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The poet brings his fascination with formal poetry to 21st century subjects — internet culture, science, postmodern architecture — even as he also explores intimacy, gay love, and emotionally-charged objects in this bilingual (Polish/English) collection. Dehnel’s range of style and diction includes poems based on the classic Polish thirteen-syllable line and intricate rhyming stanzas, to prose poems and freer lyrics. “My restlessness… is one of my strongest traits—that insatiability for places, books, paintings, people,” he says.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938890949
Publisher: Zephyr Press
Publication date: 11/13/2018
Series: New Polish Writing Series
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jacek Dehnel is a poet, writer, translator and painter who was born in Gdansk, Poland in 1980. The winner of the 2005 Koscielski Foundation Award and the 2006 Polityka Passport Award, he has written seven volumes of poetry and a dozen books of novels and short stories. His first volume of poetry received an enthusiastic endorsement by Czeslaw Milosz. Dehnel is also a painter, and the translator of works by Philip Larkin, W. H. Auden, George Szirtes, Osip Mandelstam and others into Polish.

Karen Kovacik is an award-winning poet and translator of contemporary Polish poetry. Her translation of Agnieszka Kuciak’s Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist was long-listed for the 2014 National Translation Award, and she edited and selected the poems in Scattering the Dark: An Anthology of Polish Women Poets (both books published by White Pine Press). She is the author of several books of poetry, including Metropolis Burning (Cleveland State, 2005). She teaches creative writing and American poetry at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. She was the poet laureate of Indiana from 2012 to 2014.

Read an Excerpt

A Razor-Sharp Glance

Look, here’s the spot where a razor-sharp glance sliced off a swath of clotted sepia as proof:
to the right, waterlogged fields and barn roofs emerging from the murky, gray expanse;
to the left, a knapsack and frying pan,
damp pleats, somebody’s fleece, a blur of chins

beneath workers’ brimmed caps. Rescue boats might arrive—who knows when—from Kamien or Brest.
The water’s still high. Grows stagnant. This one sharp glance trims away the rest: the excess world beyond the flood, crisis team in frock-coats and mustaches, their gleaming telephones

on broad mahogany desks. Whatever’s flat remains so on the blade’s bright surface:
these streaks of rain, not others, reach us without the ones before or since—the rising water and drowned scarecrow and hidden strap on which a small, black Leica is dangling.

Warsaw, 7-13 April, 2004


Jewish Cemetery, Warsaw

Here letter and stone find fulfillment:
a snail inlays ornamental tracing with silver thread. And the apple tree’s soft shadow falls over shattered slabs.

Here grass and epoch find fulfillment.
The hands of a rabbi. A deer. Menorah.
scroll and lion of Judah, and sails of a ship.
Beneath the sod the tsaddik’s pupils sit,
reading delicate letters of gravel and pebble from the eternal book of the earth.
Names of bygone people, prior days and things echo softly in their arid skulls.

Later the whispers of those reading will go silent,
and in that moment the voice of a trumpet,
forged from a cloud, will resound over the plain.

The lion topples the lit candelabra,
and fire touches the smooth stone jars of the Torah.

Train, Gdańsk to Warsaw, 20 May 2001

4 x 6, ’84

Where are you headed, little boy,
in that cap of Scottish plaid and those secondhand clothes in the washed out colors of the Eighties?
Wherever you go, it will be worse,
so pause right there, and smile.

Warsaw, 12 April 2008


for P.T.

We lie further and further apart each night. Same bed, same sheets and blankets, but further apart.
Like a night flower pollinated by bats, our bed gapes open each evening —with us on opposite petals. Further still we lie from each other.
Too far to clasp hands, touch a foot with a foot—
from your bank comes the call of orioles, the growling of wildcats; on mine one glimpses grebes and now and then an ermine, which burrows in the thicket of our sheets.
Wider and wider, those turrets and floodgates of stone,
bustling ports, dense gardens, unfathomable deserts.

Each to his own side of night. Parallel in silence and solitude. Too far to call to each other,
too far to stand at the brink and listen.
Our ligaments untangled, relaxed as this rhyming.
Nearer windows and doors than each other. Dreaming.

Łódź-Warsaw, 8 December 2003

Big Splash

A fourteen-second film clip on Wikipedia shows a green sphere colliding like a meteor with a blue one: look, that’s how the moon arose.
For dreamy poets, there could not be worse news.
Does the phrase “proto-Earth” have any meaning?
Here on Earth someone utters it just like “string,”

or “basin” or “overalls,” having in mind what? a lump, planet, theory, or building blocks?
Read on. It’s daunting: comets and meteorites spawning ice ages, the Earth a frozen clod falling out of orbit, swallowed by a star—
entropy: the “final solution” writ large.

There’s not much hope in Europa’s crust of ice,
the methane sea on one of Saturn’s distant moons,
or sculpted contours of Cher’s lips and eyes.
Space entombs both animal and mineral.
Even this table feels small, this saucer fragile,
and by each wine glass, a flimsy fork and spoon.

All this, from antenna to cellar, will cave in on itself, no trace of its former shape surviving galactic storms and the onslaught of quarks. Picture the Earth’s rivers and cities clogged with elemental particles like weeds,
besieged by stardust and an unearthly frost.

Listen. This is just to say we’re not alone in our disastrous attempts to be faithful,
us with our shaky joints and bones so brittle,
our wispy builds and skin like tattered gloves.
Everyone’s a loser: scissors, paper, stone.
Something moves the stars—guess what? It isn’t love.

Warsaw, 1-3 February, 2006

Sebastiano del Piombo, The Raising of Lazarus

There was much rejoicing when I was raised from the dead. But I didn’t stop stinking. What to do? When someone brings you back to life, you don’t fuss over details. Once more I looked at the clouds and olive trees, ruddy shadows where the walls curved, heard the lowing of cattle on their way to the watering-hole, tasted bread and milk and fried meat, felt the roughness of gravel or bandages. But I continued to stink.
At first, guests dropped by to talk with me and touch my body for warmth. Covering their nose with a sleeve, they’d ask if I had seen their mother, father, uncle, child, cousin Nehemiah, or grandmother, who had somewhere buried a pot of coins but neglected to mention where. But after a while the novelty of the miracle wore off, and still my stench remained.
Mary said to me: Oh Lazarus, you’re the Lord’s great miracle, let’s dwell on that mystery, let us pray, but each in the silence of our separate rooms. And Martha said: Lazarus, I’ll bake you your favorite cake with black cumin seeds, and prepare a capon with saffron, but eat it, please, in the privacy of your own room. When I’d say in anger, Look, I didn’t ask to be brought back, they’d reply, Lazarus, is that any way to behave? Or, Lazarus, that’s blasphemy. And they’d return to their rooms.
Later they built a separate chamber in the garden and asked me to move into it, so I wouldn’t be too close to the kitchen. They called it the tomb—first amongst themselves as a joke, but then even to my face. They’d come out to the garden and say, Lazarus, Lazarus, we’ve left your dinner at the opening of your tomb. And one day, they asked that the entrance be sealed and took to slipping me my food through a small window.
When they grew old, they often said, What tempted us to bring that charlatan to our house?
When they grew old, they kept repeating, We were young and stupid then.

London-Warsaw, 2-3 July 2012

Table of Contents


Translator’s Introduction

1 A Razor-Sharp Glance

Brzytwa okamgnienia
A Razor-Sharp Glance
Miłe złego porządki
Small Efforts at Order
Biedny chrześcijanin patrzy na gabinet Peggy Sage
A Poor Christian Looks at the Peggy Sage Salon
Albert Watson, Golden Boy (New York, 1990)
Albert Watson, Golden Boy (New York, 1990)
Odkopanie posągu Antinousa w Delfach, 1894
Unearthing a Statue of Antinous in Delphi, 1894

2 Aperture

Muzeum anatomii: sarna
Museum of Anatomy: Deer
Rys. 370. Garb wskutek gruźlicy kręgosłupa
Fig. 370. Hunchback due to tuberculosis of the spine
Bajka o hurtowniku pietruszki
Fable of the Parsley Dealer
8.5 x 13, ’84
4 x 6, ’84
Hör ich das Liedchen klingen
Hör ich das Liedchen klingen
Stary człowiek w oknie pałacu
Old Man in a Palace Window

3 Posterity

Sebastiano del Piombo, Wskrzeszenia Łazarza
Sebastiano del Piombo, The Raising of Lazarus
Żółty dom
Yellow House
Pleśń (Warszawa Centralna)
Mold (Warsaw Central Station)
Big Splash
Big Splash
Space Oddity
Space Oddity

4 Symmetry

Korytarz, późna jesień
Train Corridor, Late Fall
“Jeśli nieszczęśliwa miłość kończy się…”
“If unhappy love ends…”

Notes on the poems

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