RUSSIA COMES INTO POLAND

by Adam Zagajewski


Through the meadow and hedgerow, village and forest,
cavalries on the march, infantries on the march,
horses and cannons, old soldiers, young soldiers, children,
wiry wolfhounds at full gallop, a blizzard of feathers,
sleds, Black Marias, carriages, taxis,
even the old cars called Moskwitch come roaring in,
and warships and rafts and pontoon bridges roar in,
and barges, steamships, canoes (some of which sink),
barrage balloons, missiles, bombers,
howitzer shells whistling arias from an opera,
the shriek of flagellants and the growl of commands,
songs slashing the air with notes made of steel,
yurts and tents break camp, ropes tighten,
Messengers, painting, die as they run,
cables rush out, candles burning with quick crimson flames,
colonels dozing in carriages faster than light,
popes piously murmuring blessings,
even the moon is along on that hard, iron march.
Tanks, sabers, ropes,
Katyusha shells whirring like comets,
fifes and drums exploding the air,
clubs crunching, the heaving decks of ferries
and of invasions sigh, sway, the sons of the steppes
on the march, Moslems, condemned prisoners, lovers
of Byron, gamblers, the whole progeny
of Asia with Suvorov in the lead
limps in with a train of fawning courtiers who dance;
the yellow Volga runs in, Siberian rivers chanting,
camels pensively plod, bringing
the sands of the desert and humid mirages,
the fold-eyed Kirghizes marching in step,
the black pupils of the God of the Urals,
and behind them schoolteachers and languages straggle,
and behind them old manor houses skate in like gliders,
and German doctors with dressings and plasters;
the wounded with their alabaster faces,
regiments and divisions, cavalries, infantries, on the march,
Russia comes into Poland,
tearing cobwebs, leaves, silk ribbons,
ligaments and frontiers,
breaking
treaties, bridges, alliances,
threads, ties, clotheslines with wet washing still waving,
gates, arteries, bandages and conjunctions,
future and hope;
Russia comes in, marching
into a hamlet on the Pilica,
into the deep Mazovia forests,
rending posters and parliaments,
trampling roads, footbridges, paths, streams.
Russia comes into the eighteenth century,
into October, September, laughter and tears,
into conscience, into the concentration
of the student, the calm silence of the warm bricks of a wall,
comes into the fragrance
of meadows, herbs, the tangled paths of the forest,
trampling
the pansy, the wild rose,
hoofprints in the moss, tractor and tank prints
in the soft moss,
it overturns
chimneys, tree trunks, palaces,
turn off lights, makes great bonfires
out in the formal garden,
stains the clear spring,
razes the library, church, town hall,
flooding its scarlet banners through the sky,
Russia comes into my life,
Russia comes into my thought,
Russia comes into my poetry.

Translated by Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C.K. Williams

Purchase “Without End” by Adam Zagajewski and the translators

PRESENCE

by Adam Zagajewski

I was born in a city of wild cherries
and hard-seeded sunflowers (common wisdom
had it halfway from the West
to the East). Globes stained by verdigris
kept careless vigil.

Might only the absence of presence be perfect?
Presence, after all, infected with the original
sin of existence, is excessive, savage,
Oriental, superb, while beauty, like a fruit knife,
snips its bit of plentitude off.
Life accumulates through generations
as in a pond; it doesn’t vanish
with its moment but turns
airy and dry. I think
of a half-conscious prayer, the chapped lips
of a boy at his first confession,
the wooden step creaking
under his knees.
At night, autumn arrives
for the harvest, yellow, ripe for flame.
There are, I know, not one
but at least four realities,
intersecting
like the Gospels.
I know I’m alone, but linked
firmly to you, painfully, gladly.
I know only the mysteries are immortal.

 

 

Translated by Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C.K. Williams

A TALK WITH FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

by Adam Zagajewski

Most highly respected Professor Nietzsche,
sometimes I seem to see you
on a sanatorium terrace at dawn
with fog descending and song bursting
the throats of the birds.

Not tall, head like a bullet,
you compose a new book
and a strange energy hovers around you.
Your thoughts parade
like enormous armies.

You know now that Anne Frank died,
and her classmates and friends, boys, girls,
and friends of her friends, and cousins
and friends of her cousins.

What are words, I want to ask you, what
is clarity and why do words keep burnging
a century later, though the earth
weighs so much?

Clearly nothing links enlightenment
and the dark pain of cruelty.
At least two kingdoms exist,
if not more.

But if there’s no God and no force
welds elements in repulsion,
then what are words really, and from whence
does their inner light come?

And from where does joy come, and where
does nothingness go? Where is forgiveness?
Why do the incidental dreams vanish at dawn
and the great ones keep growing?

Translated by Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C.K. Williams

R. SAYS

by Adam Zagajewski

Literary rats–says R. that’s us.
We meet on line at discount movies;
at dusk, when brocaded suns sink in green ponds,
we leave the libraries, fattened on Kafka.
Enlightened rats, in fatigues, or in the uniforms
of an army mustered by a literate despot;
the secret police of a poet who might be coming to power
at the edge of the city. Rats with stipends, confidential
grant applications, snide remarks; rats with slick hair
and meticulous whiskers.
Capitals, burning asphalt, philanthropic dowagers
all know us well, but not deserts, oceans, or jungles.
An atheist epoch’s Benedictines, missionaries of easy despair,
we might be a link in an evolution
whose sense and address no one betrays.
We’re compensated in small, worthless gold coin,
and with the moment of bliss when metaphor’s flame
welds two free-floating objects, when a hawk lands,
or a tax inspector makes the sign of the cross.

Translated by Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C.K. Williams

forster’s tern

with riverbank trees blocking the low summer sun 
the tern surveyed, up and down and around, 
peering around corners of light, looking, 
looking down on the here smooth and shaded Umatilla

            river of recovery

diving now, wings falcon swept,  
it breaks the glass 

not to go deep deep
there is no deep deep here
but just deep enough 
for a snatch of silver

two minutes later it's back
looking, looking.. 
looking..