Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Genealogy by Adam Zagajewski

I’ll never know them,
those outmoded figures
—the same as we are,
yet completely different.
My imagination works to unlock
the mystery of their being,
it can’t wait for the release
of memory’s secret archives.

I see them in cramped classrooms,
in the small provincial towns
of the Hapsburgs’ unhappy empire.
Poplars twitch hysterically
outside the windows
while snow and rain dictate
their own orthography.

They grip a useless scrap of chalk
helplessly in their fists,
in fingers black with ink.
They labor to reveal the world’s mystery
to noisy, hungry children,
who only grow and scream.

My schoolmaster forebears fought
to calm an angry ocean
just like that mad artist
who rose above the waves
clutching his frail conductor’s wand.

I imagine the void
of their exhaustion, empty moments
through which I spy
their life’s core.

And I think that when I too
do my teaching,
they gaze in turn at me,

revising my mutterings,
correcting my mistakes

with the calm assurance of the dead.

(Translated by Clare Cavanagh)  


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