THREE POEMS by Anna Piwkowska

Three Paths to the Lake

this is the second time
you've fallen asleep with a cigarette
after a too-large dose of sleeping pills.
A few weeks ago in Warsaw,
and a few weeks later
in a hotel room in Rome.
you stuck your fingers into your wounded heart
like a little girl
into a piece of birthday cake
believing she will find the golden almond.
I see your hair, still pale,
your nylon nightgown, and the flame.
Even wise, old Count von Trotta,
who knew seven languages
and all your deadly sins,
couldn't help you.
Nor your Max, painting in his sleep
a canvas more surreal
than The Flaming Giraffe
by that insolent child, Dali.
In the morning, all the cafes in Vienna
smelled of coffee and fresh newspaper ink:
Ingeborg Bachmann, writer,
died last night
under tragic circumstances
in her hotel room in central Rome.
There are only three paths to the lake,
my father said, leaning over the maps.
Remember, only three paths.

She Lay on the Lawn Chair

The days were beautiful, and I immortal.
I was fifteen in red shorts
and the boys and I caught butterflies—
rust, lemon, cream—in nets.
I remember well the hem
of her blue linen dress
that peeked out from beneath the blanket.
Beside the lawn chair, tea cooled in the grass.
When we tipped the glass over
and apologized erratically—
we were concerned, impatient, unkind—
she made an effort to raise her hand
and smiled so radiantly
that her ashen face and chest
turned a girlish, golden tan
from that smile,
and the sun flickered for a moment
in her short, gray strands of hair.
I carry that smile with me
like the joy of a captured butterfly,
the little lemon that, when she asked us to,
we—embarrassed—set free.

Red Finches, White Bread

Red finches, dry glass.
Morning ice, sharp dawn,
and I leave the house for a stroll.
Maybe a walk, or maybe rather
it's time for a move, on a sled—
death is impatient as a crocus.
A tiny shoot breaks through the snow,
green as a flower's stem,
and grows upward toward white sleep.
Then we are silent, and on the table:
a tablecloth, egg, white cheese.
You throw bread crumbs to the birds.
Red finches, white bread.
I want to see you, to take you in
the way white fades into white.
To gather you, seize you, cling
to your hands, your body,
when death lurks in the window
when white fades into white.
Though the contours of our bones will fade
beneath the lamp, the lancet, and the knife
of time, I will sew white sheets together,
scraps of flannel and bits of fur
in a bright tapestry, I will dry
past-tense "they were"s into a perennial bouquet,
I will make the sign of the cross over you,
I will not tell, I will not give, I will not say goodbye.

—Translated from the Polish by Iza Wojciechowska


Anna Piwkowska is a poet, essayist, and novelist living in Warsaw, Poland. Her eighth book of poems,
The Dye Girl (Farbiarka), received the prestigious Warsaw Literary Prize in 2008.

Iza Wojciechowska is a writer and translator living in Durham, North Carolina. Her translations have appeared in
A Public Space, InTranslation, Hayden's Ferry Review, Inventory, the Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere.

Intermezzo (2015) by Irena Jurek. Photo courtesy of Jeff Bailey Gallery. Irena Jurek lives and works in Brooklyn.
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