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Night Is a Cistern

Night is a cistern. Owls sing. Refugees tread meadow roads

with the loud rustling of endless grief.

Who are you, walking in this worried crowd.

And who will you become, who will you be

when day returns, and ordinary greetings circle round.

Night is a cistern. The last pairs dance at a country ball.

High waves cry from the sea, the wind rocks pines.

An unknown hand draws the dawn’s first stroke.

Lamps fade, a motor chokes.

Before us, life’s path, and instants of astronomy.

Evening, Stary Sacz

The sun sets behind the market square, and the nettle leaves reflect

the small town’s imperfections. Teapots whistle in the houses,

like many trains departing simultaneously.

Bonfires flame on meadows and their long sighs

weave above the trees like drifting kites.

The last pilgrims return from the church uncertainly.

TV sets awaken, and instantly know all,

like the demons of Alexandria with swindlers’ swarthy faces.

Knives descend on bread, on sausage, on wood, on offerings.

The sky grows darker; angels used to hide there,

but now it’s just the police sergeant and his dear departed motorcycle.

Rain falls, the cobbled streets grow black.

Little abysses open between the stones.

Try to praise the mutilated world

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days

and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.

The nettles that methodically overgrow

the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

You must praise the mutilated world.

Remember June's long days,

You watched the stylish yachts and ships;

one of them had a long trip ahead of it,

while salty oblivion awaited others.

You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,

you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.

You should praise the mutilated world.

Remember the moments when we were together

in a white room and the curtain fluttered.

Return in thought to the concert where music flared.

You gathered acorns in the park in autumn

and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.

Praise the mutilated world

and the grey feather a thrush lost,

and the gentle light that strays and vanishes

and returns.


Between the computer, a pencil, and a typewriter

half my day passes. One day it will be half a century.

I live in strange cities and sometimes talk

with strangers about matters strange to me.

I listen to music a lot: Bach, Mahler, Chopin, Shostakovich.

I see three elements in music: weakness, power, and pain.

The fourth has no name.

I read poets, living and dead, who teach me

tenacity, faith, and pride. I try to understand

the great philosophers--but usually catch just

scraps of their precious thoughts.

I like to take long walks on Paris streets

and watch my fellow creatures, quickened by envy,

anger, desire; to trace a silver coin

passing from hand to hand as it slowly

loses its round shape (the emperor's profile is erased).

Beside me trees expressing nothing

but a green, indifferent perfection.

Black birds pace the fields,

waiting patiently like Spanish widows.

I'm no longer young, but someone else is always older.

I like deep sleep, when I cease to exist,

and fast bike rides on country roads when poplars and houses

dissolve like cumuli on sunny days.

Sometimes in museums the paintings speak to me

and irony suddenly vanishes.

I love gazing at my wife's face.

Every Sunday I call my father.

Every other week I meet with friends,

thus proving my fidelity.

My country freed itself from one evil. I wish

another liberation would follow.

Could I help in this? I don't know.

I'm truly not a child of the ocean,

as Antonio Machado wrote about himself,

but a child of air, mint and cello

and not all the ways of the high world

cross paths with the life that--so far--

belongs to me.

The Soul

We know we’re not allowed to use your name.

We know you’re inexpressible,

anemic, frail, and suspect

for mysterious offenses as a child.

We know that you are not allowed to live now

in music or in trees at sunset.

We know—or at least we have been told—

that you do not exist at all, anywhere.

And yet we still keep hearing your weary voice

—in an echo, a complaint, in the letters we receive

from Antigone in the Greek desert.