with blind fingers of rain 

Poem – The Power of Taste

It didn’t require great character at all

Our refusal disagreement and resistance

we had a shred of necessary courage

but fundamentally it was a matter of taste

Yes taste

in which there are fibers of soul the cartilage of


Who knows if we had been better and more

attractively tempted

sent rose-skinned women thin as a wafer

or fantastic creatures from the paintings of

Hieronymus Bosch

but what kind of hell was there at this time

a wet pit the murderers’ alley the barrack

called a palace of justice

a home-brewed Mephisto in a Lenin jacket

sent Aurora’s grandchildren on into the field

boys with potato faces

very ugly girls with red hands


So æsthetics can be helpful in life

one should not neglect the study of beauty

Before we declare our consent we must carefully


the shape of the architecture the rhythm of the drums
official colors the despicable ritual of funerals

Our eyes and refused obedience

the princes of our senses proudly chose exile 

Poem – Architecture 

Over a delicate arch–

an eyebrow of stone–

on the unruffled forehead

of a wall

in joyful and open windows

where there are faces instead of geranium

where rigorous rectangles

border a dreaming perspective

where a stream awakened by an ornament

flows on a quiet field of surfaces
movement meets stillness a line meets a shout

trembling uncertainty simple clarity
you are there


art of fantasy and stone
there you reside beauty

over an arch

light as a sigh
on a wall

pale from altitude
and a window

tearful with a pane of glass
a fugitive from apparent forms

I proclaim your motionless dance 

Poem – Daedalus And Icarus

Daedalus says:
Go on sonny but remember that you are walking and not flying

the wings are just an ornament and you are stepping on a meadow

that warm gust is just the humid earth of summer

and that cold one is a brook

the sky is full of leaves and small animals
Icarus says:
The eyes like two stones return straight to earth

and see a farmer who knocks asunder oily till

a grub which wiggles in a furrow

bad grub which cuts the bond of a plant with the earth
Daedalus says:
Sonny this is not true The Cosmos is merely light

and earth is a bowl of shadows Look as here colors play

dust rises from above the sea smoke rises to the sky

of noblest atoms a rainbow sets itself now
Icarus says:
Arms hurt father from this beating at vacuum

legs are getting numb and miss thorns and sharp stones

I cannot keep looking at the sun as you do father

I sunken whole in the dark rays of the earth
Description of the catastrophe:
Now Icarus falls down head first

the last frame of him is a glimpse of a heal childlike small

being swallowed by the devouring sea

Up above the father cries out the name

which no longer belongs to a neck or a head

but only to a remembrance
He was so young did not understand that wings are just a metaphor

a bit of wax and feathers and a contempt for the laws of gravitation

I cannot hold a body at an elevation of a great many feet

The essence of the matter is in having our hearts

which are coursed by heavy blood

fill with air

and this very thing Icarus did not want to accept
let us pray 

Poem – Elegy of Fortinbras

To C. M.
Now that we’re alone we can talk prince man to man

though you lie on the stairs and see more than a dead ant

nothing but black sun with broken rays

I could never think of your hands without smiling

and now that they lie on the stone like fallen nests

they are as defenceless as before The end is exactly this

The hands lie apart The sword lies apart The head apart

and the knight’s feet in soft slippers
You will have a soldier’s funeral without having been a soldier

they only ritual I am acquainted with a little

There will be no candles no singing only cannon-fuses and bursts

crepe dragged on the pavement helmets boots artillery horses drums

drums I know nothing exquisite

those will be my manoeuvres before I start to rule

one has to take the city by the neck and shake it a bit
Anyhow you had to perish Hamlet you were not for life

you believed in crystal notions not in human clay

always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras

wolfishly you crunched the air only to vomit

you knew no human thing you did not know even how to breathe
Now you have peace Hamlet you accomplished what you had to

and you have peace The rest is not silence but belongs to me

you chose the easier part an elegant thrust

but what is heroic death compared with eternal watching

with a cold apple in one’s hand on a narrow chair

with a view on the ant-ill and clock’ dial
Adieu prince I have tasks a sewer project

and a decree on prostitutes and beggars

I must also elaborate a better system of prisons

since as you justly said Denmark is a prison

I go to my affairs This night is born

a star named Hamlet We shall never meet

what I shall leave will not be worth a tragedy
It is not for us to greet each other or bid farewell we live on archipelagos

and that water these words what can they do what can they do prince 

Poem – Episode 

We walk by the sea-shore 

holding firmly in our hands 

the two ends of an antique dialogue 

—do you love me? 

—I love you 

with furrowed eyebrows 

I summarize all wisdom 

of the two testaments 

astrologers prophets 

philosophers of the gardens 

and cloistered philosophers 

and it sounds about like this: 

—don’t cry 

—be brave 

—look how everybody 

you pout your lips and say 

—you should be a clergyman 

and fed up you walk off 

nobody loves moralists 

what should I say on the shore of 

a small dead sea 

slowly the water fills 

the shapes of feet which have vanished 

Poem – Three Poems By Heart

I can’t find the title

of a memory about you

with a hand torn from darkness

I step on fragments of faces
soft friendly profiles

frozen into a hard contour
circling above my head

empty as a forehead of air

a man’s silhouette of black paper

living- -against

I reproach myself for the sin of forgetfulness
you left an embrace like a superfluous sweater

a look like a question
our hands won’t transmit the shape of your hands

we squander them touching ordinary things
calm as a mirror

not mildewed with breath

the eyes will send back the question
every day I renew my sight

every day my touch grows

tickled by the proximity of so many things
life bubbles over like blood

Shadows gently melt

let us not allow the dead to be killed–
perhaps a cloud will transmit remembrance–

a worn profile of Roman coins
the women on our street

were plain and good

they patiently carried from the markets

bouquets of nourishing vegetables
the children on our street

scourge of cats
the pigeons–
softly gray
a Poet’s statue was in the park

children would roll their hoops

and colorful shouts

birds sat on the Poet’s hand

read his silence
on summer evenings wives

waited patiently for lips

smelling of familiar tobacco
women could not answer

their children: will he return

when the city was setting

they put the fire out with hands

pressing their eyes
the children on our street

had a difficult death

pigeons fell lightly

like shot down air
now the lips of the Poet

form an empty horizon

birds children and wives cannot live

in the city’s funereal shells

in cold eiderdowns of ashes
the city stands over water

smooth as the memory of a mirror

it reflects in the water from the bottom
and flies to a high star

where a distant fire is burning

like a page of the Iliad 

Poem – To My Bones

In my sleep it rips throughmy meagre skin

throws off the red bandage of the flesh

and goes strolling through the room

my monument a little incomplete
one can be prodigal

with tears and blood

what will endure here the longest

must be thoughtfully provided for
better (than with a priest’s dry finger

to the rains which drip from a cloud of sand)

to give one’s monument to the academey
they will prop it up in a glass display case

and in Latin they will pray before

the little altar made from an os frontalis
they will reckon the bones and surfaces

they will not forget not overlook
happily I will give my color of eyes

pattern of nails and curve of eyelids

I the perfectly objective

made from white crystals of anatomy

Poem – Why The Classics


In  the fourth book of the Peloponnesian War

Thucydides tells among other things

the story of his unsuccessful expedition

among long speeches of chiefs

battles sieges plague

dense net of intrigues of diplomatic endeavours

the episode is like a pin

in a forest

the Greek colony Amphipolis

fell into the hands of Brasidos

because Thucydides was late with relief

for this he paid his native city

with lifelong exile

exiles of all times

know what price that is


generals of the most recent wars

if a similar affair happens to them

whine on their knees before posterity

praise their heroism and innocence

they accuse their subordinates

envious colleagues

unfavourable winds

Thucydides says only

that he had seven ships

it was winter

and he sailed quickly


if art for its subject

will have a broken jar

a small broken soul

with a great self-pity

what will remain after us

will it be lovers’ weeping

in a small dirty hotel

when wall-paper dawns 

Poem – What Our Dead Do

Jan came this morning—

I dreamt of my father

he says
he was riding in an oak coffin

I walked next to the hearse

and father turned to me:
you dressed me nicely

and the funeral is very beautiful

at this time of year so many flowers

it must have cost a lot
don’t worry about it father

—I say—let people see

we loved you

that we spared nothing
six men in black livery

walk nicely at our sides
father thought for a while

and said—the key to the desk

is in the silver inkwell

there is still some money

in the second drawer on the left
with this money—I say—

we will buy you a gravestone

a large one of black marble
it isn’t necessary—says father—

better give it to the poor
six men in black livery

walk nicely at our sides

they carry burning lanterns
again he seemed to be thinking

—take care of the flowers in the garden

cover them for the winter

I don’t want them to be wasted
you are the oldest—he says—

from a little felt bag behind the painting

take out the cuff links with real pearls

let them bring you luck

my mother gave them to me

when I finished high school

then he didn’t say anything

he must have entered a deeper sleep
this is how our dead

look after us

they warn us through dreams

bring back lost money

hunt for jobs

whisper the numbers of lottery tickets

or when they can’t do this

knock with their fingers on the windows
and out of gratitude

we imagine immortality for them

snug as the burrow of a mouse