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Alterity

The rules are clear: no place to mill about.
There’s no such thing as comfort for unhappy men.
He leaves the tall house and passes through the eye
of the blizzard, insignias unpinned, his neck
exposed by a collar haphazardly removed.
In silence. No one rings him, not even
from his pockets, no sharp objects or dimes,
his shoes unlaced, his loops without a belt.

He’s free to think—or whatever else he pleases,
no one cares where he goes or why—
of Roland, Tristan, Medea, or Lucia
di Lammermoor, in crinoline, but right away
it’s “You hysterical singer, with your terrier
(in an apartment sealed from top to bottom),
with your soda syphon, all made up
for an empty room. An empty, empty room.”

And there’s scratching on the side. And nothing
is making it, and nothing ever can—not for him,
nor anyone else. No one. The cat’s unhappy,
it speaks a different language, of negative
particles and phrases one cannot say
in polite company. Only things can understand
his iambs, though things are hard.
And they turn to snow at his touch.

Warszawa, 19 IX 2005

Translation of “Cudzość.” © Jacek Dehnel. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2011 by Benjamin Paloff. All rights reserved.