Exclusive Poetry @ PAN
Translated from Polish by: Joanna Maria Trzeciak
Biography of Joanna Maria Trzeciak
Born in Poznan, Poland, Joanna Trzeciak currently teaches Polish and Russian at the University of Chicago, where she is a graduate student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Ms. Trzeciak has been Wislawa Szymborska's authorized translator since 1989 , and her translations have appeared in the New Yorker and The New York Times. Other translation projects include the short stories of Stanislaw Lem and a novel by Tomek Tryzna. When not busy translating, studying, or preparing dissertations, Ms.Trzeciak enjoys loosing herself into visualizations of her vivid thoughts.
Thank you Joanna for giving PAN the rights to publish your beautiful English version of Szymborska's poems.
The End and the Beginning
After every war
someone has to clean up.
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
and bloody rags.
Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
Again we'll need bridges
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
and nods with unsevered head.
Yet others milling about
already find it dull.
From behind the bush
sometimes someone still unearths
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must give way to
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass which has overgrown
reasons and causes,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.
we also state the following:
life goes on.
It does so near Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Polje and Guernica.
There is a gas station
in a small plaza in Jericho,
and freshly painted
benches near Bila Hora.
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a furniture truck passes
before the eyes of the lion of Cheronea,
and only an atmospheric front advances
towards the blossoming orchards near Verdun.
There is so much of Everything
that Nothing is quite well concealed.
from yachts near Actium
and couples on board dance in the sunlight.
So much keeps happening,
that it must be happening everywhere.
Where stone is heaped on stone,
there is an ice cream truck
besieged by children.
Where Hiroshima had been,
Hiroshima is again
for everyday use.
Not without its charms is this terrible world,
not without its mornings
worth our waking.
In the fields of Maciejowice
the grass is green
and on the grass is -- you know how grass is --
Maybe there are no fields other than battlefields,
those still remembered,
and those long forgotten,
birch woods and cedar woods,
snows and sands, iridescent swamps,
and ravines of dark defeat
where today, in sudden need,
you squat behind a bush.
What moral flows from this? Maybe none.
But what really flows is quickly-drying blood,
and as always, some rivers and clouds.
On the tragic mountain passes
the wind blows hats off heads
and we cannot help--
Look, how spry she still is,
how well she holds up:
hatred, in our century.
How lithely she takes high hurdles.
How easy for her to pounce, to seize.
She is not like the other feelings.
At once older and younger than they.
She alone gives birth to causes
which rouse her to life.
If she sleeps, it's never for eternity.
Insomnia doesn't take away but gives her strength.
Religion or no religion
-- as long as she's in the running
Motherland or no-man's land
-- as long as she's in the race.
Even justice suffices at first.
After that she speeds off on her own
The grimace of love's ecstasy
twists her face.
Oh, those other feelings,
so sickly and sluggish.
Since when could brotherhood
count on milling crowds?
Was compassion ever first across the finish line?
How many followers does doubt command?
Only hatred commands, for hatred knows her stuff.
Smart, able, hard working.
Need we say how many songs she has written.
How many pages of history she has numbered.
How many human carpets she has unrolled,
over how many plazas and stadiums.
Let's be honest:
Hatred can create beauty.
Marvelous are her fire-glows, in deep night.
Clouds of smoke most beautiful, in rosy dawn.
It's hard to deny ruins their pathos
and not to see bawdy humor
in the stout column lording it over them.
She is a master of contrast
between clatter and silence,
red blood and white snow.
Above all the image of a clean-shaven torturer
standing over his defiled victim
never bores her.
She is always ready for new tasks.
If she has to wait, she waits.
They say hatred is blind. Blind?
With eyes sharp as a sniper's,
she looks bravely into the future
-- she alone.
The Turn of the Century
It was supposed to be better than the others, our 20th century,
But it won't have time to prove it.
Its years are numbered,
its step unsteady,
its breath short.
Already too much has happened
that was not supposed to happen.
What was to come about
Spring was to be on its way,
and happiness, among other things.
Fear was to leave the mountains and valleys.
The truth was supposed to finish before the lie.
were never to happen again
such as war and hunger and so forth.
These were to be respected:
the defenselessness of the defenseless,
trust and the like.
Whoever wanted to enjoy the world
faces an impossible task.
Stupidity is not funny.
Wisdom isn't jolly.
Is no longer the same young girl
et cetera. Alas.
God was at last to believe in man:
good and strong,
but good and strong
are still two different people.
How to live--someone asked me this in a letter,
someone I had wanted
to ask that very thing.
Again and as always,
and as seen above
there are no questions more urgent
than the naive ones.
Cat in an empty apartment
Dying--you wouldn't do that to a cat.
For what is a cat to do
in an empty apartment?
Climb up the walls?
Brush up against the furniture?
Nothing here seems changed,
and yet something has changed.
Nothing has been moved,
and yet there's more room.
And in the evenings the lamp is not on.
One hears footsteps on the stairs,
but they're not the same.
Neither is the hand
that puts a fish on the plate.
Something here isn't starting
at its usual time.
Something here isn't happening
as it should.
Somebody has been here and has been,
and then has suddenly disappeared
and now is stubbornly absent.
All the closets have been scanned
and all the shelves run through.
Slipping under the carpet and checking came to nothing.
The rule has even been broken and all the papers scattered.
What else is there to do?
Sleep and wait.
Just let him come back,
let him show up.
Then he'll find out
that you don't do that to a cat.
Going toward him
on very offended paws.
And no jumping, purring at first.
Some like poetry
that means not all.
Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting the schools, where one must,
and the poets themselves, there will be perhaps two in a thousand.
but one also likes chicken noodle soup,
one likes compliments and the color blue, one likes an old scarf,
one likes to prove one's point,
one likes to pet a dog.
but what sort of thing is poetry?
More than one shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and clutch on to it,
as to a saving bannister.
A "Thank You" Note
There is much I owe
to those I do not love.
The relief in accepting
they are closer to another.
Joy that I am not
the wolf to their sheep.
My peace be with them
for with them I am free,
and this, love can neither give,
nor know how to take.
I don't wait for them
from window to door.
Almost as patient
as a sun dial,
what love does not understand.
what love would never have forgiven.
Between rendezvous and letter
no eternity passes,
only a few days or weeks.
My trips with them always turn out well.
Concerts are heard.
Cathedrals are toured.
Landscapes are distinct.
And when seven rivers and mountains
come between us,
they are rivers and mountains
well known from any map.
It is thanks to them
that I live in three dimensions,
in a non-lyrical and non-rhetorical space,
with a shifting, thus real, horizon.
They don't even know
how much they carry in their empty hands.
"I don't owe them anything",
love would have said
on this open topic.
People on the Bridge
Strange planet and strange people on it.
They yield to time, but they don't want to recognize time.
They have their ways of expressing resistance.
They make pictures such as this:
Nothing in particular at first glance.
One can see water,
one river bank,
a narrow boat strenuously moving upstream.
One can see a bridge over the water
and people on the bridge.
People are clearly picking up the pace,
as rain starts whipping down from a dark cloud.
The point is, nothing happens further.
The cloud changes neither shape nor color.
The rain neither stops nor picks up.
The boat moves without moving.
The people on the bridge run
precisely where they ran before.
It is hard to get by without a commentary:
This is not an innocent picture.
Time was stopped here,
its laws no longer consulted.
It was denied impact on the developing events,
disregarded and dishonored.
Thanks to a rebel,
one Hiroshige Utagava
(a being who, by the way,
passed away, as is proper, long ago)
time stumbled and fell.
Perhaps it is only a prank without much meaning,
a whim on the scale of just a few galaxies,
but in any case
let's add what happens next:
Here it is considered in good taste
to hold this painting in high esteem,
to praise it and be greatly moved by it for generations.
For some, even this is not enough.
They hear the patter of rain,
feel the chill of raindrops on necks and shoulders,
they look at the bridge and people
as if they saw themselves there, in that never ending race
along the endless road, to be traveled for eternity
and they have the audacity to believe
that it is real.
"so suddenly, who would've expected it"
"stress and cigarettes, I told him"
"not bad, thank you"
"unwrap these flowers"
"his brother's heart did him in too, must run in the family"
"I wouldn't have recognized you with that beard"
"it's his own fault, he was always getting himself into something"
"that new guy was supposed to speak. I don't see him anywhere"
"Kazek is in Warsaw, Tadek went abroad"
"you were the only one with enough sense to bring an umbrella"
"so what that he was the most talented of them all"
"it's a walk-through room, Baska won't go for it"
"sure he was right, but that still isn't really the reason"
"and a paint job on both doors, guess how much"
"two egg yolks, one tablespoon sugars
"it was none of his business, why did he mess with it"
"only in blue, and in small sizes"
"five times with no answer"
"all right, I could have done it, but so could you have"
"good thing she had that part-time job"
"I don't know, maybe the relatives"
"the priest is a veritable Belmondo"
"I've never been to this part of the cemetery"
"I dreamed about him last week, something struck me"
"the daughter's not bad-looking"
"it happens to all of us"
"give my best to the widow, I have to make it to"
"it sounded much more solemn in Latin"
"it came and went"
"let's go grab a beer somewhere"
"call me, we'll talk"
"either No. 4 or 12"
"I'm going this way"
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