Looking out at the Aegean Sea in 2006 on the painting trip to Greece led by Robert Dvorak.
Houston, 6 p.m.
Europe already sleeps beneath a coarse plaid of borders
and ancient hatreds: France nestled
up to Germany, Bosnia in Serbia’s arms,
lonely Sicily in azure seas.
It’s early evening here, the lamp is lit
and the dark sun swiftly fades.
I’m alone, I read a little, think a little,
listen to a little music.
I’m where there’s friendship,
but no friends, where enchantment
grows without magic,
where the dead laugh.
I’m alone because Europe is sleeping. My love
sleeps in a tall house on the outskirts of Paris.
In Krakow and Paris my friends
wade in the same river of oblivion.
I read and think; in one poem
I found the phrase “There are blows so terrible . . .
Don’t ask!” I don’t. A helicopter
breaks the evening quiet.
Poetry calls us to a higher life,
but what’s low is just as eloquent,
more plangent than Indo-European,
stronger than my books and records.
There are not nightingales or blackbirds here
with their sad, sweet cantilenas,
only the mockingbird who imitates
and mimics every living voice.
Poetry summons us to life, to courage
in the face of the growing shadow.
Can you gaze calmly at the Earth
like the perfect astronaut?
Out of harmless indolence, the Greece of books,
and the Jerusalem of memory there suddenly appears
the island of a poem, unpeopled;
some new Cook will discover it one day.
Europe is already sleeping. Night’s animals,
mournful and rapacious,
move in for the kill.
Soon America will be sleeping, too.
Adam Zagajewski, (Born 1945)
translated by Clare Cavanagh
Mysticism for Beginners, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997, page 69.
Thinking about what is happening all over the world, as we wake or sleep--especially if we find ourselves far from home--is a universal interest. Where are you sleeping tonight, where were you five years ago???