By Adam Zagajewski
Translated By Clare Cavanagh
This is a poem about the great ships that wandered
And groaned sometimes in deep voices, grumbling about fog
and submerged peaks,
But usually they sliced the pages of tropical seas
Divided by height, category, and class, just like our communities
Beneath the deck poor emigrants played cards, and no one
While on the highest deck Claudel gazed at Ysé and her hair
And toasts were raised to a safe trip, to coming
Toasts were raised, Alsatian wine and champagne
from France’s finest vineyards,
Some days were static, windless, when only the light seeped
Days when nothing happened but the horizon, which traveled
with the ship,
Days of emptiness and boredom, playing solitaire, repeating
the latest news,
Who’d been seen with whom in a tropical night’s shade, embracing
beneath a peach-colored moon.
But filthy stokers tirelessly tossed coal into open
And everything that is now already existed then, but
in condensed form.
Our days already existed and our hearts baked
in the blazing stove,
And the moment when I met you may also have existed,
and my mistrust
Brittle as a faience plate, and my faith, no less frail
And my searches for the final answer, my
disappointments and discoveries.
Great ships: some sunk suddenly, arousing consciences
Gaining deathless fame, becoming stars
of special bulletins.
Others went peacefully, waned without a word in provincial
ports, in dockyards,
Beneath a coat of rust, a ruddy fur of rust, a slipcover of rust,
For the final transformation, the last judgment of souls and
They wait as patiently as chess players in Luxembourg Garden
nudging pieces a fraction of an inch or so.