1.
I suppose we have days of questions with no answers.

2.
Last night I came across a photo of lyrics on a brick wall: I am alive, I am alive, and that is the best that I can do. Coincidentally, that is the only Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s song I know.

3.
I suppose we have days of questions with no answers.

Circus
Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare Cavanagh

Look, your longing swung from the trapeze.
The clown is you as well and the tame tiger
who begs for mercy calls someone to mind.
Even the tin-pot music
has its charm; it seems
you’re starting to make peace
with your times (everyone else has,
why not me?—you say).
So why then does the circus tent
rise above an ancient graveyard?

This is from Without End: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

I remember how this poem was passed around from person to person during 9/11. It was profoundly moving and apt (it still is), and I remember how thankful I was that poetry exists (I still am).

Try to Praise the Mutilated World
Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare Cavanagh

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

This is from Without End: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

It’s my mother’s birthday today. I still don’t know what to make of this relationship. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just grown older, or there are other things in my life now that are more important, but I find myself less angry and more tolerant. Probably even forgiving, but I won’t go into that too much too soon.

Here’s a poem which knew how I will be writing about her years from now.

About My Mother
Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare Cavanagh

I could never say anything about my mother:
how she repeated, you’ll regret it someday,
when I’m not around anymore, and how I didn’t believe
in either “I’m not” or “anymore,”
how I liked to watch as she read bestsellers,
always turning to the last chapter first,
how in the kitchen, convinced it’s not
her proper place, she made Sunday coffee,
or, even worse, filet of cod,
how she studied the mirror while expecting guests,
making the face that best kept her
from seeing herself as she was (I take
after her here and in a few other weaknesses),
how she went on at length about things
that weren’t her strong suit and how I stupidly
teased her, for example, when she
compared herself to Beethoven going deaf,
and I said, cruelly, but you know he
had talent, and how she forgave everything
and how I remember that, and how I flew from Houston
to her funeral and couldn’t say anything
and still can’t.

Woke up and smelled lavender. Is that you, Lolo? I suddenly remembered this poem, and oh, my heart. How I always find parts of my life tucked in poems, I’ll never know.

My Aunts
Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare Cavanagh

Always caught up in what they called
the practical side of life
(theory was for Plato),
up to their elbows in furniture, in bedding,
in cupboards and kitchen gardens,
they never neglected the lavender sachets
that turned a linen closet to a meadow.

The practical side of life,
like the Moon’s unlighted face,
didn’t lack for mysteries;
when Christmastime drew near,
life became pure praxis
and resided temporarily in hallways,
took refuge in suitcases and satchels.

And when somebody died—it happened
even in our family, alas—
my aunts, preoccupied
with death’s practical side,
forgot at last about the lavender,
whose frantic scent bloomed selflessly
beneath a heavy snow of sheets.

This is from Without End: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

What a lovely, lovely thing to read today.

Balance
Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare Cavanagh

I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from a surfeit of happiness.

As we drew closer to our landing,
the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds,
comic gardens forgotten by their owners,
pale grass plagued by winter and the wind.

I put my book down and for an instant felt
a perfect balance between waking and dreams.
But when the plane touched concrete, then
assiduously circled the airport’s labryinth,

I once again knew nothing. The darkness
of daily wanderings resumed, the day’s sweet darkness,
the darkness of the voice that counts and measures,
remembers and forgets.

A friend has dared me to write a poem about myself. It’s unthinkable, is my first reaction. I’m not very good at this kind of introspection.

Self-Portrait
Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare Cavanagh

Between the computer, a pencil, and a typewriter
half my day passes. One day it will be half a century.
I live in strange cities and sometimes talk
with strangers about matters strange to me.
I listen to music a lot: Bach, Mahler, Chopin, Shostakovich.
I see three elements in music: weakness, power, and pain.
The fourth has no name.
I read poets, living and dead, who teach me
tenacity, faith, and pride. I try to understand
the great philosophers—but usually catch just
scraps of their precious thoughts.
I like to take long walks on Paris streets
and watch my fellow creatures, quickened by envy,
anger, desire; to trace a silver coin
passing from hand to hand as it slowly
loses its round shape (the emperor’s profile is erased).
Beside me trees expressing nothing
but a green, indifferent perfection.
Black birds pace the fields,
waiting patiently like Spanish widows.
I’m no longer young, but someone else is always older.
I like deep sleep, when I cease to exist,
and fast bike rides on country roads when poplars and houses
dissolve like cumuli on sunny days.
Sometimes in museums the paintings speak to me
and irony suddenly vanishes.
I love gazing at my wife’s face.
Every Sunday I call my father.
Every other week I meet with friends,
thus proving my fidelity.
My country freed itself from one evil. I wish
another liberation would follow.
Could I help in this? I don’t know.
I’m truly not a child of the ocean,
as Antonio Machado wrote about himself,
but a child of air, mint, and cello
and not all the ways of the high world
cross paths with the life that—so far—
belongs to me.

This is from Without End: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.