This Was in Odessa

By ANNA PIWKOWSKA

Dogs lay on sidewalks
escaping the heat. The wind blew sand
in our eyes. Pupils burned. Garbage whirled.
Fruit piled up on street corners,
melon juice staining our skin
and clothes. White starched skirts
were ready for the wash again by nightfall.
Wind blew in from the steppes.
Cats sought out basements or gaps in the gates,
and a saxophonist played a single song.
Someone had crocodiles, lizards, snakes for sale:
czetyrie hrywny—four crowns—
he yelled from the crowd.
The tired city, steeped in dust,
had abandoned all its reason.
It smelled of dirt and rancid oil.
The sidewalk melted in the heat.
And our fingers met
though I hadn’t spoken in weeks.
Night ground itself into dawn,
the day sprinkled us with pepper, burning
our eyes, and existence wrestled
with nonexistence for a moment until the day
proved victorious and the hills bloomed.
The levers of earth’s axis creaked,
the morning put out the blaze for a moment,
and an unknown ebb within us
moved pearls and jellyfish into the depths,
into the sea.
Odessa, August 2002

Translated from Polish by Iza Wojciechowska, who is currently at work on a book about aristocracy, family, art, and war and the Polish palace of Nieborów.

This Was in Odessa

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