Name Day

Adam Zagajewski
Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

Once, when I was still a student, I gave my mothera book about Brueghel (the father) for her name dayand after a week I took it back, claiming I wouldneed it for my "work" (she laughed at me).These days though modernity invadeseven cemeteries—not far from her gravethey've placed a candlemat, that's right, a candlemat,a metal post, a machine dispensing candles,you just toss two or three obols in the slot.The name day for Ludwika came again, I went to that city,not a city now but a tropical forest of memoriesand my childhood spoke to me, every streetspoke, sang, maybe even shouted, yes,shouted, talking about what had been and whatno longer was, and also about those I used to know.I wasn't sure how to pray for the deadin such tumult, in the shriek of recollection.I placed a pot of small chrysanthemums on the gravestoneand understood only going homethat this had been a prayer, this momentary hesitation.Then I also realized I hadn't brought a penor pencil, I couldn't write downwhat had happened, luckily I was savedby the gas station cashier, she made mea present of a used gold ballpoint penand an unused sheet of A4 paper.I quickly started scribbling and while I scrawledclumsy sentences my friends appeared out of nowhere,Charlie Williams and also Tomaž Šalamun—1 thought Tomaž would particularly likethe idea of the ballpoint at the gas station.I truthfully explained: "but that's how it was, really,"and I heard an answer: "really,what does it mean really?" (they spoke together,laughing, although I know their aestheticshad radically differed in the past).And nothing had changed, nothing had changed;it was already dark when I got back to Kraków,the last days of August, but still quite warm,summer remembered its youth, even the nightwas warm and elastic, nothing had changed,armies of stalactites slowly grew in cavesand satellites stammered surveilling the earth,and nothing had changed, nothing.

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Adam Zagajewski (1945–2021) was born in Lvov, Poland. His books include Tremor; Canvas; Mysticism for Beginners; Without End; Eternal Enemies; Unseen Hand; Asymmetry; Solidarity, Solitude; Two Cities; Another Beauty; A Defense of Ardor; and Slight Exaggeration—all published by FSG. He lived in Chicago and Kraków.

Clare Cavanagh is an American literary critic, a Slavist, and a translator. She is the Frances Hooper Professor in the Arts and Humanities and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Northwestern University.

New York, New York

"Zagajewski attains a scale that is epic in a poetic voice that is intimate, nearly mild . . . The poems are at an extreme of truth-telling. They deploy understatement like a talisman as they enter the grandly menacing yet oblivious borderland of our worst human doings."
—Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review

"Zagajewski’s books are true, of their era and eternal . . . Few poets have captured the mysterious motion through space, time, and mood that Zagajewski evokes in passing through built environments and poring over historical testaments . . . In his own broad senses of time and space, Zagajewski himself was a poet who did live everywhere, and who, thanks to such books as True Life, will continue to do so."
—Kathleen Rooney, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[Zagajewski's] plain, slanted observations alter the world so that you cannot help but use them to describe the history of your own life, to trace the contours of your own memories, to give order to your own present . . . Clare Cavanagh has been spinning Zagajewski’s poetry and books of essays into commonplace miracles of translation for going on thirty years, and she has done so for the last time with True Life."
—Ania Szremski, 4Columns

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