by Adam Zagajewski

Do you love words as a shy magician loves the moment of quiet
after he’s left the stage, alone in a dressing room where
a yellow candle burns with its greasy, pitch-black flame?

What yearning will encourage you to push the heavy gate, to sense
once more the odor of that wood and the rusty taste of water from an ancient well,
to see again the tall pear tree, the proud matron who presented us
aristocratically with its perfectly formed fruit each fall,
and then fell into mute anticipation of the winter’s ills?

Next door a factory’s stolid chimney smoked and the ugly town kept still,
but the indefatigable earth worked on beneath the bricks in gardens,
our black memory and the vast pantry of the dead, the good earth.

What courage does it take to budge the heavy gate,
what courage to catch sight of us again,
gathered in the little room beneath a Gothic lamp –
mother skims the paper, moths bump the windowpanes,
nothing happens, nothing, only evening, prayer; we wait . . .

We lived only once.

Last updated November 21, 2022