Monday, December 30, 2013

A very fine thing... this poem by Adam Zagajewski:

If I were Tomaž Šalamun

If I were Tomaž Šalamun,
I’d always be happy, I think.
I’d dance on the Small Market Square until all hours 
to a melody no one could place.
I’d play Mahler’s Fifth gaily on the accordion.

What’s the use, I’m an introvert,
who returns books late to the library
and sometimes envies life’s heroes—
the bronzed lifeguards on August’s beaches.
I could go on.

But one thing is certain: I’m not Tomaž Šalamun.
Tomaž came blessed with two imaginations,
Slovenian and Mexican, and he juggles them
with heart-stopping swiftness,

while I’m an eternal student of stenography,
struggling to understand how death enters the house
and how it leaves, and then returns,
and how it is defeated by a small freckled girl
reciting Dante from memory

—though I also seek the flame of rapture
pretty much everywhere, even in the budget theater,
the train, and almost every café
(but more unites than divides us).

If I were Tomaž Šalamun,
I’d ride wild on an invisible bicycle,
like a metaphor sprung from a poem’s cage,
still not certain of its freedom,
but making do with movement, wind, and sun.

Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh.
This poem is in the book Unseen Hand: Poems.


  1. Replies
    1. Ok, so I love this poem. But why? I can't answer that, not yet. What I want to know is why you like it. This is a poem I'm going to try and model. It is always perplexing to me (and yes, I read the post about the poet's several conflicting challenges) - how to use "I" in a poem, without its devolving into a journal entry. Because now that I look back on some poem to send, I remember those words: oh, this would make a good journal entry. I'm not complaining. I'm assessing and agreeing. Now, does one need to know who Tomaz is? Or not. Because I don't. I took up poetry :"seriously," a terrible phrase, sure, 6 years ago. Not long enough for it to evolve into something decent. I'm the first to say it. If you get time and can explain why, in your opinion, this is a good poem, that would be appreciated.

    2. PS Jules, I have no idea who Tomaž Šalamun is, but I can envision him, with his two cultures and imaginations -- through Zagajewski's lens (which is more than bifocal) -- riding that bicycle to a Mahler soundtrack -- if only for a flash.

  2. Julianza, I see it visually, a poem with a lens that swoops and zooms--or, perhaps a better analogy, the eye of the poet has developed the diaphanous wings of a dragon-fly and has learned just how to flit from detail to detail in order to sketch a perfect pirouette before flicking out of sight.