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September 2005

A Freckle on The Nose: Poetry Over Prose

Contemporary poetry in translation can seem doubly daunting, but fortunately we have a revelatory guide for the perplexed in Ilya Kaminsky. Here he presents our first "all poetry, all the time" main feature celebrating Gloria Fuertes's vigor, Zafer Senocak and Zehra Çirak's new myths, Luis García Montero's playfulness, Daniil Kharms's theatrics of marvel and Göran Sonnevi's passionate curiosity.

As Ilya points out, there are striking similarities in this issue. Ioan Flora's Eastern European science fiction-in-verse is worlds away from Silvina Ocampo's "Infinite Horses," or Milo De Angelis's elegiac "Mute Map," yet represents the same sort of longing. Tristan Tzara's "Friend midear," exclaims "It is a beautiful thing to be in a poem," and so Mansur Rajih's poem declares-against all geopolitical odds-"Yemen is a happy country." With similar exuberance, Karim Fawzi, in a poem written just after the American invasion of Iraq, speaks of berries and Baghdad, and of beating his present existence "with the cane of departure". Finally, Valzyna Mort's poetry may define the way in which we Americans think of literature from Belarus in the years to come.

Thanks to co-editor Alissa Valles on the ground in Warsaw, we have an extraordinary "Polish corner" of work never before seen in English.

Inveterate prose-o-philes will be missing transformative discoveries ("the seeds of rare flowers/to develop your literary taste"), but may click on the three features below.

A Thousand
By Adam Wiedemann
We exist on innumerable photographs. Whoever you areyou exist. In a country landscape there is no placefor sublime pleasures of the soul. Whoever’s tired of the citythis, or some other, can go to the…
Translated from Polish by Beatrice Smigasiewicz
“I peel potatoes, stroke you on the head, pick up a leaf”
By Krystyna Milobedzka
I peel potatoes, stroke you on the head, pick up a leafoff the ground, turn on the light, light a cigarette, grabthe doorknob, take out a tram ticketdon’t be in such a rush, you’re graying…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
“I put off three dreams about father until later”
By Krystyna Milobedzka
I put off three dreams about father until laterthey may come in handyit’s already an old tear, an automatic oneI always find it in the same place
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
“I lose verbs most quickly, nouns are left”
By Krystyna Milobedzka
I lose verbs most quickly, nouns are left,thingsno more than personal pronouns (a lot of I, more and more I)and names? they vanish, conjunctions vanishthree words, two wordsfinally my, my inwardmy inward…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
“exactly the forehead, exactly the mouth, exactly the hands”
By Krystyna Milobedzka
exactly the forehead, exactly the mouth, exactly the handswith that same dirty stain near the fingernailwith little braidsin an old-fashioned dresswith a dahlia at the cheek, a strawberry at the lipsin…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
cobweb
By Tadeusz Różewicz
four drab womenWant Hardship Worry Guiltwait somewhere far awaya person is borngrowsstarts a familybuilds a homethe four ghoulswaithidden in the foundationsthey build for the persona second homea labyrinthin…
Translated from Polish by Bill Johnston
From: “After the Cry”
By Krystyna Milobedzka
you have no name, no placetalk to yourself, sand, grassare you crying?who heard the meadow cry? 
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
from “Toward a Science of Nonexistence”
By Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki
Iif I only possessed a sunlit roomfor sure I’d rid myself of my foesaside from the bones of my ancestors preyto lengthy fevers nothing brings me pleasureaside from the bones of my ancestors with…
Translated from Polish by Bill Johnston
“and once again”
By Tadeusz Różewicz
“It’s past and gone […]Best would be to go mad.”(Tadeusz Konwicki, Afterglows)And once againthe past beginsbest would be to go madyou’re right Tadziobut our generation doesn’t…
Translated from Polish by Bill Johnston
Look
By Zbigniew Herbert
The blue winter sky like a stone on which angelssublime and quite unearthly sharpen their wingsmoving on rungs of radiance on crags of shadowthey gradually sink into the imaginary heavensbut in another…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
Principality
By Zbigniew Herbert
Marked in the guidebook with two stars (in reality there are more) the whole principality, that is to say the city, the sea and a stretch of sky, looks great at first glance. The graves are whitewashed,…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
Ghost Ship
By Tadeusz Różewicz
the day is shorterthe sundial standshourless in the rainthe sanatorium emergesfrom cloudslike a vast passenger linerthe columns of black treesdrip with water and moonlightthe sanatorium sails awaywith…
Translated from Polish by Bill Johnston
Angels of Civilization
By Zbigniew Herbert
At the turn of the century it seemed that angels were leaving us forever and that every trace of them would be lost. They were still employed here and there by funeral services. They also held up unfashionable…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
She was doing her hair
By Zbigniew Herbert
She was doing her hair before going to bedand in front of the mirror it lasted an infinitely long timebetween one bending of the arm at the elbow and anotherepochs passed from her hair soldiers of the…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
On Translating Poetry
By Zbigniew Herbert
Like a clumsy bumblebeehe alights on a flowerbending the fragile stemhe elbows his waythrough rows of petalslike the pages of a dictionaryhe wants inwhere the fragrance and the sweetness areand though…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
A Note from the Poetry Editor
By Ilya Kaminsky
Poets must speak of their time, Czeslaw Milosz often told his students. And so they, in very different ways, do. Karim Fawzi, in a poem dated June 9th, 2003, speaks of berries and Baghdad, and of beating…
Padua
By Jacek Gutorow
Arcades: steps toward the sun.Stone crossbeams with figures of griffins and nereids.Saint James shoulders up a prison towerand Saint Anthony stands in the door of a caféwhere you have just drunk espresso…
Translated from Polish by David Kennedy & Jacek Gutorow
Fragment
By Jacek Gutorow
Peat bog, fossilized air, loops of an evening sky.Words close themselves against other words,and there is only a burnt-out path,a pipe in ether with after-voices and after-crackleswhitened and beaten…
Translated from Polish by David Kennedy & Jacek Gutorow
McDonald’s
By Marcin Swietlicki
I find the trace of your teeth in the foreign town.I find the trace of your teeth in my arm.I find the trace of your teeth in the mirror.At times I’m a hamburger.At times I’m a hamburger.Salad…
Translated from Polish by Peter Constantine
Good Later
By Marcin Sendecki
“Uh huh” says the streetcar, or it seems to say.When did the clock with the tune get here, it’s getting harderto hear. Wrong: tremors should be caught, fixed, accommodated.How far we’ve…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
Tuscany
By Jacek Gutorow
The landscape is effective. We’re calling out the hills.Echoes want untwining. We’re drawing water from fountains.A half-open window. The half-closed sea.The rest just flickers andwe are taking…
Translated from Polish by David Kennedy & Jacek Gutorow
Blurb
By Marcin Sendecki
Weeks spent. a monthdevoted to the study of a detailin a magazine ad. The guide tells usthere are two kinds of people: creative and not. Soap washes off,milk washes down. Push the cart.For the next poem…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
Paints and Smears
By Jacek Gutorow
Her house in the middle of spring.Ribbons in girls’ hair, a smell of starch.The wind distributes words, puffs out curtains.The house is on flowery fire, a sparkling stream.How many times has she…
Translated from Polish by David Kennedy & Jacek Gutorow
Feverish Activity
By Marcin Sendecki
Good night, one-night flies.Bye, bye.
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
The Prelude
By Jacek Gutorow
A boy stood on a narrow balconyin the afternoon: autumn was movingthrough a labyrinth of dishwashing and cigarette smoke.Pines and starlings made quick imitationsof one another: a long grey zone in stripesand…
Translated from Polish by David Kennedy & Jacek Gutorow
On the Hoof
By Andrzej Sosnowski
The question about this fact-free life brimmingwith great notions is, can you live up to it?At dusk the megaphones get all confidentialin the words of mountains the sun never scales.In the rising murmur…
Translated from Polish by Rod Mengham
Rue de Poitiers
By Ryszard Krynicki
A late afternoon, snow is falling.Near the striking Musee d’Orsay you seea gray bundle on the edge of the sidewalk:a bum rolled up into a ball (or a refugeefrom some country plunged in civil war)still…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
“Is there anything on earth that has significance…”
“Is there anything on earth that has significance, and that could alter the run of events not only on earth but also in other worlds?” I asked my teacher. “There is,” he answered.…
Translated from Russian
The Fatherland
Do not despair, my friend: The light that shines on our land will remain chaste. We still have time. Maybe next year, the year after- it will be enough. We will see the new face of Eban smiling over our…
Translated from Norwegian
Sweet, innocent
By Ryszard Krynicki
Sweet, innocent words,sweet, round phrases,from sweet, smoothrounded comma’spure poisonseeps 
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
Prayer
Our Father who is on earth, whom I feel in the pine needle's prick, in the blue shirt of the worker, in the child bent over her embroidery, winding the thread around a finger. Our Father who is on…
Translated from Spanish
Return from Assisi
By Ryszard Krynicki
A mutilated Giotto. A loud: Silenzio!From a car transporting animalswe passed on the waythe helpless look of a calfbeing taken off to slaughterfollows me.Help, Saint Francis.Appear before the slaughterhouse…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
From “Konwalia”
By Adam Wiedemann
1. Sunday, Kazimierz Marketthey have everything you can imagine here at leastthat’s what it seems like though as usual everythingamazes everyone with its poverty in facti can’t see myself…
Translated from Polish by W. Martin
I Write Poetry, Gentlemen!
I write poetry, gentlemen, I write poetry, but please don't call me poetess; I swig my wine like the bricklayers do and I have an assistant who talks to herself. This world's a strange place;…
Translated from Spanish
Ego
By Zehra Çirak
I and my trusty umbrella / he's always at hand
Translated from German by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright
Tiresias’s Lesson
By Janusz Szuber
1.What futures do the oracular oakspredict for us, the prophetic cups,what horoscope do computers draw,whom do they allow to read to the end?On which continent do dolphins carrywhich islands to cities…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
His Story
when there were no secret parts writing was devised on a woman's body no part left undescribed men and their dirty fingers mixed up one character with the other until the letters couldn't be read…
Translated from German
Special Section: Poland Unplugged
By Alissa Valles
On the other hand, maybe poetry can flout its own time, its own conventions, pieties, syntactical laws, aesthetic (anesthetic) canons and going definitions and habits. These are a few poets who think…
Translated from Polish
A Kiss
On the intergalactic station Malmorius, Jaspar the Terrible feverishly prepares for the decisive attack. Who knows where in the Central Desert of Athyria, Commander Z. checks the converters one by one,…
Translated from Romanian
After Rain
By Ryszard Krynicki
Brother and sister, inscrutable sphinx, noble snail:what fate are you inscribing in your uncertain handon the airport runway, in the last fall of a murderous century?2000 
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
Another Sky
An asphalt sky: your memory Your earth is only a body Time is a poem approaching Time is a poem withering Time is a poem dying & time is a wailing wall for poems and dreams Such is exile Your bottlenecked…
Translated from Norwegian
The Infinite Horses
I have seen them sleeping in the pastures, repeated through the fields, at rest; furious and on their knees I have seen them, like haughty gods, completely white, dressed and with ribbons, and wild with…
Translated from Spanish
The Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest
By Ryszard Krynicki
How did you find yourself here,poor mummy of an Egyptian princess,exposed to alien stares?Now it is here you have your afterlife.I myself am a part of it for a moment,while I’m looking at you.So…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
Product VI (International Style)
By Tadeusz Pióro
I seetwo castlesone bright one dimone close the other farthe larger at the forest’s edgethe smaller where the empty roadfrom market place to pointed firscomes to an endin the international styleaccording…
Translated from Polish by the author
“maybe you too sometimes fantasize”
maybe you too sometimes fantasize that god resembles your most difficult teacher the one who never gave the highest mark one day he invites your parents to school and who knows what he is telling them…
Translated from Belarusian
The Scent of Berries
Who among us belongs to another: Do you, with the wrinkled face? Or we, guardians of the road to no return? Or do we all, Baghdad, belong to the executioner? The scent of berries is still on my sleeve,…
Translated from Arabic
Product IV (Love and Death)
By Tadeusz Pióro
An anthologist from Berlin asks mefor poems new or recognized:ideally, they should amplifythe union of love and death.I’d like to suit her, since I’m dying,but love is a master from outer…
Translated from Polish by the author
Now
Now I will tell you how the worms I kept in an empty soap carton and fed white mulberry leaves, changed themselves without my help, curling into scoops of color, and how later I watched them transform…
Translated from Spanish
Tiresias’s Farewell
By Janusz Szuber
From unexpiated sinspoems are born. That’s why you sent downthickening darkness on my eyes.A spiral staircase carries me to countries under the earth –republics of shadow, kingdoms of grayness.The…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
Calypso
By Adam Wiedemann
The sea’s color is green.The white sand is stained with blood.An old woman dies at the diner, underfed,under prepared. The telephone only takes phone cards.Some people are hard to recognize, evenon…
Translated from Polish by W. Martin
A Stone from New World
By Ryszard Krynicki
Only when I turned it over on its other side did I see that the heavy sandstone circle which looked like the top half of a mill, grindstone or the top of a well, had been taken from an old Jewish tombstone.…
Translated from Polish by Alissa Valles
Friend midear
Friend Midear, you won't understand but listen The pain I cannot weep into a handkerchief The words are somber like a procession of kings For your soul with sad, dry lakes I called you with lots of…
Translated from Romanian
“What would I wish for”
What would I wish for to be a small freckle on the wind's nose to ride in a convertible beside a middle-aged man a teenager will do it's as if everything that has happened is nothing but Customs…
Translated from Belarusian
Closer
By Andrzej Sosnowski
Remember the very first time you did ittough wasn’t the word. Turning the key, a suddenboardful of lights and music swelling behindour backs and acts of attention, you’d thinkthe clothes would…
Translated from Polish by Rod Mengham
Reader in the Dark
You reach in the hour of sleep to put out the light, to feel for the lock of your door, and lowered curtain of the window. You leap like a cat up the stairs, slip underneath the blanket, and dream: That…
Translated from Arabic
from “Identity”
By Mansur Rajih
You who will murder me, wait.Look into my eyesbefore you begin—or end—It's the same for me.It might be that you reconsider.You, who are formed by remorsewhose breath is the issue of accident,imbibing…
Translated from Norwegian by Ren Powell
Men
By Valzhyna Mort
Men arrive like a date on a calendarthey keep visiting once a monthmen who've seen the bottomof the deepest bottleskings of both earth and heavenand like the pearls from a torn necklacetrembling I…
Translated from Belarusian by Franz Wright
Belarusian
By Valzhyna Mort
IIeven our mothers have no idea how we got herehow we parted their legs and crawled out into the worldthe way you crawl from the ruins after a bombingwe couldn't tell which of us was a girl or a boyand…
Translated from Belarusian by Franz Wright
From “Mozart’s Third Brain”, CIV
I lay a light stone on my father's grave, a gray stone on the gray stone Hadn't planned to, it just happened Then I think: Now you have made him a Jew But then I realize that this is about one…
Translated from Swedish
The Wound
By Mansur Rajih
“The sun also shines from here,”his finger pointing to his hearthis eyes rimmed with tears
Translated from Norwegian by Ren Powell