THREE POEMS from the Czech Lands



These three poems appear in the anthology of verse and prose Prague Tales, published by New Europe Writers, 2007



 


MENDEL IN BRNO

In threadbare soutane, wandering thoughtfully amongst the ratios,
He pondered God and peas,
Mediated between man and nature,
Viewed dominance and submission with a wry expression,
And numbered the dance of genes.

Factories beat ploughshares into swords
And fashioned steel into guns;
While at the quiet focus of the city
The wondering friar tended his flocks,
Contemplating patterns and probabilities,
Seeing in them, no doubt, the sure and stealthy hand of God.

In the great court where a plane tree spreads its lucid leaves
The foundations are all that remain,
Lineaments of discovery drawn in brick across the lawn.

Here, where industry and politics had already abandoned theirs,
The study of nature began to lose its innocence.


 

NEXT YEAR IN MARIENBAD


Next year in Marienbad
we will walk in the colonnade
And take the waters
And the tang of rust will lie in our mouths
Like the taste of blood

Next year in Marienbad
All will be cured:
The lame will walk and the halt will run
And dwarfs and cripples will dance for joy
Discovering themselves, respectively, tall and whole.

Next year in Marienbad you will stand on the balcony
While the crowds
In the spa gardens below
Cheer and wave.

Next year in Marienbad
We will take a suite at the Hotel Polonia
And make love at the open window
with the spa gardens outside,
Where mist clings to the branches like smoke,
And onion domes rise out of the pine trees.

Next year in Marienbad we will peel the onions
Exposing layer upon layer, each more mysterious than the one before,
To discover, with stinging eyes,
The bright and glistening core.

Next year in Marienbad
You will kneel astride me
While the air creeps cool through the open window
And strokes your spine like a stealthy hand
And touches, with a single cool finger,
The glistening quick of you.

Next year in Marienbad.



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IN THE PINKAS SYNAGOGUE

On the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague were being painted the names of all those Czech and Slovak Jews who perished in the Nazi concentration camps.

 

In Josefov the town hall clock
Unwinds the past.
Alt-Neu, Old-New,
A place of paradox
Where people queue
to see the dead in Beth Cha'im,
The Place of Life.

In Pinkas Synagogue beneath the glare,
While people shuffle past and stare,
A girl in dungarees paints names,
As many names as you could wish to see
On a summer's day in Prague
Seventy-seven thousand, two hundred and ninety-three.

Like a scribe who writes the names of God,
She works
And as we watch her diligent brush
Discovers there, as though by chance:

KORLE Bedrich(1)
BILLITZOVA Amalie(2).

Mere paint cannot unwind the past,

And there are questions
That it's better not to ask.
"Why Josefov?" is fine.
So too is, "What's a Golem?"
"Why 'Old-New' (Alt-Neu) Synagogue?" will do.

But don't ask why the girl spends time
With brush and paint. And don't ask who
Was BILLITZOVA Amalie?
Or why
Seventy-seven thousand,
two hundred and ninety-three?

(1) Born 7.XI.1895, died 14.VII.1942
(2) Born 10.IX.1877, died 20.VII.1942

 


 

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These poems are ©Simon Mawer, 1998. Please do not use them without permission. E-mail me from the contacts page.

 

 

 

 

Photo of names on the wall of the Pinkas Synagogue by kind permisson of the Jewish Museum in Prague

For the poem In The Pinkas Synagogue, scroll down the page

 

Simon Mawer 2008 - 2015. This website is written and maintained by the author.