Three Poems by Jerzy Jarniewicz (b. 1958)


It’s only coffee, as you can see, 

spilt on the table. So ostentatious

in its attempt to imitate the classic test,

in which just about anything can be seen

if anyone bothered to look.

Its casual tributaries, its seeming estuaries,

form a map that’s more evident

than the few words spoken this morning,

which may — with coffee’s aftertaste —

say enough to make you raise your eyebrows,

shrug your shoulders, stare into space, and move on —

even into the unknown — before the spill on the table

assumes, in your eyes,

the shape of a brain or a spider.


Translated by Marit MacArthur and Marta Pilarska





Federico (remember) had been dead three days

if the Italian correspondent could be trusted.

And still we couldn’t think of the word: down,

with six letters — and Ludmila.

Not long after (remember), Massina, she died too,

which only confirmed my belief: he was a sappy

director. And we could have won

a toaster, and a deluxe edition of The Idiot. The Dostoyevsky

I’ll get over. I saw the film. But the toaster. Hard to say

that was a loss. In fact

we didn’t even enter. Hard to say

we just ran out of words. Come


Translated by Marit MacArthur and Marta Pilarska




From the Book of Kings

He sent messengers, and she came unto him, and he lay with her.


Beautiful is the wife of my neighbor 
though I’ve never seen her on the roof

when among white satellite dishes

she washes her knees in rainwater

and shows her neck like a harlot to the sun.

Sitting certainly at a kitchen table

in the foreign language cities of the West,

she doesn’t say prayers at the temples

to men in tall military boots.

I will send him to the army — to the front,

I will give him a ticket to the cinema — to The Cruise.[1] Today I want 

neither bull nor monkey nor my neighbor’s things,

which are his. Only we will take each other.

The body of the poem doesn’t sin. We are without fault:

who among us will cast the first stone?

Which tablet will be broken? Will someone shroud the second

in white, like an unseeing eye,

like a sheet?


Beautiful is the wife of my neighbor,

beautiful the school of fish around her ankles

when she wades barefoot in the streams and these

flow through pipes to drains

and drain covers in the middle of town.

To meet in the body of waste, but don’t worry,

we are not going to sink. The water is kind to us,

the Dead Sea tries to keep us afloat without effort

on its flat surface like the window

of a fish shop, where in secret we switched

places and playfully arrange ourselves

in illegal configuration, among

reflecting streetlights and traffic signals

of blurred colors. I care not for the rain,

for the meaning of this downpour and the mafia,

it doesn’t matter where it is today. Rain,

if my nostrils don’t deceive me,

smells of you suddenly, I am wet with you.

We will give him a king’s name.



Translated by Kacper Bartczak and Marit MacArthur



1. The Cruise (Rejs in Polish) is a 1970 film directed by Marek Piwowski. It enjoys cult status in Poland.