Adam Zagajewski. To Go to Lvov

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To go to Lvov. Which station

for Lvov, if not in a dream, at dawn, when dew   

gleams on a suitcase, when express

trains and bullet trains are being born. To leave   

in haste for Lvov, night or day, in September   

or in March. But only if Lvov exists,

if it is to be found within the frontiers and not just   

in my new passport, if lances of trees

—of poplar and ash—still breathe aloud   

like Indians, and if streams mumble

their dark Esperanto, and grass snakes like soft signs   

in the Russian language disappear

into thickets. To pack and set off, to leave   

without a trace, at noon, to vanish

like fainting maidens. And burdocks, green   

armies of burdocks, and below, under the canvas   

of a Venetian café, the snails converse

about eternity. But the cathedral rises,

you remember, so straight, as straight

as Sunday and white napkins and a bucket   

full of raspberries standing on the floor, and   

my desire which wasn’t born yet,

only gardens and weeds and the amber

of Queen Anne cherries, and indecent Fredro.   

There was always too much of Lvov, no one could   

comprehend its boroughs, hear

the murmur of each stone scorched

by the sun, at night the Orthodox church’s silence was unlike

that of the cathedral, the Jesuits

baptized plants, leaf by leaf, but they grew,

grew so mindlessly, and joy hovered   

everywhere, in hallways and in coffee mills   

revolving by themselves, in blue   

teapots, in starch, which was the first   

formalist, in drops of rain and in the thorns

of roses. Frozen forsythia yellowed by the window.   

The bells pealed and the air vibrated, the cornets   

of nuns sailed like schooners near   

the theater, there was so much of the world that

it had to do encores over and over,

the audience was in frenzy and didn’t want

to leave the house. My aunts couldn’t have known   

yet that I’d resurrect them,   

and lived so trustfully; so singly;   

servants, clean and ironed, ran for   

fresh cream, inside the houses   

a bit of anger and great expectation, Brzozowski   

came as a visiting lecturer, one of my   

uncles kept writing a poem entitled Why,

dedicated to the Almighty, and there was too much   

of Lvov, it brimmed the container,   

it burst glasses, overflowed   

each pond, lake, smoked through every   

chimney, turned into fire, storm,   

laughed with lightning, grew meek,   

returned home, read the New Testament,

slept on a sofa beside the Carpathian rug,

there was too much of Lvov, and now   

there isn’t any, it grew relentlessly

and the scissors cut it, chilly gardeners   

as always in May, without mercy,   

without love, ah, wait till warm June

comes with soft ferns, boundless

fields of summer, i.e., the reality.

But scissors cut it, along the line and through   

the fiber, tailors, gardeners, censors

cut the body and the wreaths, pruning shears worked   

diligently, as in a child’s cutout

along the dotted line of a roe deer or a swan.   

Scissors, penknives, and razor blades scratched,   

cut, and shortened the voluptuous dresses

of prelates, of squares and houses, and trees

fell soundlessly, as in a jungle,

and the cathedral trembled, people bade goodbye   

without handkerchiefs, no tears, such a dry

mouth, I won’t see you anymore, so much death   

awaits you, why must every city

become Jerusalem and every man a Jew,

and now in a hurry just

pack, always, each day,

and go breathless, go to Lvov, after all

it exists, quiet and pure as

a peach. It is everywhere.



Adam Zagajewski, “To Go to Lvov,” translated by Renata Gorczynski, from Without End: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002

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