To Go to Lvov

By Adam Zagajewski b. 1945 Adam Zagajewski

Translated By Renata Gorczynski

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 by Adam Zagajewski. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Without End: New and Selected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2004)

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Poet Adam Zagajewski b. 1945

POET’S REGION Poland

Subjects Travels & Journeys, Activities

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Adam  Zagajewski

Biography

Adam Zagajewski was born in Lvov, Poland, in 1945; as an infant he was relocated with his family to western Poland. He lived in Berlin for a couple of years, moved to France in 1982, and has taught at universities in the United States, including the University of Houston and the University of Chicago. Zagajewski writes in Polish; many of his books of poetry and essays have been translated into English.

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SUBJECT Travels & Journeys, Activities

POET’S REGION Poland

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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