Madam Death, I am writing to request
that you kindly take into consideration
an extension of my liability to
the institution headed by you
for so many centuries. You, Madam,
are a master, a violent sport,
a delicate ax, the pope, velvet lips,
scissors. I don’t flatter you. I beg
I don’t demand. In my defense I have
only silence, dew on the grass, a nightingale
among the branches. You forgive it,
its long tenure in the leaves of one aspen
after another, drops of eternity, grams
of amazement, and the sleepy complaints of the poor poets
whose passports you didn’t renew.
It is small and no more visible than a cricket
in August. It likes to dress up, to masquerade,
as all dwarfs do. It lodges between
granite blocks, between serviceable
truths. It even fits under
a bandage, under adhesive. Neither customs officers
nor their beautiful dogs will find it. Between
hymns, between alliances, it hides itself.
It camps in the Rocky Mountains of the skull.
An eternal refugee. It is I and I,
with the fearful hope that I have found at last
a friend, am it. But the self
is so lonely, so distrustful, it does not
accept anyone, even me.
It clings to historical events
no less tightly than water to a glass.
It could fill a Neolithic jar.
It is insatiable, it wants to flow
in aqueducts, it thirsts for newer and newer vessels.
It wants to taste space without walls,
diffuse itself, diffuse itself. Then it fades away
like desire, and in the silence of an August
night you hear only crickets patiently
conversing with the stars.
Those who don’t like it say it’s
just a mutant violin
that’s been kicked out of the chorus.
The cello has many secrets,
but it never sobs,
just sings in its low voice.
Not everything turns into song
though. Sometimes you catch
a murmur or a whisper:
I can’t sleep.
Poems by Adam Zagajewski
To… and The Self translated by Renata Gorczynski
Cello translated by Clare Cavanagh
Reprinted by permission from WITHOUT END: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.