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Elegy for an Unknown Poet
by Carolyn Forché

In memoriam, Svetozar Daniel Simko (1959-2004)


You who are apart, stranger, who bent down in winter
For the lost glove of another on iced ground, you are ein Fremder on earth
As if you had been written toward us. Listen: bells! You are sheltered
Once again in the stillness of childhood, where the slow river remains,
Rain singing from a gutterspout, wet bottles, misted grillwork.

Apartness gathers the music of solitude as if it were a glass viola.
Bells ring that are and are not, and the soul is left wandering in the blue night.
You are the one watching, the one dreaming this, homeless one
thinking, alone with your thoughts, here
where it nears the eternal, the poverty of waking life.

A man stood behind you holding a knife. You walked into the lake until
Only your hat could be seen.
Your sister took her life. And then you couldn’t bear the gaze of others.
What you could bear, and for long hours, were the star-filled eyes of a toad.
I am your translator. Pity me. It is impossible to slip ein Fremder into the
mouth of another.
Last summer I went with you to the crematorium.
We said poems and covered your body with gloves and roses.
I know that you are dead. Why do you ask and ask what can be done?

Black is the color of frost, tears, stillness and footsteps.
It modifies branches and wings. Blue appears as cloud, flower, ice.
Deer stepping from the forest are also blue. A river is green, but green
as well are flecks
of decomposition. Silver, the blossoming poppies, faces of the unborn.

The living, you say, appear unreal to you, as if they were on fire. God
uttered a gentle flame
into his heart: O man! Yet the living gaze at the dead, imporing them to appear.
Why? you ask. The dead do not understand this. The living are oblivious
to what they are,
measuring time as the flickering of day and night. God a stream of vowels.

Brown are cesspools, rafters; golden the day, candles and a tent of stars.
Ivory the hands and limbs of lovers; purple a night wind, nostrils and snails.
A skiff is red, as are wolf and wound. Yellow are the walls of summer.
Sleep is white, as is sickness, shirt and revenant.

What is left us then but darkness? Oneself is always dark and near.



Poem available in Salmagundi No. 146-147.
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