For Zbigniew Herbert

Before cursors or cathode rays
the only pulse hummed
in the hand holding the book.
Brittle paper caged
your wavering script,
blue lines that snaked
and split like rivers on a map,
a sketch of a Corinthian column,
or stocking’s crooked seam.
Banished from Lvov,
you rebuilt your lost city
from a glove, a wick,
a fountain pen and fork,
larch wardrobe with mysterious depths.
While others wrote odes to Stalin
you packed your drawer
with stubborn, unread poems.
These typewriter keys
feel cold, the brine
of pickles stings my eyes,
my thumb’s wet with ink.
Bombarded by anecdote,
I too write for the drawer,
my words like a distant ancestor’s,
more fugue than jazz,
built from lead and ash,
misshapen, ill-suited
to this marketplace of poems.
How do I move
between chronicle and psalm?
I write this on a laptop
amid the din of Facebook
where I clicked “Like” beside your name.
Show me again yourself at thirteen,
so fixed on the droshka driver
the cold whip burned your hand.

Karen Kovacik is the author of the poetry collections Metropolis Burning, Beyond the Velvet Curtain, and Nixon and I. Her work as a poet and translator has received numerous honors,including the Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry Forum, two fellowships in literary translation from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Fulbright Research Grant to Poland. She’s the translator most recently of Jacek Dehnel’s Aperture (Zephyr, 2018), a finalist for the 2019 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and she’s the editor of the anthology of Polish women poets, Scattering the Dark (White Pine, 2016). Professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, she served as Indiana’s Poet Laureate from 2012-2014. For contact information, please visit her website:

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