Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tueday Poem--A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto

Bees build around red liver,

Ants build around black bone.

It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,

It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel,

silver, foam

Of gypsum, iron sheets, violin strings, trumpets, leaves,

balls, crystals.

Poof! Phosphorescent fire from yellow walls

Engulfs animal and human hair.

Bees build around the honeycomb of lungs,

Ants build round white bone.

Torn is paper, rubber, linen, leather, flax,

Fiber, fabrics, cellulose, snakeskin, wire.

The roof and the walls collapse in flame and heat

seizes the foundations.

Now there is only the earth, sandy, trodden down,

With one leafless tree.
Slowly, boring a tunnel, a guardian mole makes his way,

With a small red lamp fastened to his forehead.

He touches buried bodies, counts them, pushes on,

He distinguishes human ashes by their luminous vapor,

The ashes of each man by a different part of the spectrum.

Bees build around a red trace.

Ants build around the place left by my body.
I am afraid, so afraid of the guardian mole.

He has the swollen eyelids, like a Patriarch

Who has sat much in the light of candles

Reading the great book on the species.

What will I tell him, I, a Jew of the New Testament,

Waiting two thousand years for the second coming of Jesus?

My broken body will deliver me to his sight

And he will count me among the helpers of death:

The uncircumcised.
Czesław Miłosz
(translated from the Polish by the author)


  1. i just saw this melissa. i am a bit of a fuzz ball today.

    this reminds me of a visit i made to Venice many years ago. i was curious to find the Jewish cemetery; this was the long trip i took with my son, benjamin, when he was 13. it was a damp, grey day, and when we finally found the very old cemetery--getting lost in Venice is a given--it was so UNsacred feeling, so ignored, cordoned off in a ramshackle, ghettoized area by a bleak, rundown fence. we both just stood there; kind of stunned.
    anyway: sorry to ramble on. that's just what this poem made me think of....

  2. I just saw this, too, Melissa.

    Am I odd to find some comfort in the idea of this mole being of the guardian variety, able to distinguish human ashes 'by their luminous vapor/
    The ashes of each man by a different part of the spectrum.' As I understand it, Czesław Miłosz is implying there's no such thing as anonymity in death, that those things that differentiate us as both the same AND unique live on even when we are reduced to an ashen state?

    This is quite some poem. I first read 'my borrowed body' in the final stanza which further emphasized the depth of dislocation and estrangement.


  3. I'm astonished by the poem which has its own logic or sense. I'm not quite sure what to make of it--in the end we break down and its animals of one kind of another who live in us? The title, though, hooks me back again to see what I am missing. I'm not frustrated by the dream logic; quite the contrary. I just can't say what it means other than the poem itself. Thanks for the poem and best wishes for 2012.