A sober dawn will turn from the Sturm und Drang
of New Year’s Eve; the crush of bodies lit
with spotlights on the Rynek. Snowflakes hang
like Christmas decorations, delicate
and almost plastic; waiting to be wrapped
in plain brown paper. The fiery spirit
of intoxicated breath hovers, trapped
in a frozen maze of strobe lights from the stage.
Is this what the labour of the Concept
birthed—a peacock’s narcissistic plumage?
I am standing on a balcony, drunk;
pure spirits have made way for the vintage
maudlin blood. Inside, crystal glasses clink
as lips of strangers from around the world
meet briefly like the twin hands of a clock.
Rilke stood on a balcony, was called;
although it took him ten years to submit
to the dark thorn that blossomed in his blood.
But that was Rilke. Lesser men commit
theft on rich echoes, pick the pockets of
the drunken stairwells on Józefa Street.
Night marches in formation through Kraków.
Crushed stars of frost sing in the cobbled drains.
Silent facades. No one asks me to prove
my bona fides, my right to these remains,
these personal effects, if I can pay
the steep prices of the antiquarians
who hoard their bric-a-brac in narrow, grey
alcoves between quaint cafés and hostels:
a frock coat from the nineteenth century
heavy with smoke, lined with the orphaned smells
of the dead; a battered case that inters
a fiddle without strings; the musty sheols
and claustrophobia of hanging furs.
Outside the bells ring out for Latin Mass
and bent old women count the change of prayers.
The Book of Comfort says all flesh is grass.
I cannot understand these words. The scythe
still grinds against the cornerstones. Moses
ascends the barren, thunder-shrouded path
to argue with his God, work out a truce.
The wagon rolls to market with its calf.
Death deals the cards out, thumbs each shuffled face
to play his patient game of solitaire—
arranging fates in hierarchies of race.
The naked trees along the Visła stare
into the darkness of the other shore
where lights of houses slowly disappear.
Tomorrow morning, at first light, I’m sure
I’ll take my place among the ones who walk
between the toppled stones, where flowers stir
in chains of snow, and talk the empty talk
of the long-distance railway passenger.
And I will read upon the brazen plaque
how shards of graves were used during the war
to pave camp roads—dark exodus that scuffed
the fiery alphabet of graven law.
And I will look intently with the soft
sincerity of an unfocused lens
at the broken tablets. Then, having doffed
the clip-on yarmulke, I’ll meet with friends
at the Galicia museum hall
to see a beautiful young woman, who bends
briefly beneath the shadow of a shawl—
black as the wind that blows all-widowing;
breath of an angel ashen, terrible—
to hear her clear voice sing in Yiddish; sing
bolt upright as a flamenco dancer—
that matador of grief—the lonely ring
of light, and darkness of applause around her.