Translations from the Polish


Zbigniew Machej

The Road North

We were driving north, to the sea,
through a land of dry lips and useless sweat.
All around were empty fields. Forests burned.
The sun stripped the ashen riverbeds,
the stones on the bottom white like bones.
Our hands stuck to the steering wheel, tar
to the car’s tires. The wrinkled air
throbbed with heat. Ahead and behind
the horizon blurred. On the radio
just news, ads, and songs
by Michael Jackson. By now almost everywhere
democracy had triumphed, but no one was
happy. The great furnaces had gone out.
Tankers brought water to the cities. Gas
had gone up again. Courage, of course, cost the same.
The authorities were patiently questioning
citizens. Doctors had discovered new, mysterious
infections. The bazaars were hopping, corruption
blossomed, there was an increase in assaults with a deadly
weapon, people told tales of the games
the mafia played. Olympic champions
were eliminated in the first round. In the stadiums
new messiahs worked cures, crowds sang.
Peasant prophecies of the world’s end
spread, not just among tourists.
The idolatry of computers compacted
with the superstition of satellite disks. Black icons
wept red tears and mice
fed on the epidermis of the faithful
who miaowed in the churches a miaow
of their own which wearied their God…

We were driving north.
And in the south the wars went on,
states fell apart…

When we got to the sea,
a hundred sailboats under a cloudless sky
sailed into the bay and from the forest onto the shore
the wild boar came
to lap, lap, lap
the salt water.

(Translated from the Polish by Georgia Scott and David Malcolm)


Krzysztof Piechowicz


How they are tricked out
In that cool palace
Of opened

Wide-opened arms
Of fragile larynxes
Of aortas

With what seriousness they practice their bows
In front of the mirror consumed
By the blaze

How proudly they rustle
Their lace of colors
Little daughters of the king

The Wise Virgins

Readied in their death throes by the fire
Of their own fingers

By the veil of their first blood
To send forth the message

For the Bridegroom’s arrival
In the whiteness of ice.

(Translated from the Polish by Georgia Scott and David Malcolm)


Grzegorz Musial

With Sadness and Precision

at last I’ve stopped believing
I fell into sleep as into a dry seed
the morning’s shovel will dig me up
the bang of the sun on the window, the highway’s throb

so I lie in silence, I look at the rectangle of sky
like the shroud in Lazarus’s bed I do not rise up
and deeper and deeper I crumble
into myself

without You

down into myself

(Translated from the Polish by Georgia Scott and David Malcolm)


Katarzyna Borun-Jagodzinska

Song from behind the wall

Pigs should be
slaughtered mornings,
don’t they take the condemned
to the scaffold at dawn.
The cigarette butt stamped out,
the glass knocked back.
They got up early. He gave away,
he took away a life.

It hurts more in the evening.
It’s mistier at dawn
when the day shoves through
the windows of the eye-lids.
We wind the prisoners’ path
like in the famous picture,
for us dawn is resurrection
and dusk the ages’ sleep

O Lord, give me peace.
The golden mean, I suppose,
but don’t leave me
in sterile calm.
Let me no longer fear
the turnings of your planets,
give me space and breadth,
deep after toil

Give me a blue notebook
and an oak desk.
The changeless glow beyond the sea,
beyond the high mountains.
I’m floating away — bring me back
with one kind word.
Give me a blue notebook
and a gilded pen.

(Translated from the Polish by Georgia Scott and David Malcolm)


Katarzyna Borun-Jagodzinska

Domestic Song

You’ll have as much happiness
as you have string in your hand,
you’ll have as much warmth
as coal in your cellar,
you’ll have as much light
as windows in your wall,
you’ll have as many enemies
as you’re able to obtain.

You’ll have as much heart
as the kind you were born with,
you’ll have as much taste
as gall on your lips,
the same amount of freedom
you can walk from wall to wall,
the same hope
as you can hold there in your hands.

Your house is as high
as you can reach your fingers,
the fields as wide
as your eyes can glean.
And you yourself are your own judge and jury,
you yourself your own prize and pain.

(Translated from the Polish by Georgia Scott and David Malcolm)