More from PI 13/14

Here’s a second helping from the prodigious new double issue of Poetry International 13/14.  This sampling includes work from Carolyn Forché, Fady Joudah, Bob Hicok and more, while previewing PI 13/14’s  Daniel Simko and Paul Celan chapbooks.  You can find out more on our beautifully refurbished website.

PI_BookCoverREV-1

IN MEMORY OF PAUL ELUARD

Put the words in the dead man’s grave,
the words he spoke in order to live.
Cradle his head among them
let him feel
the tongues of longing,
the tongs.

Put the word on the dead man’s eyelid,
the word he refused to speak
to the one who said “thou” to him,
the word
his heart’s blood rushed past
when a hand bare as his own
knotted the one who said “thou” to him
into the trees of the future.

Put that word on his eyelid:
maybe
his eye, still blue,
takes on a second, stranger blue,
a second blue,
and the one who said “thou” to him
dreams with him: we.

YOU TOO SPEAK

You too speak:
you speak last,
say your word.

Speak–
but never split No off from Yes.
Give your word a meaning:
give it the shade.

Give it enough shade,
give it as much shade
as you know is parceled around you
between midnight and noon and midnight.

Look around:
how everything comes alive–
In the presence of death! Alive!
whoever speaks shade speaks truth.

Now, though, the shade where you stand is shrinking:
Where now, shade-stripped?
Upward. Grope your way up.
You grow thinner, less perceptible, finer.
Finer: a thread
a star would like to slide down on:
to be able to swim down there
where it observes itself glimmering: in the flow
of drifting words.

by Paul Celan.  Translated by David Young.

Left to My Own Devices

The floor’s level now. It was as easy as moving
a red handle, as buying a jack, as cutting a hole
in the floor, as being born, as translating Rilke badly
but with the exhilaration of one who loved
flipping the pages of two dictionaries simultaneously.
Not the panther poem but some other
Austrian lyricism I’ve forgotten, how many of my moments
are contrails, bold, white slashes
against a blue background that are gone the next time
you look up from your turkey sandwich? You
and your box lunches. I suspect jets are really a means
for the birth of contrails, that forgetting
is a form of life, just as knowing for certain
where the keys are should have a species name. No matter.
I’ll never be six foot tall so I hop a lot,
and at the top of the hop, I’m probably six two,
six three, so I write that down on forms
that want to know how tall I am, as if a blank space
is really curious. The form is not specific
about duration—how tall are you and how long
have you been that tall—so the question
is either demure or badly phrased. The difference
between the thought of the thing and the thing
goes away for Caroline when she gathers and staples
her skin. There’s just the pain. It’s not a word
or a ball of sunlight, it’s this very specific attempt
not to scream so her husband won’t know
what she’s doing to the thigh he doesn’t visit much
these days. Is there a point, you might be asking,
and I might be telling you no, not beyond the shape
of a god up ahead as we’re walking,
which when we get to it, is not a god but a naked
piece of stone. The days have stacked into who I am
but if I met one of them again, out on the street,
I doubt I’d recognize it. It could ask me the time
and I wouldn’t know it was my past, the irony of this
would be lost on me, it would float off wherever
forsaken irony goes, and someone in an official smock
would trip the “we’re running low on irony siren”
but it wouldn’t work, thus increasing our stock of irony,
praise the Lord. I’d be sad if trees stopped telling
the truth. I mean really, really sad, like rusted lug nut
sad, you out on the highway with your flat, beating
what won’t let go with the lug wrench, then sitting there
with bits of bottles thrown from cars, sorting shatter
by color and shape.

Psalm of Filling the Rental Car

For the director of music. To the tune
of static.

Man eating from a dumpster at a BP
off Middlebelt in Romulus.
From an apple core, then a burger first wiped
against the dumpster, to remove ants,
maybe, maybe
maggots. Early March, grime-snow
lines the roads. Jets
drop from the east, the air is paper,
torn. He never looks up, he is dilligent,
he is fed. I do not forget the mouth
of Your promise.
How servant my eyes, pitfalls of hope.
Who will bring us
to the fortified city? I fail
greatly. My soul faints like smoke.

By Bob Hicok

In Memoriam: Mahmoud Darwish

A Poet Among Us

On a winter night in Beirut twenty-two years ago, a physician working among Palestinians in southern Lebanon whispered to me that I had arrived too late, that the poets had left Beirut the year before, Mahmoud Darwish among them, and in the darkness of a black-out he spoke of how unsettling it was for the people to know that the poets were no longer there, most especially Darwish—  whose work was beloved by millions in the Arab world and beyond, whose lyrics were sung by heart, set to the music of their ancient oud, whose poetry readings filled stadiums. Having survived a life of imprisonment, house arrest and exile, he wrote of love, survival and our common humanity. Now Mahmoud Darwish is no longer among us, this poet who made of his language a homeland, who dwelled in exilic being—this solitary, private man who became the voice of a people, and who, in a language of fig trees, olives and flute music, exile and longing, re-built in poetry the four hundred and seventeen invisible villages of Palestine, such as Al-Birweh—which he was forced to flee as a boy—the village to which his empty, symbolic coffin was carried to be set among the stones of what may have once been his house, near a prickly pear bush, in a dry wind.  At that same moment in Ramallah, tens of thousands attended his state funeral and laid him to rest on a hillside with Jerusalem visible in the distance.  Those who carried the second coffin to Al-Birweh knew that their poet had to be buried twice, once for his presence and once for his absence.

Almost twenty years after Beirut, I came to know Mahmoud Darwish as one of his collaborative translators and then as his friend, and would come to understand why the people of that besieged city were so bereft at his loss.  No other poet of his time gave voice to an entire people, no other poet was so beloved, and yet he also cleaved to his art, and carried within himself the solitude it demanded. He seemed to know and accept his destiny, and desired only to finish the work under his pen. A year before his death, we were together at Struga in Macedonia, the oldest poetry festival in the world, and as he stood on a bridge over the River Drim, he read his poems to the thousands who crowded its banks and drew their flotilla of boats as close as they could to him beneath the bridge. During the festival, the sky flowered with fireworks in his honor, torches were lit, songs sung, and he was presented with the Golden Wreath Award, one of the highest honors given to a poet.  A few days later, we were taken by boat across a spring-fed pool near Lake Ohrid.  There was no sound but that of the oar rising and falling.  Mahmoud was pensive as he leaned over to touch the water, while telling me very quietly that his heart was giving way.  I didn’t understand at the time that he was saying goodbye, and now I must say goodbye to him, who realized his wish to be a candle in the darkness of the times in which he lived, and by whose poetry, memory and light we must now find our way.
—Carolyn  Forché

She Didn’t Come

She didn’t come. I said: And she won’t…so
let me rearrange the evening with what suits my failure
and her absence:
I put out the flame of her candles,
I turned on the electric lights,
drank her wine then broke the glass
and switched the music: from the swift violins
to Persian songs.
I said: She won’t come. So I loosened my elegant
necktie (to relax more) and put on
my blue pajama. I could walk barefoot
if I want. And sit cross-legged, sagging
on her sofa, to forget her
and forget all the things of absence.
Then I put back in the drawers what I had prepared
for our party. I opened the windows and pulled back the curtains.
I stood in front of the night, my body holding no secret
other than what I waited for and lost…
and I mocked my obsession with purifying the air for her
(I had sprayed rose and lemon water).
She won’t come…I will move the orchid
from the right to the left to punish her forgetfulness…
I will cover up the mirror with a coat, I don’t want to see
her radiant image…and add to my regret.
I said: Forget what you have chosen for her
of ancient love lines, she doesn’t even deserve
a plagiarized poem…
Then I forgot her, ate my quick meal standing,
and read a chapter in a school book
about our distant planets,
and wrote, to overlook her harm, a poem,
this poem.

By Mahmoud Darwish.  Translated by Fady Joudah

A Stone for Svetko: A remembrance of the poet Svetozar Daniel Simko, 1959-2004

Yesterday, in the bronze light of late afternoon, in a wild March wind I walked from West to East Berlin, retracing the steps I took eighteen years ago with the poet Daniel Simko, through a city at once delirious and hesitant with joy, where could be heard in the streets both the quiet of disbelief and the uplifting strains of Beethoven’s Ninth.  Somewhere here, just here or was it a few hundred meters away?—sections of The Wall still stood at that time amidst its rubble, and while it was still necessary to pass through Checkpoint Charlie, even that had become a formal relic of a shattered State.  But now it seemed impossible to tell East from West, except for a path of small stones marking where the wall and been here and there, and so I found myself in the windy expanse of Alexanderplatz—in front of its glass arcade and atomic clock—before I knew that I had gone from one world to another, from past to present.  Only Alexanderplatz looked familiar, but its surroundings were as crystalline as the new century.  You wouldn’t believe this, Svetko, I whispered to my now dead, ever-present friend, but you would be happy in your disbelief.
This is the short story of a friendship between poets, which began so serendipitously, and is now marked in memory by a path of moments.  We met in 1976 in Iowa City, and again in New York a few years later.  During our friendship of almost thirty years, we shared poems, books, an extended family, houses and apartments here and there, travels and a passion for literary art.  He was from former Czechslovakia, as was my father’s family.  That, in the beginning, drew us together, but what carried us further had to do with poetry, and then with all else.

In 1985, when my husband, the photographer Harry Mattison, was often in South Africa documenting what would become the last years of the apartheid regime, I welcomed the chance for camaraderie in what had become an oasis of Czechoslovakia on East 27th street—Daniel Simko’s studio apartment, whose shelves groaned with double-stacked books but for the wall where a painting hung, and the closet kitchen, and the alcove study where he wrote his poems and translated, in those days, Friedrich Hölderlin. I remember that we drove my little car down to Greenwich St., where Harry and I lived in a loft in an old spice warehouse that still smelled faintly of spices when it rained. I do remember Daniel and his friend James Reidel taking turns holding a wedding band by a strand of my hair over my pregnant belly. If a boy, the band would swing back and forth, it was said by the old wives, and if a girl, the band would move in a circle, but over and over, it swung back and forth, and about seven months later, I gave birth to my son in Paris, where we were to spend the year 1986 beginning with the summer of the Paris bombings. When our Sean was a few months’ old, Daniel arrived to stay with us while working on his translations of the twentieth-century Austrian poet, Georg Trakl.

In the months before I had joined Harry in Johannesburg, sometimes Daniel and I spoke by telephone—Johannesburg to New York—and he discerned, in my silences and hesitancies, the caution one feels when under surveillance—which as foreigners in South Africa—we were. Daniel would joke then that our halting conversations reminded him of “the old country,” the Czechoslovakia of his childhood, then still under Soviet domination. As it happened, we had to leave South Africa precipitously, having been accused by our landlady, formerly of “Rhodesia,” of breaking apartheid laws. That is how it happened that we arrived in Paris as I was entering my ninth month of pregnancy. We moved into an atelier overlooking Cimitière Montparnasse, at 11 rue Schoelcher, beside Simone de Beauvoir’s atelier at 11 bis. She would die that April, and be laid to rest in a grave that I could almost see from the window of our loggia. After she died, mourners came to rue Schoelcher and tossed flowers through our open windows, mistaking one atelier for another. At the end of those days, I would bring the bouquets to her grave and add them to the mounds of wilting flowers.

When Daniel wasn’t working on Trakl at the café around the corner, we would walk together with my newborn son, Sean in his carriage through the cemetery, reasoning that the bombs going off in metro stations and stores would never be planted among the graves. Daniel smoked his Turkish cigarettes as we walked, and between smokes, held Sean up to see the tomb sculptures and pigeon flocks. Once we did hear an explosion, and it turned out to be a bomb hidden in a baby carriage, detonated in a department store, but our cemetery was always left undisturbed, and in my memory, Daniel and I are often walking there, from one grave to another. In a few hours of peace and wind, we could visit Tristan Tzara and Charles Baudelaire, and then make our way over to composers Camille Saint-Saëns and César Franck, and before leaving pause at the graves of Julio Cortázar and Jean-Paul Sartre. As we walked, Daniel recited his versions of Trakl to me, asking if one word might be better than another and then, one afternoon, he came back to the atelier in a dark mood and announced “I am becoming Trakl.” I tried to reassure him that becoming Trakl might be necessary to the work of translating him. A translator of poetry must enter the language of another as closely as possible to the moment of its making. But entering Trakl carried a special risk, and Daniel knew this.  His poet had been attached to a field hospital as a lieutenant pharmacist on Austria-Hungary’s Galician Front facing the Russians. There he witnessed the Battle of Grodek and Rawa-Ruska during September, 1914. Responsible for many critically wounded soldiers housed in a barn, and without an attending physician or drugs to relieve their pain, Trakl announced he could no longer bear to live and fled to shoot himself only to be disarmed. Under the pretext of a transfer to a military hospital in Krakow, he was placed under psychiatric observation and shared a room with a fellow officer suffering from delirium tremens. The windows were barred like a jail and Trakl had to wear hospital pajamas resembling a prison uniform. His publisher, Ludwig von Ficker, saw the brutality of the hospital and its screaming patients and attempted unsuccessfully to have Trakl released.  Knowing of his prewar bohemian days as a drug addict, von Ficker asked Trakl if he had drugs in his possession. The poet is said to have replied,

“Would I be alive otherwise?”

One of Vienna’s most promising young expressionist poets, the painter Oskar Kokoschka, was his close friend, and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was an avid reader of his work.  Trakl began to write again, but died on the third of November from a self-administered overdose of cocaine. These circumstances certainly interested Daniel, but it was the lucidity of Trakl’s lyric response to war experience that drew him to the work, along with his fluid imagery, mutable figures, and mysterious vision. He was drawn as well to the near-prophetic poems written before his war experience, and to Trakl’s referential density, lyric consciousness, and capacity to sustain almost infinite ambiguity without diminishing the poetry’s expressive force. Trakl was inarguably among the twentieth-century’s genuine poets, but there may have been other reasons for Daniel’s elective affinity, having to do with Trakl’s youth, when he was viewed as a bit strange, perhaps as Daniel himself may have sensed himself viewed as a young immigrant in Ohio. It was said, for example, that Trakl sniffed chloroform from a flask and dipped his cigarettes in opium. Later, as a poète maudit , emulating Charles Baudelaire, he took morphine, Veronal and cocaine, dressed as a flaneur, drank prodigiously and otherwise transported himself, but always seemed to his friends “more awake” than others. Daniel was certainly himself “more awake,” more observant and attentive, with a formidable knowledge of European history and literature, against which he read his “new Americans.” On the night I met him in July 1978, he was sitting alone on a couch in the living room of a poet’s house in Iowa City, as an after-reading party swirled around him. Although I was very young, I had been that night’s reader, and wishing to escape the confusing social mélange, sat down on the couch as well. After a time, he introduced himself, and I heard a familiar accent (perhaps barely perceptible to others), that I hadn’t heard since childhood.

He was from Bratislava, Slovakia, also the birthplace of my father’s family, and so we talked for several hours about his life, “the old country,” and European poets. I didn’t see him again for several years, until the night the Master of Fine Arts program at Columbia University chartered a Circle Line boat for a starlight cruise around Manhattan. After we disembarked, Daniel invited my husband and I back to his then nearly empty apartment on East 27th Street, and so our enduring friendship began. Although he studied with me at Columbia for a semester or two, I never thought of myself as his teacher, but perhaps the sister and friend he more deeply needed. Over the years, we spent time together in Paris, Provincetown, Vermont, and then in the spring of 1990, after the “Velvet Revolution” liberated former-Czechoslovakia, we traveled together to Bratislava, where I joined him in a family attic, searching for the jazz records and books he had left behind when he fled in early 1969. We drove then to Prague, still quiet that spring, still gothic and dark, and not yet crowded with tourists. Most nights, we walked back and forth across Charles Bridge by ourselves, occasionally encountering clusters of students talking, singing and playing guitars.
In Wenceslas Square, thronged only months before with tens of thousands of Czechs demanding the government’s capitulation, we could still find the jingle bells rung in celebration of newly won freedom, and rippling candle-wax memorials to the revolution’s martyrs.

We visited my great-aunt in Brno, then living in an apartment given to her by the Jewish Council for her work on behalfof Jews during the occupation and Shoah. There is much more to say about our time with her, but the conversation would not have been possible without Daniel’s fluency in Slovak and sensitivity to her special circumstances.

From Prague we drove to Dresden, where the ruins of the fire-bombing were still visible, and then on to Berlin, where the wall was being jubilantly dismantled. We stayed in the East, near Alexanderplatz, crossing through the still-active Checkpoint Charlie several times a day. We took walks in the neighborhood where Daniel lived years earlier with his love, Tania Taubes, daughter of philosopher Jacob Taubes, one of the founders of Berlin’s Freie Universität. During these walks, Daniel grew pensive and melancholy, but always retained his sharp wit, as well as a certain gravitas. He knew where we were and “what time it was,” as we picked scraps of the wall from the ground and chose which ones to bring home with us. Behind the soot-blackened Reichstag, vendors had spread blankets with Russian war medals, particularly artful examples of wall graffiti, dog-fur hats and Soviet mementos. My friend, the late Charles Newman, captured this flea market of history perfectly. Thinking of a museum, he wrote: “Grim History proceeds painstakingly and openly from room to room, until the last very small one (devoted to the near present) where it dribbles away into a meaningless collage of artifacts; a sword from the Russo-Japanese War, a bust of Stalin, a cosmonaut, a photo of an expedition to Antarctica, a Chinese vase inlaid with Brezhnev’s visage and some Gorby buttons—all in no particular order, and without explanation. It’s as if—‘here are the pieces’—you figure it out.”

Throughout our journey that spring, Daniel was painstakingly and contemplatively “figuring it out.” He showed me where he had lived and gone to school, the abandoned castle in Bratislava where he played as a boy, and in the musty attic of his aunt’s house, with its old wooden trunks, dove nests and broken chairs, he showed himself that it was impossible to be more than the ghost in a country that was no longer his. There wasn’t very much in that attic that he wanted to bring back.
During the next fourteen years, he lived in New York, earning a degree in Library Science and working for the New York Public Library. He continued to write, but grew less and less interested in publishing his poems, other than in the books he made himself, and in his “manuscriptions” of notes, aperçus and versets, all privately distributed among his friends. He sent out translations, yes, but not his own poems—and although he offered reasons having to do with a contempt for “literary politics,” it seemed to me his reticence had deeper roots. Perhaps parting with his lover, Tania, had inflicted a decisive wound, held open by his vigil over his mother’s long illness. Dr. Mary Simko had suffered from a rare blood disease and died in 2003, only ten months before her son. Perhaps his reluctance to publish could be attributed to some other cause, but the mode of his poetry in those years was decidedly European. In boyhood he had fled his country, but only in adulthood did he become an exile, and not only from Slovakia. He lived in a realm of exilic being. He wrote in English but he often seemed, in so doing, to be translating himself—not his language—himself. It seems to me now that in his youth, he was attempting that rarely accomplished feat, full assimilation.

He didn’t “lose” his Slovak accent. He learned to mimic American speech. His humor and youthful carryings-on were attempts to fit in, to be accepted by his peers. The humor, the indulgences, even his invented language “Tanto,” in which he sometimes wrote his letters and experimental poems, were partially in the service of this acceptance. In his later years, I believe he realized what he had lost—not only Tania and his mother—but his own past. He had to watch “The Velvet Revolution” from a distance, and he was desperate in its aftermath to return to Czechoslovakia. In the last months of his life he was attempting to have his Slovak citizenship restored, and I am told by his friend, Zuzana Andreánska, that in his last days, drifting in and out of consciousness, he spoke only his mother tongue. That is why, throughout his later years, it seemed that when one stepped into his apartment on East 27th Street, one was stepping into an oasis of Central Europe.

Whenever I came to visit him there, he met me at the top of the stairs in Penn Station, elegantly dressed in overcoat and silk scarf, an umbrella on his arm, a valise over his shoulder, and we went back to his apartment to sit and talk, share passages from our reading, poems in draft, and moments of quiet laced with his cigarette smoke. Always he had arranged a vase of roses on the table, and a plate of fruit and biscuits, and later we would go to dinner at Mocca, a Hungarian restaurant on Second Avenue, for wiener schnitzel and goulash, or else to the nearby bistro Les Halles, and then take long walks into the night, usually through Gramercy Park and Union Square, and sometimes as far south as Greenwich St., where my husband and I had first lived. On every trip, we visited the Strand bookstore where Daniel once worked and where he still seemed to know everyone. Usually we also went to the Museum of Modern Art, but during most of our time together we stayed in his apartment refuge, talking and writing, revising and reading to each other. It was there we argued our way through selections for Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness.

Throughout those years, Daniel lived quietly, worked diligently, smoked prodigiously, and if he drank heavily, never did he seem inebriated. I knew, in his last years, that he was ill, and should have realized how gravely ill he was, but his comportment obscured his suffering until it was too late. He once told me that he preferred to die rather than endure medical treatment. I thought the remark an odd instance of his dark wit, but as it turned out, he was serious. Throughout what must have been a long ordeal, he insisted that everything was “fine.” Vyborne , he said often in Slovak. Fine. When I offered to help him assemble a manuscript, he made his usual excuses: the poems weren’t “ready,” the work was “in-progress,” there was “more to come.” We used to joke with each other that whoever died first would have to cope with the other’s library and papers, and I added to this the threat that eventually he would publish a book, even if I had to assemble it when he was gone. So, I said, you had best now make your revisions and selections.

Despite my failure to persuade him to let his poetry into the world, it is to Daniel that I owe my own reemergence as a poet in the late 1980’s.  Had it not been for him, I may have remained in self-protective seclusion myself, saving my poems in boxes and manila folders for someone else to find one day.

Daniel had been given a fellowship to the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center in 1987, and as we had returned en famille from Paris to the United States with as-yet no definite home, I moved with Sean to a winter beach house in Provincetown’s West End, and Harry commuted from Georgetown University to join us on weekends until a suitable residence could be found for us all.  Daniel lived on the East End, and would visit us after writing for most of the day. In those days, we shared poems with each other, or rather I listened to Daniel’s drafts, and we shared a little supper most evenings. Daniel worried that I hadn’t allowed myself time to write in the aftermath of the publication of my controversial second book, The Country Between Us. I had become, he thought, wary and reclusive—a bit too much like himself—and that I had understandably retreated into motherhood so determinedly that I might never publish poetry again.  Not while I’m alive, I used to joke with him.

“This must not happen,” he had said, and he offered to take Sean in his carriage to the East End for two hours every day, as long as I wrote while he was away, and he demanded to see the pages upon his return, so that I wouldn’t use the time for domestic chores. I would wave goodbye to them and close the little gate, taking in a breath of sea: beyond us was the bay, and on the horizon, shore clouds; below my windows, drying kelp and bladder wrack, and above, herring gulls holding their black-tipped wings rigid on the wind. I would go back into the house and, trying not to pick up toys, move toward the desk—to typewriter, ink and paper—as if this were a piano that hadn’t been played in years. I set to work, filling five pages with notes in an unfamiliar form, and in what seemed only minutes, I would hear the creak of the gate. After placing the sleeping baby in his crib, I dutifully showed Daniel my pages, asking him please not to read them, but only confirm that something had been written. That is how my third book, The Angel of History, was made possible, and it would be some years before I would let it go into the world, after much back-and-forth with Daniel and at his urging. Otherwise I may not have brought myself to write for others again.

Daniel had always wanted to make a pilgrimage to Krakow but never had done so. I was in Krakow when I learned of his death in a dawn telephone call from my husband. My son and I were staying in Hotel Logos. For an hour before I knew that he was dead, I listened to the bells of a far off church and made notes of the kind I had made in Provincetown that winter, and imagined showing them to Daniel when I next visited New York.

When I hung up the phone, I opened the casements and let the morning wind into the room.  In my soul Daniel waved goodbye, and turned to walk away through the fog on Charles Bridge in Prague.  Our Svetko was gone, and I don’t remember the rest of that morning well.

A few days after his death, my son and I walked through the wards of the military psychiatric hospital, to the room where Trakl was kept at the end of his life. The room has been turned into a small museum. It is only by chance that I was offered to see it, by someone who knew nothing of my history with Daniel nor his with Trakl. The hospital patients were still wearing striped pajamas, and the windows were still barred. I remember speaking very deliberately in my heart to my friend at that moment: This, at last, is your visit to Krakow.  I have come here for both of us.

And now, from the new Berlin, I send a postcard made of light and hope to Svetko, telling him that his poetry will be published in an American edition by Four Way Books, to be read at last in his adopted country, as it has been, posthumously, in the new Slovak Republic, and in the coming months I will place a stone on his grave in Bratislava, that he, as well as his poems, will not be forgotten.

Carolyn Forché
Berlin, March 2008

An earlier version of this tribute was published in Slovak in Kritika & Kontext, edited by Samuel Abrahám, No. 36, Volume XIII.  Bratislava, Slovak Republic, 2008.

TESTIMONY

Go on and on.

It is a fact that now you understand the music.
The kind that is played quickly, and in terror.

The one whose skull you last saw sunning itself.

Yet it is important to carry on,
to continue speaking

in the arrested voice you once used in a different language.
To simply continue speaking.

The one whose skull you last saw sunning itself.

It is bothersome to exorcise history.
It is just a flat row of wheat, a cut poplar.

As for trees, they always remain singular.

What else is there to say, and how many ways to say it

You, being the I.

PRAYER

It is so. It touches the clothes
with the rustle of leaves under a naked back,

And to sleep a little less now
is a small compassion.

That darkness you see, a land
of darkness, is darkness itself.

To be mad is to be like this.
Prayer is like this: to live on nothing.

Even I, the judicious failed scholar
find no reason for this.

Tomorrow, if I remember,
I will continue to repeat the same.

The way a face is pure.
The way fear is pure.

How simple it all becomes.
Thy deed is done.

THE ARRIVAL

after a photograph almost taken in Berlin

Wet slate roofs.  Pigeons.  A light.
A leaf on the sidewalk.
The shadows slipping between cobblestones.

It is already dusk
when you arrive
from Paris,
smoke rising from the Diesel
as you step out
with your black hair untied.

I am almost always
turning into that smoke,
into the pigeons landing
on the glass roof.

Or I wake up
and you come
with a shawl
black with stars.

Paris, 1980

by Daniel Simko

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